The tournament is over and the Germans rightly won, but Americans are still arguing over soccer. Our sportswriters have moved on, but some self-style political experts won't let the matter go. The lack of American success in the sport and its inferior status as a spectator sport in this country still must be accounted for. Ann Coulter stirred the pot for this tournament by snarking that soccer was un-American, something the descendants of immigrants would inevitably abandon but also somehow abhorrent to the authentic American spirit of individual achievement. At least one liberal commentator, Chris Hayes of MSNBC, rose to this bait. He deduced that American soccerphobes were adherents of an obnoxious exceptionalism; they only like sports that this country dominates internationally. Jonah Goldberg found Hayes's outburst revealing of the left's resentment of authentic American cultural patriotism. Goldberg himself did not attack soccer, but he seems to accept the premise shared by both major parties that partisanship, if not ideology, correlates with attitudes toward the sport. If you hate soccer, you're a know-nothing reactionary. If you love the World Cup, you enjoy seeing the U.S. humbled. In our rush to politicize all cultural phenomena we generalize blindly. I am absolutely certain that there are right-wing soccer fans in the U.S. -- there are lots of right-wing soccer fans around the world, after all -- and I'm even more certain that some left-wing Americans are as indifferent to soccer as they are to all sports.
Andrew W. Lindner has made American hostility toward soccer an object of academic study. He conducted a survey of a limited, perhaps too particular sample group -- residents of Nebraska -- and found that futbolphobia correlates with a certain kind of reactionary attitude that can't be reduced to ideology or partisanship. Lindner concludes that hostilty to soccer is essentially nativist; it expresses a xenophobia exacerbated by the challenges of globalization and immigration. Respondents most hostile to soccer were also most likely to disagree with the assertion that immigration strengthens American culture. At the same time, very few respondents -- less than 10% -- described soccer as "un-American." If anything, that percentage probably would be lower in many states.
I think Lindner is still reading too much into this phenomenon. After all, our ignorance of cricket is more complete and perhaps more inexplicable since that sport unites much of the English-speaking world. They play cricket in England, in Australia, in India and in the West Indies. Yet no one feels a need to account for America's absence from the cricket scene. For many it'll suffice to note that we have baseball instead. Cricket has international tournaments, just as soccer does, but for some reason Americans feel drawn to the World Cup, and feel a need to excel in soccer, but don't feel the same attraction to cricket. That's probably because soccer promoters have actively proselytized for their sport in this country for the past forty years in a way cricketeers have not. They have made the World Cup an attractive thing that many Americans want to be part of, while our failures to date have turned off many other Americans who've drawn the sour-grapes conclusion that soccer is stupid. These are two attitudes that don't naturally correlate with our two prevailing ideologies. Some Republicans are as greedy for World Cup glory as anyone, while some Democrats dismiss the World Cup as they dismiss any irrational competition. The reality of American attitudes toward soccer may resemble our attitude toward independence from Britain, as described by John Adams: a third for, a third against, while a third didn't give a damn. Actual percentages may vary.