I think many journalists across a variety of beats would argue that their profession is in the midst of anything ranging from a crisis to a paradigm shift. Talking heads regularly exploit the fears, prejudices, and misconceptions of their target audience in the name of ever-valuable clicks; it seems like more and more often news and analysis seeks to generate a visceral response rather than to inform or enlighten. We complain about the media exploiting our political differences, but at times sports media seems to rival the Drudge Report at trolling their consumers.
This is not the first time I have been compelled to comment on the Anglophile soccer media’s condescending stance on American soccer, and it will surely not be the last, but my hope is these pieces become less and less common.
Rob Hughes wrote a piece which debuted today in the New York Times claiming that New York City FC signings Frank Lampard and David Villa will “help raise the authenticity of play in [Major League Soccer] stadiums.” On the face of it, this statement is tacit nod to the future of MLS and the possibility of greater domestic and international respect. Dig a little deeper and, no matter which MLS team you love, there’s a reason to feel some resentment toward Rob Hughes, Frank Lampard, David Villa, NYCFC, Manchester City FC, Don Garber, and the Sheik Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan.
For the LA Galaxy fans: how do you feel about Hughes arguing that Lampard and Villa “have more to offer United States soccer than David Beckham ever did”?
For the New York Red Bulls fans: how do you feel about Thierry Henry being conspicuously absent from any mention whatsoever?
For the Seattle Sounders fans: isn’t Clint Dempsey some second-rate American guy who somehow managed to do an ok job in Europe?
I could go on, but the fact of the matter is that this is exactly what US Soccer and MLS are up against when people look at the American game, namely a public and media that:
- are unwilling to acknowledge any progress or success as anything other than a fluke,
- undervalue any player not based in one of the big European leagues,
- dismisses the stars who have already come to play in MLS because “it’s a retirement league,”
- consistently diss the product MLS puts on the field week in and week out without ever doing more than glancing at the action,
- ignores the absolutely egregious top-heavy and uncompetitive nature of leagues throughout the world,
- and refuses to acknowledge that the resulting mega-clubs’ influence reshapes the dynamics of the beautiful game from “support your local” to “We are the Borg–resistance is futile.”
Let’s not forget a key component of the argument Hughes is making about Lampard and Villa’s value to American soccer: they have yet to play a minute of soccer for their new club! Worse yet, they may not be here from the onset of their new club’s inaugural season! The presumption that two people who have never played a minute of soccer for an American club can do anything to promote and enhance the American game is preposterous and pure conjecture.
How media, especially an outlet with the storied reputation of the New York Times, can allow this sort of speculation to come to print speaks volumes about the state of sports journalism. Unfortunately for sports fans and consumers of sports media, things tend to further degenerate on television!
Even more grating is the Jesus-hangs-with-lepers-and-prostitutes tone in which Hughes writes his piece–I mean really, “…New York City Football Club, rather than soccer, suggests that finally the game’s global appeal is being acknowledged in the United States.” Do you mean to tell me that we’re back to handball vs. fútbol? Is that really all the Anglophile soccer media has left in its arsenal? We use the “wrong” word?! Orlando City SC fans, this is your cue to storm the proverbial field.
The fact of the matter is no matter what is accomplished on the soccer field or in American professional leagues, Europe will continue to dominate the conversation for the foreseeable future.
[Cue John Williams’s “The Imperial March”]
All jokes aside, when do US Soccer and MLS supporters get a voice in sports media that does more than belittle, underestimate, and isolate them? It remains an endemic problem for soccer nations outside the European continent and it is one that must be addressed before the sport can fully break into the American mainstream; in short, you’re not helping Rob Hughes…
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