What I Really Think About Soccer

Watching our USA soccer team tie the Italian team last week and on Sunday watching the athleticism of the Brazilian team, I’m hereby publicly acknowledge that soccer can be interesting to watch, as Frederick Kempe wrote about Henry Kissinger on June 17, 2006, in the Wall Street Journal summing up Kissinger’s love for the sport.

Kissinger states that, “soccer is more of an unrelenting drama, with no timeouts, commercials or water breaks, and limited opportunity for substitutions.” Kissinger tells Kempe, “When it comes to soccer, savoring its ebbs and flows of frustration, elation and ultimately exhaustion, soccer gets me at a relatively high pitch of attention.”

Kissinger plans later this month to attend a World Cup semifinal match and also the finals, regardless of who is playing.

He’s fascinated with how national characteristics translate into playing styles: Brazil’s unbridled joy, England’s noble purpose, Germany’s grim determination.” Wow! You can interpret the psyche of a nation through soccer?

Now as an old quarterback, (really old) I’ve had fun over the years making fun of soccer as an imported brand of Third World or European socialism. Reminding my audiences whether in Congress in the ’80s, or more recently when I speak at public events, that the trouble with soccer is that it doesn’t have a quarterback (ha!). I’ve always likened football to entrepreneurial capitalism, because the quarterback is the risk taker who organizes the factors of production, (the offense) in such a way as to score touchdowns, (profits) and thus win games, (increase profits) and hopefully make windfall profits, (with a championship).

OK, OK, so I’ve stretched the point. Still, football is America’s passion, just as soccer is the passion of so many other people around the world.

In the ’80s, on behalf of the committee to bring a World Cup to the U.S., I gave a George Carlin-like speech (he’s one of my favorite comedians) of football vs. soccer. And with my “tongue firmly planted in my cheek,” I made the point that soccer was collectivism, every man for himself, while football is capitalistic, and then predicted the final score of the World Cup would be zero to zero, with a shootout to settle the contest.

Darned if it didn’t happen exactly that way in 1994, with the Kemps and Kissingers in the Rose Bowl, watching Brazil defeat Italy in a “shootout,” as the 90-minute game had ended in a tie, at zero.

My speech in the Congress was based on one of Carlin’s great comedic routines of the differences between baseball and football.

Carlin used to say, “baseball is pastoral, while football is war-like,” and the purpose of baseball is “to come home,” while the purpose of football is to “throw bombs and score.” In baseball, “you get a walk,” Carlin would say, whereas in football you have to “crash through the line,” etc.

Now folks didn’t take Carlin seriously, but boy did they take umbrage at my soccer vs. football characterization. Every time National Public Radio mentioned the World Cup last week they would, as an aside, mention that former Rep. Jack Kemp called soccer socialistic and collectivist while football is capitalism, or something like that.

In fact Jon Weinbach wrote in the Wall Street Journal on June 9, 2006, “The chorus of soccer haters includes journalist Frank Deford, sports-radio host Jim Rome and former vice presidential candidate Jack Kemp, who once called soccer a ‘European socialist’ sport.”

For older fans who didn’t grow up playing the game, its growth “represents a direct threat to American culture and tradition,” says Franklin Foer, editor of the New Republic and author of the 2004 book “How Soccer Explains the World.” And the success of the women’s national team and the rising pop-culture profile of “soccer moms” has just provided ammunition for critics who’ve long viewed the sport as “less manly,” he says.

This is all nonsense, of course, but some take it seriously.

My e-mail is running 10 to 1 against me, so in the interest of America and Kemp family harmony, (seven or eight of my 16 grandchildren have played, or are playing soccer), let me now say in print, I love soccer, but it’s still boring. Oops, there I go again.

I admire the speed, skill and athleticism of soccer players and it’s great exercise, but as they say in politically correct jargon of Washington, D.C., if I offended anybody, anywhere in the world and if anyone is emotionally hurt by my words, I officially apologize. OK?

And now for my prediction of the World Cup championship circa 2006, it’ll be Brazil vs. my favorite team, Argentina, and the final score will be zero to zero with a shootout. More than a billion people will be watching. Not bad for a “boring” game. Oops!