Thursday, March 31, 2011

On Moments of Silence, Moments of Fighting and Soccer Hating By Proxy

Saturday night was a great moment for the United States National Team. A scrappy, all-hands-on-deck-performance from the red, white, and blue secured a 1-1 draw with South America powerhouse, Argentina. The U.S. did not dominate, control possession, nor trouble the Argentines for long stretches of the game, but, as the game of soccer goes, found that one magic moment where youngster Juan Agudelo pounced on a spilled save and brought the Americans equalizing euphoria.

The game was marred, however, by two incidents on either side of the contest. Before the match kicked off the stadium held a moment of silence for the victims of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan where, in footage that later appeared on YouTube (and many other websites), a fan yelled "konichiwa bitches" and it was picked up by the TV broadcast microphones. Post-match a group of American and Argentinian fans got into a scuffle that too was caught and posted on YouTube.

Both incidents marred what was a banner night for U.S. soccer. Taken in isolation there were the actions of a few stupid (possibly intoxicated) and rude individuals. Brought into the Inter-Net-Blogo-Sphere through the power of the media, video sharing sites, Twitter, etc and now these people are the representatives of American soccer to the larger world.

While American soccer fans were busy celebrating the emergence of the 18-year old Agudelo, the discovery of the Germany-American Timothy Chandler, the future of Jozy Altidore, and the gritty performance of the National Team, the outside world was putting these unrelated incidents under the microscope and serving them up as an indictment of our fans and our sport.

Just when it seemed soccer bashing was falling out of favor with the "lamestream" media types it rose again, but this time in a sort of proxy war on the sport. Certain like the rising of the sun, they came out during last summer's World Cup to copy and paste their tired attacks on soccer, but this week it was not about the game, but its fans.

Before the sport was the main focus of their ire. The silly, foreign game played with feet was for women and children the only other past-time with the same demographic was abandoning sinking ships. And that's what soccer was in America. With the increasing success of the National Team (of both genders, finally) and our domestic Major League Soccer; these old guard attacks seemed like the last breaths of a dying, bitter beast.

Then came "konichiwa bitches"! The line, originally from a Dave Chappel sketch, but that's neither here nor there.

A soccer fan, and an American one at that, acted incredibly insensitively to Japan's plight and the moment of silence in memory of the lives lost, and the whole sport was painted with one color.

Sports talk radio that wouldn't have given one minute to the game's results were now discussing the rudeness of the American soccer fan. Howard Stern had a go at it too. Comment sections of video boards and what-not took the moment of stupidity and connecting to foreign policy. Great. Frankly we thought it kind of ironic that the blow hards that can't stop talking for a second would be all over criticizing people who interrupted a minute of it.

If/when you watch the clip certainly there is a lot of chatter going on in the stadium. The shout of one fan in particular is the easy target, but to lay this one on the American soccer fan for their behavior is a tough accusation as well. In a stadium where the American soccer fan was in the minority (as we so often are) how can this be an attack on us?

Critics of the sport, no matter how many of how few numb skulls there are use these sorts of situations as live ammo. The American soccer fan is rude, insensitive, and therefore their sport is not worth the time of day. A proxy attack on the game through the acts of a select few. On political websites it is referred to as "nutpicking"; find the extreme example and use it as the poster child for the entire group.

The brawl following the match is worth less in column inches, talk radio air, and my time, but still gives enemies of soccer a clear target. The American soccer fan is uncivilized and much like the worst elements of the European soccer community.

Thank goodness that the rest of the American sports world have such upstanding citizens. The point isn't to drag other sports down this dark path as well, but to step back and to realize that we all have out unsightly elements in the stands. Whereas some parts of European soccer have allowed their racism, homophobia, and general malice toward fellow fans become the rule rather that the exception. American sports, and American soccer, is not so.

Using the actions of a few to represent the whole is a cowards way of attacking a sport that is increasingly becoming a part of the sporting mainstream. Three well-written and major web articles from this same match even point to the good natured, fun-loving, and confrontational-free nature of the United States' largest supporters group. (Exhibit A, Exhibit B, and Exhibit C), the American Outaws.

So stop it. We're sorry that people like soccer. We're sorry that you don't. We're sorry that you continue to hang on to outdated notions of what is and what isn't in the American sporting landscape. But don't go there.

Don't lump all fans into one group and do not let a few fans represent a sport as a whole in this country. That's just lazy "journalism".

To expect anything else, though, would be a stretch.

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  1. Dan speaking the truth once again!

  2. wow, what a joke from that argentina fan. did he really throw like five unprovoked punches? what a tool. outside of that, solid read.

  3. Good article. Unfortunately, I was in the US supporters section for that game. The line came from a guy no more than 10 seats down from me. With what I assume were many of the leaders of American Outlaws all around him, I would hope that there would be some condemnation of his comments from them. It was my first game sitting with the Outlaws and was one of the best viewing experiences I've ever had, but it's definitely true that one bad apple (or outrageous comment) can shape outsiders perspectives.

  4. Anon. I've spoken with the leadership of American Outlaws and, contrary to your statement that the heckler was up front with them that was not the case. Not that it may have been in the supporters section, but the leadership doesn't not sit in the front row. They always are further back in the section.

    There are a lot of people that sit in the AO section that are not AO and they told me that if it was possible to identify the particular person they would be banned from future games.

    Its tough that now that its known as an AO section that a few bad apples can spoil the bunch and AO might take the blame.


    Someone get Jim Rome on the phone to talk about "hooligan" baseball fans!


"Anyone who tells me soccer is boring, I'm going to punch them in the face."
- Former Dallas Burn (aka FC Dallas) coach Dave Dir

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