In 1986, Jack Kemp spoke out before the United States Congress against a resolution backing an American bid to host the World Cup. "I think it is important for all those young out there who someday hope to play real football, where you throw it and kick it and run with it and put in your hands, a distinction should be made that football is democratic, capitalism, whereas soccer is a European socialist [sport]."
Kemp's moronic soliloquy -- why he would refer to American football as "real football" over soccer, a game that the rest of the world refers to as football and is actually played with feet, is beyond me -- was and is indicative of an often frighteningly prevalent American distaste for the latter. It's a puzzling attitude detailed at length in a chapter of Franklin Foer's new book, How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization. "Lovers of the game usually can't resist dismissing these critics as xenophobes and reactionaries intoxicated with a sense of cultural superiority," Foer writes. But the author rejects this explanation and delves deeper, expounding upon the insufferable musings of frat-boy shock jocks like Jim Rome -- a notorious soccer basher -- and how such attitudes are often indicative of a globalization phobia, a fear that by accepting soccer (i.e., the world's sport), one must reject traditions like baseball (i.e., one's country).
Foer argues that in the wake of 9/11 -- and the resulting birth of an era in which, as an American, you increasingly align yourself with either country or world -- the issue becomes all the more divisive. He'll discuss the same when he appears at the Mizel Center for Arts and Culture this week as part of the Leah Cohen Festival of Books & Authors.
You may not always agree with Foer's arguments, but it's fascinating to see how he uses incidents in soccer history to tackle some of the most important issues facing society today. Chapter titles like "How Soccer Explains: the Jewish Question"; "The Discreet Charm of Bourgeois Nationalism"; "Islam's Hope"' and "The American Culture Wars" reveal the breadth of his study and his commitment to the task.