“you first” photo credit: National Geographic
American soccer isn’t turning around to reveal itself. So, I follow; there is a job to be done. I’m a storm chaser hunting the tornado, hoping to collect even an inkling of data. It’s not an easy one-man job.
There are so many perspectives, so many personal stories out there that represent soccer for each of those certain people. Together, those stories create what American soccer is. In geology - bear with me, I did say I used to be a geologist - there is kind of rock called a conglomerate. It is essentially many different kinds of smaller rocks held together by a matrix or glue, typically a substance that was once a liquid that has hardened, bringing the many smaller rocks into a single mass. Conglomerates can be loosely held together and brittle; they can sometimes be quite strong, depending on the tensile strength of the matrix, that substance which binds the separate entities. American soccer is a conglomerate.
A soccer example: there was some discussion on the comment pages for the last story and then through some personal e-mails about the statement that American soccer is ‘middle class.’ After some much needed clarification of this vague and general statement, I don’t think anyone will disagree with the original author, Daryl, that American soccer is indeed a predominantly white, suburban sport at present. I wrote about how this fact is beginning to change (it was a major force behind why I wanted to work on this blog) with stories like ‘Kings of King’, helping to prove my point. That is why I laugh (through the tears. mind you) at articles like the one that appeared in the Gaurdian UK that both Daryl and I happened across:
I don’t laugh at this story because it is funny. It’s NOT. It’s sad, dreadful, and despicable. Having grown up in the American South, I am no stranger to witnessing racism, and I have no patience for it. It is the worst of crimes, on par with murder in my book. My problem with the story is not because it is off-base, but because it is a story about one racist group of people, maybe even a whole town, not a whole sport or nation. It is a tiny, shitty, broken piece of rock in our conglomerate. Yes, it is one story of American soccer and thus poignant and necessary - one that I would love to remove as if a decayed tooth. But I wonder, so often when I read foreign and even domestic reporting on racial topics in the United States, it is often boiled down or painted as simply White versus Black. What about all the other ethinicities living in this nation and no doubt playing a lot of soccer?
Before I go any further there is a huge distinction that must be made. There are two distinct realities in American Soccer. There is the soccer that is played on every dusty field in this country available to every man, woman, and child, no matter their race, color, or creed or economic class. That is American Soccer. Then there is the American Soccer that Lawrence Smalls, remember Lawrence from FC Magia, would call “style for money” (a point I needed clarified and thus couldn’t include in my last story). This American soccer is better known as the system or if you like sports movies, The Program, and as the Guardian article describes it, it is “hideously white.”
Lawrence is the kind of guy whose been through the system and knows what’s up. He’s a coach too, so he watches as other kids struggle with it. “There is a lot of talent out there,” Lawrence said. “But everywhere in America you have to pay to play. Some people can’t afford it, so they are never seen by organizations and the people that keep things on a political level.”
Strictly by charging for things like club-level soccer (the best level right now before college outside of the ODP, Regional, and National Teams that make up a separate but similarly political US Soccer system), and soccer camps, American soccer, as Lawrence puts it “considerably marginalizes” a kid who can’t afford those things. Their chances of being recognized become extremely limited. Of course, there are the lucky few who get a scholarship or sponsorship, but the rest never get a real chance at the exposure and conventional training that is realistically needed to feed them into the political network. “Same with college,” Lawrence said. “The bigger-name schools are looked at more because they have more of a marketing influence for television. A lot of kids can’t even afford to play at the college level. Financially the soccer programs don’t get as much support as basketball or football would.” Where I went to graduate school, for example, the University of Florida, a huge South Eastern Conference powerhouse, they didn’t even have men’s soccer. It was eliminated when NCAA rules (Title IX) were initiated that forced colleges to have equal number of male and female athletes. I’m not arguing those initiatives, but at schools like Florida where football is king, they had to cut programs. Men’s soccer – see ya.
There is always the argument that if you are good enough, you will get there, system or no system, but that is kind of my point here. You have the MLK kids, toughing it out in the streets of New York. You have Dre doing what he can with what he has over in the Middle East. You have American soccer - the system - existing as more business than sport in a lot of ways. We can see this through individual experiences and stories, like Lawrence’s, like Daryl’s, whose story about an English ex-patriot in Viginia you will hopefully be reading soon, and Like Mariano’s, an Argentinean, born and bred, who is a huge US MNT fan and who’s story you will hear next. And somewhere, there is some kid, who has everything stacked against him, and he is going to make it in spite of the system, in spite of the roadblocks, in spite of everything stacked against him. And then there is the story of how the system works, the doors, the levels, the beuracracy. All of that is American soccer building its rock. How strong that rock is is up to us.
Still confused? Point blank. I want to hear more stories from you. I grew up in the suburbs, played club soccer on the most beautiful fields I’ve ever seen; I played some regional stuff; I quit in college. There is nothing you need to hear from me. That is not a story that is particularly interesting. My story is an example why the Guardian called soccer “hideously white.” Only from getting to know and begin to understand the lives of people like Coach Jake and the MLK kids, Dre, Lawrence, Daryl, and some others out there that you are going to meet in the coming months as we all wait as patiently as we can for Germany to kick into gear (if they ever get those fields ready) are we ever going to have any chance of getting any idea of what American soccer is.
We must widen the lens that I think we all can admit each of us keeps focused to tightly on our own little worlds. Journalism is only as good as its sources. The best photojournalists and writers, Sebastiao Salgado, John McPhee, and a few select others aside, are nothing without good subjects. So this is this bottom line. Let’s create a place where reality is laid out, one story, one perspective, one tiny pebble at a time, with the internet as its matrix, the bonding agent holding it, holding us, together: American soccer as the hardest rock.
Messages and discussions on the comments board are always welcome, but please send your serious thoughts and story ideas (yours or someone you know ((with contact information))) to my e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Let’s spread the news that the media isn’t exposing!