"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Monday, June 17, 2019

The Hopeless Tedium Of Soccer–Bring Back Blood Sports

Mainstream professional sports are being tamed down and feminized.  Professional football, while still a grunt-and-bang affair, is far from the toothless days of leather helmets, eye-gouging, and low blows of Knute Rockne’s day. Rules limiting physical contact have neutered the game.  The play at the plate,  a violent, deliberate, no-holds-barred collision; and the take-out slide at second, a similar attempt to destroy the off-balance, vulnerable player during his pirouette to first have been outlawed.   The only  sports which have been spared – boxing and hockey – will soon fall to the concussion protocol.  Boxing will soon require protective headgear and softer gloves, and the all-out brawls which are hockey’s principal draw will be outlawed.

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There have been two reactions to this trend – the rise of super-violent sports like Mixed Martial Arts where fighters wear no protective gear, no holds are barred, and beating an opponent into submission, not just winning if only by technical knockout, is the goal; and the parallel rise of soccer, a game which appeals to a softer audience for whom on-field violence is simply an expression of generalized male aggression.  While physical contact is a part of soccer, and the feared concussion protocol is in the wings, it is not a game where – unlike football, boxing, and hockey -  intentional disability is encouraged.  It is a game girls can play.

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Of course with the advent of Title IX girls’ sports have flourished, often at the expense of boys’ programs, but that was the point.  No one should be deprived athletic opportunity and physical expression, and girls have been encouraged to play all the sports that boys play, plus their own (field hockey, synchronized swimming).  Yet it is soccer which has really caught on for girls and boys.  Concerned mothers are happy to have a cheap, simple, uncomplicated, safe, participatory game for their children – no fear of getting hurt, plenty of opportunity for parental involvement, and above all, gender-equality.

However, the trend is reversing. According to a recent article in the NY Times (July 2018):

The real threat, however, to [the] mission to make soccer one of America’s pre-eminent sports is here at home, where youth players are abandoning the game in alarming numbers.

Over the past three years, the percentage of 6- to 12-year-olds playing soccer regularly has dropped nearly 14 percent, to 2.3 million players, according to a study by the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, which has analyzed youth athletic trends for 40 years. The number of children who touched a soccer ball even once during the year, in organized play or otherwise, also has fallen significantly…

The decline has been felt everywhere: recreational leagues in longtime soccer hotbeds here; high-profile traveling teams from Maryland to California; programs targeted at Latino and immigrant populations in South Texas. High burnout rates from pushing children into travel soccer too young as well as the high costs of programs have also contributed to the lower numbers.

While liberal critics have blamed organized soccer for ignoring minority talent and for making it more a game for the masses (over 35 percent of parent families earn over $100,000 per year) than for the underserved, the real reason may be found elsewhere.  Talented young people are likely to be lured more by the professional sports famous for multi-hundred million dollar contracts than they are by the relatively low salaries and lack of prestige of MLS; but as importantly it is possible that the safe-haven of soccer – a parent-friendly, distinctly non-violent, no hands, low-visibility, fatiguing sport – is becoming passé.   Extreme sports are on the rise.

Last year in West Virginia, 28-year-old Avishek Sengupta was running the Tough Mudder, a grueling 10-plus-mile race littered with merciless obstacles that take participants over blazing pits of fire, through dark trenches and into pools of water laced with electrical wires that deliver 10,000 volts…Tough Mudder, calling itself “Probably the Toughest Event on the Planet,” is run by a Brooklyn-based company that is one of a growing number catering to the booming industry of obstacle course racing. As sports enthusiasts and adrenaline junkies hunt for ever-more-hardcore events to test their physical limits, it’s a pastime that has gained popularity in the past five years…

Television has played its role in increasing the popularity of these sports with shows such as World of X Games and the Extreme Sports Channel. Energy drink company Red Bull has also been on the forefront of the extreme sports movement, with events like the Red Bull Cavemen triathlon, which involves running, mountain biking and kayaking, and the Red Bull Stratos, a space-diving event that in October 2012 featured a skydiver who jumped from nearly 130,000 feet. (ABA Journal).

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The Guardian reports

It is hard to find exact figures on the popularity of extreme sports, but it is even harder to find anyone who thinks that they aren’t booming. In 2006, the British Parachute Association recorded 39,100 first jumps. Last year there were 59,679. Numbers of “full members” – regular skydivers – have been rising at a similar rate. The British Mountaineering Council had about 25,000 individual members in 2000. Last September there were “almost 55,000”. The number of people climbing Everest has rocketed since the 1990s. The proportion of women climbers is increasing too, up from about 16% in 2002 (BMC figures) to 36% now (Sport England figures). Hang-gliding numbers have suffered since the 1990s, according to Michelle Lanman at the British Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association (“The kit is so much heavier”). But paragliding and paramotoring (paragliding with a giant fan) are doing very nicely. SurfingGB also reports that “British surfing continues to grow rapidly”…

And these may still be early days. According to a report from the US entertainment company Delaware North, 100 hours of GoPro video are uploaded on to YouTube every minute, and sales of action cameras are growing at 50% a year. “By 2020, extreme sports will challenge professional and collegiate team sports for the title of most-watched category of sports content,” the report says. “Today they’re a blip on the screen compared to the big business of professional sports, but participation in action and adventure sports has surpassed conventional sports at the recreational level.”

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It is no surprise that in a highly-regulated society like the United States, young men seek release from overbearing correctness in extreme sports; or at least in those mainstream sports which offer complete physicality, macho superiority, and male camaraderie.  There are no women – yet - in men’s locker rooms; and there still can be nothing like the complete expression of individual physical ability that basketball offers.  It is perhaps the one sport where every natural human ability – running, leaping, coordination, strength, and psychological ability – are combined.  Not only that, the NBA has deliberately marketed itself as the sport of tough street creds – pimp walk, posturing, trash talk, intimidation, and back-downs.  Why would any supremely gifted black athlete from the inner city play soccer?

Extreme sports have been around for a long time; and it was no accident that the Roman Coliseum was filled to overflowing for bloody, fight-to-the-death gladiatorial contests.   Wars, while fought over territorial claims and petty disputes, have been battlefields of glory.  If it were not for an innate desire for glory and the expression of individual courage, there would be fewer wars.  The Aztecs and other pre-Columbian societies of Mesoamerica fought battles dressed in the skins of wild animals, so the bloody fights on the Mexican plains were especially savage, brutal, satisfying, spiritual affairs.  How could they not be as much a part of pagan life as human sacrifice?

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There is no denying the international popularity of soccer and its working class appeal.  Boys in the favelas of Rio and the streets of Liverpool need nothing more than a round something, a few players, and a two parallel sticks for a goal to play soccer.  No need for equipment, nets, grass, or referees. It is the world’s most democratic game, the most universal, and the most common.  Boys have been kicking things since the earliest human settlements.   Yet the United States in its soccer diffidence is not so much an anomaly as the avant-garde.

Many American television viewers have seen the comedian/talk show host Bill Maher’s rant about the feminization of men, the taming of the wolf. As paraphrased by Dana Antiochus, Maher believes that:

The inversion of nature that we have experienced as a culture, and the subversive aspect of flipping traditional roles, with its subsequent destruction of society, serves as a signal that we live in a dying system.  It has led to a pussified, sissy, pathetic, lovey-dovey/touchy-feely country of wimps, who put emotion over logic, feeling over reason, in our nurture-heavy/nature-deprived, culture” (Renegade Tribune)

But is Maher right? Have feminists turned the country into a nation of sissified wimps who value feeling over reason? On the one hand, feminism has changed men’s discourse, at least in public where they nod approvingly at news reports about glass ceilings, rape, abuse, and discrimination.  On the other, men in private share none of these sentiments. They know that biology,  human nature, and male chromosomes have not changed since the Paleolithic.  Men raid, kill, and pillage.  Women cry a lot, like to share their feelings, and want strong men as partners.

Soccer in America is an expression of this ‘wussification’ of America; and the continued popularity of physical, contact sports and the rise of extreme sports is a reaction against it.  Men will not go quietly, and boys in Southeast will still play a tough, male, aggressive, violent playground game and take it to the NBA.

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