Four years ago, Pioneer Press sports columnist Tom Powers wrote one of the most ridiculous columns on soccer I've ever, ever read. Even by the standards of "Soccer is stupid and un-American" columns, it was righteously stupid. And proud of its stupidity. I responded at the time by suggesting that "Tom Powers is a Stupid Fat Fuck." Full disclosure: I love soccer. We've got a World Cup Pick'em Group, wherein First Prize gets a Soccer Playin' Jesus Statue. I love soccer. And I have a sneaking suspicion that Powers has me in mind in some of his commentary below. [/disclosure]
In his new column, Powers has softened his anti-soccer sentiments, in that he no longer posits that only illegal immigrants watch soccer, like he did in 2004. (That's not exaggeration--here's the quote from his 2004 column: "All the Department of Homeland Security has to do is monitor the city-by-city television ratings of this month's World Cup soccer tournament. Agents should be dispatched to any area in which the ratings reflect an unnaturally high level of interest. That likely signals a concentrated pocket of illegals. No one who actually is from here cares about the most over-hyped, mind-numbingly boring event in the world. "
What he does instead is use his first three paragraphs to take a historical look at soccer, and its parallel(s) with baseball that is so obviously cribbed from a website somewhere it hurts. And as a website writer myself, let me just briefly say how annoyed I get when a paper columnist quotes a website like this: "According to a website dedicated to soccer trivia."
Not enough column inches to name the website? Come on. It's the least Tom Powers could do, as all the facts he displays as if he knew them himself come from it. (Easy enough. I'll do it for him--Tom Powers would like to thank http://www.athleticscholarships.net/history-of-soccer.htm for giving him all the facts for his first 3 paragraphs, including facts he doesn't credit them for. So you know, skip the first three paragraphs of Powers' new column, because you can read all the salient facts at the link above.)
But listen, Tom Powers didn't get into journalism to know facts or to credit his sources; he did it for the same reason every aspiring journalism student gets into the business--to highlight his own victimization.
Powers: "Over the next few weeks, there will be riots and bloodlettings, injuries and even deaths in South Africa and around the globe as a result of this tournament. But please pretend you don't notice. Otherwise, well, all sorts of vile epithets will be hurled in your direction, not to mention the odd jagged stone or brick. Your intelligence will be questioned. You may even, in fact, be labeled a racist."
Well, acting as if those exact same things don't happen in the wake of any major US sporting event might get you called those things. Or suggesting, as Powers seems to suggest, that this is an argument against the sport itself--that might get called you a vile epithet--like "stupid, fat fuck" for example. And let's be clear here--Powers, four years ago (the last time he wrote about soccer) wrote something that was egregiously, obviously racist. Did you see the above quote? It's pretty racist, no? Talking about the violence that accompanies soccer games is a fair, even reasonable thing to discuss. Talking about how only illegal immigrants watch the game is racist. There's a difference there.
I do believe that those in the writing game might call what just happened there as "attacking a strawman." In this case, the legions of American soccer fans who apparently defend hooliganism by calling the detractors racist. That happens all the goddamn time, I guess. Even though hooligans are primarily a white British problem. But OK, OK -- let's not get caught up in details--it isn't Powers' fault that he didn't have time to Google "hooligans".
Let's move beyond this, because Powers is simply misunderstood. He doesn't dislike the game and never has.
Powers: "I've been asked thousands of times what I have against soccer. The answer never changes: nothing. It is a pleasant enough diversion, especially through the grade school and high school years, when the players are unskilled enough to create many surprises*. I've watched my own kids play hundreds of games, covered professional matches and even attended a World Cup."
*Because very very skilled players never produce surprises?
Now, some sort of jerky reactionary asshole soccer fan might say something like, "Hey, Tom--ever wonder why you've been asked that question thousands of times? Could be the dismissive way you describe the game the way you do above? The World's Most Watched Sport is a pleasant diversion for children? That might not seem a little, I don't know, condescending?
Or maybe it is because the idea that four years ago, Powers said the following things about the World Cup: "No one who actually is from here cares about the most over-hyped, mind-numbingly boring event in the world. " or "We don't like soccer because we do understand it. And it's awful."
But to clear--Tom Powers has never had a problem with soccer, and finds it a pleasant diversion. OK, then.
From there the column meanders a bit into complaining about MMA fans, and comparing them to soccer fans--surprise!--soccer fans are more annoying than MMA fans because they are so obnoxious about their sport. If only soccer fans were like good old patient, nice Tom Powers, who loves baseball and who relates an anecdote that sounds made up to me, but who knows.
Powers: "A soccer fan once raged at me that baseball was the slowest, dullest game he'd ever witnessed. Fine, I told him. I respect your opinion. Some people feel that way. I didn't lecture him about not understanding the game, even though he complained that the "thrower" wouldn't let the man with the bat hit the ball."
Does the obvious logical fallacy present in that paragraph need explaining? It is pretty obvious, is it not, that Powers told the man in question that he respected his opinion, but now uses the story to destroy the man's credibility and his opinion? In a format in which the (possibly fictional) man is no position to clarify what he meant?
Powers, unknowingly, proves my point--any sport can be boring at times--we've all watched NFL games that dragged forever; we've all witnessed lackluster baseball games, and yes, every soccer fan in the world will admit that they are not particularly optimistic that say, Italy vs. Paraguay is going to set the world aflame with awesomeness. But it is also true that the more you know about any sport, the less boring it becomes. A pitcher's duel in baseball; two great defenses going at each other in football; or two wholly different styles of soccer colliding--your knowledge of the game affects your appreciation of the game. Powers implicitly suggests that to be true with his dismissal of the anti-baseball fan.
And I think it is fair to assume, despite his attendance of "hundreds" of his kid's soccer matches, and a smattering of real soccer, Powers doesn't know enough about soccer to know what the fuck he is talking about here. His curriculum vitae in the sport pales next to mine, and I'm just some dude with a blog. I've watched hundreds of World Cup matches; I've participated in hundreds of matches; I know soccer. I know how exciting the Netherlands concept of 4-2-3-1 might be; I know that this a tournament in which African nations might break out; I know things about soccer that have been ingrained in me for years--not just facts I googled the morning before my column about how "soccer is no fun" was due.
Tom Powers has learned not to suggest that Americans who watch the World Cup are illegal immigrants, but he has learned that people who call him on that are being mean for no reason. He's still quite convinced that soccer fans are arrogant because they question his commitment to learn, even as he mocks someone who disparages baseball for the exact same reason soccer fans disparage him (and really--who would watch baseball and assume the pitcher should be helping the hitter? That story stinks like bullshit). Tom Powers has learned to make his anti-soccer screed sound more reasonable, but at the root, the story is the same--Soccer is boring, soccer is for children, soccer fans are jerks, soccer fans are violent (and no other sport's fan are), and on and on and on.
I asked four years ago, and I ask again now--why does Tom Powers bother? He doesn't like soccer, he doesn't follow soccer (unless his child is playing) and he doesn't want to get better at understanding soccer. He's happy in his ignorance, and quite defensive about his happiness--defensive enough, in fact, to lie about it. Why write about it at all? No one (with maybe the exception of me) was waiting for this column. Four years ago, Tom Powers was a Stupid Fat Fuck. He's not any smarter or skinnier or less of a fuck in 2010. At least he hasn't gotten worse?