Archive for the 'Major League Soccer' Category

Dec 06 2013

Profile Image of Lindsey Barrett

Soccer Satire

 

Satire can be a fantastic way to stimulate discussion about real issues; often, it can be more revelatory than straight discourse.   Laughing at a joke compels understanding and examining why the joke was funny– and in satire, the humor is derived from revealing precisely how ridiculous certain serious subjects truly are.  Satirists are frequently an important part of cultural criticism, from Mark Twain to Bassem Youssef;  humor is an excellent way to make an unreceptive public care about what you want them to care about.  While frequently more ridiculous than incisive, the Onion is one such source; and when I stumbled upon this piece written about the 2010 World Cup, I discovered that many of the premises of the humor of the piece are still distinctly applicable to soccer in the US.

http://www.theonion.com/articles/nations-soccer-fan-becoming-insufferable,17553/

The running joke is that the single soccer fan in American has become insufferable over the World Cup, the humor (and truth) lying in the fact that, of course, while there is more than one, there are far fewer soccer fans in the US than practically anywhere else, despite a deeply entrenched culture of sports spectatorship and participation (particularly, and paradoxically, participation in soccer youth leagues.)  The lone fan, Brad Janovich, is “the only American citizen currently aware that the World Cup begins June 11″; the sources quoted in the article are “only peripherally aware of the World Cup,” and are confused and irritated when he strikes up “several extended but one-sided conversations concerning figures such as “Kaka” and “Ronaldinho,” generally mystifying and alienating everyone he has come into contact with.” I won’t  ruin the genuinely funny piece by quoting further, but you get the gist.  The humor of the piece is predicated on the isolation of the US in its apathy towards the global game, and that the grip soccer has on American audiences is tenuous at best.  These are realities that have seen some movement in the last 4 years, but not much; hopefully this World Cup will do a better job of capturing the American imagination (apart from Brad Janovich’s) better than the last one.

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Nov 27 2013

Profile Image of Colby Leachman

The Art of Deception…..Also Known as Diving

The soccer “Dive” has become rather infamous in the football world. Many media outlets, critics, and fans alike view the act of diving as a sort of sacrilege to the game. Which is why, for a long time, I held the belief that pretty much everyone in the world hated soccer dives. That was until I stumbled upon the article on Slate titled, ” Why Diving Makes Soccer Great.” (1) Now, it is possible that the author, Austin Kelly, is playing devils advocate; but for the sake of argument I choose to assume that I stumbled upon the sole person in the world that actually enjoys soccer dives.

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The base line for his argument has been brought up many times before and equates to the notion that diving is a skill. A sort of art form if you will. Specifically Kelly argues that, “Diving is like drawing a charge in basketball. When it is done well, it is a subtle (and precarious) art.” The argument is simply enough but its also bereft of any coherence. A charge in basketball is a fundamental foul call, diving in soccer is an attempt to get a foul call when none such foul was committed. Furthermore, a charge is drawn by a defender when an attacker is charging the goal too aggressively. On the other hand, A dive is done by an offensive player when they are frustrated because they cannot get by an opposing defender.

Clearly, I don’t agree with Kelly, but that’s the thing about opinions, everyone is entitled to them. Sure, good deception is a skill and the perfect dive is an art. In the same way that knowing how to pick a safe is a skill and pulling of the perfect bank robbery is an art but that doesn’t it make it good for the banking industry.

D.B. Cooper or Billy Bob Thorton in Bad Santa?

No matter what side of the fence your on, The diving “epidemic” has become a hot bed of conversation, especially with the upcoming 2014 World Cup. Sure some people argue( but probably only Kelly) that its good for the game, but most critics agree that it has become a problem in professional soccer. It has gained a special notoriety in the media as a laughing point in soccer but (finally) some federations are now attempting to take it more seriously.

http://http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5TTqQ1ULUPE

Surprisingly, the MLS has become one of the first professional soccer leagues to address the problem head-on. In 2011, the MLS dealt their first fine for an illegal dive. The MLS handed Charlie Davies, a D.C. United Forward, a $1,000 fine for a dive that they believed altered the result of D.C. United’s game against Real Salt Lake (2). Since this first fine in 2011, the MLS has handed out multiple other diving related fines. However, the MLS is one of the only professional soccer organization in the world that is handing out retroactive punishments for illegal dives.

In the birthplace of football, The EPL, seems to have a much more lenient strategy. In a recent interview about Ashley Cole’s blatant dive against Crystal Palace, EPL spokesman Phil Dorward gave a groundbreaking statement; ” If a player is continually booked for diving, and it becomes a problem, we’ll visit the club and talk the player through what is a dive and what isn’t.” (3) Right Phil, because that’s the problem, Ashley Cole simply cant distinguish between what is a dive and what is not a dive. Brilliant.

 

 

Granted, perhaps fines are not the cure all to the diving epidemic but at least they are a start. Certainly, the EPL can’t think the catalyst for diving is education or the lack there of. A professional soccer player knows an illegal dive just as well as he knows the offside rule. The players are using the dive because it offers them an opportunity to win, and the only way to counter this is to somehow convince them that diving is not worth it. This could be done via fines, However, we have seen that in the NFL and NBA fines only work to a certain extent.It could also be done via suspensions, but then again suspensions have only stopped a handful of MLB players from taking steroids.

So while the answer to stopping the diving epidemic is unclear, it is clear that the EPL and other prestigious soccer organizations need to start doing something about it. Whatever it may be, fines or suspensions, it is sure to be more effective than an educational sit down.

Citations

(1) http://www.slate.com/articles/sports/sports_nut/2006/06/why_diving_makes_soccer_great.html

(2) http://www.mlssoccer.com/news/article/2011/06/24/mls-disciplinary-committee-fines-davies-simulation

(3) http://espnfc.com/news/story/_/id/1554261/premier-league-visit-ashley-young-diving?cc=5901

 

 

6 responses so far

Nov 20 2013

Profile Image of Jordan Pearson

Two MLS teams in Florida

Filed under Major League Soccer

The MLS has announced its plan to add four new teams, expanding the league to 24 teams by 2020. Is this a bigger push to get more Americans involved in the league? While there are many programs vying for the spots, one of them was recently given to Orlando City. With that in mind, it is interesting  that David Beckham is working with LeBron James to start an MLS team in Miami.

Is this really a good idea? I am all for expanding the MLS. The NFL has 32 teams, and the NBA, NHL, and MLB all have 30. I think that more teams, spread across the country (except for maybe 2 in a few big cities, like New York or LA) would spark more interest, getting people to come out and support their local teams. But putting two teams so close together? I don’t know about that. Granted, this could work. It works in other football (The Jaguars and the Dolphins) and the Dolphins are one of the best marketed sports teams in history. But will this translate to soccer? I am skeptical, mainly because of Miami’s past experience of failing to rally behind an MLS team. Some will be more optimistic than me, but I just don’t see it happening, even with the ‘Star Power’ behind the James/Beckham combo.

 

4 responses so far

Nov 16 2013

Profile Image of Michael Reintgen

Changing the College Soccer System

In the debate on how to best achieve the first World Cup title for the United States, the differences between how youth are filtered into professional leagues in the U.S. verses other nations who have had World Cup success is often the main topic of conversation. All other national programs outside of the U.S. have youngsters who dedicate the majority of their time to honing their footballing technique essentially from the onset of puberty. For this to happen in the U.S., it has often been said that education would have to take a backseat to training and preparing for the professional world mainly through bypassing the college system all together [2]. This type of approach would be going against the current trend in the sporting world, as a majority professional sports (basketball, football) have passed rules that require at least a year in college before it is possible to move on to the professional leagues.

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Photo from dukechronicle.com

However, some have denied that the approach to soccer success in the United States needs to be all-or-nothing in doing away with the college-level game, and instead suggested that America can even have an advantage over the rest of the world in containing an additional avenue to success offered by the college system. A possible compromise would be to encourage potential professional players to get involved with MLS academy team while still playing at their respective universities [1]. This solution could allow for a vitally important rigorous schedule while also lessening the harmful bottlenecking effects that exist in nearly every other successful national team and league when 99% of the talent pool doesn’t make it on the professional level. In this hybrid system, all the positives of the college system remain as players would have more to fall back on in terms of education and other career opportunities in comparison to nations like Brazil or England, while allowing the best players to be given access to the top training facilities and programs available.

Additionally, this would fix many of the problems within the college game itself. Many critics of the college system have said that the type of soccer played at this level is too slow, too direct, and too physical to thrive on the national stage [1,2]. The unlimited amount of substitutions is typically cited as the main reason for this, as an endless supply of rested legs can be dumped on to the field in order to sustain a type of play that favors chasing the ball instead of possessing it. With the increase amount of proper training and game time experience where the actual rules of soccer are used, players could get the type of training and preparation they need to succeed on the global stage. Furthermore, the low number of games played year-round in the current setup would be injected with many more MLS academy games, most likely against better competition. Collegiate players could use the additional playing opportunities to fill the large amount of downtime in the college soccer schedule from December to February and in the summer months.

Also, this would eliminate the competition between universities and professional clubs for the soccer talent pool in America. While a child prodigy would still be able to forgo college all together to work exclusively with a professional club around the clock, a player who shows great potential but may not be as sure-set on a professional career wouldn’t have to make such a huge life decision so soon. Rather, this player could attend a university and have 4 more years to develop and decide whether the professional athlete track is really meant for them. This secondary option is extremely beneficial to the overall talent pool available for the national team to draw upon. The college system is phenomenal in the amount of opportunities it gives its players to develop and shine, especially for the type of “late-bloomer” player who may need a few more years to incubate in order to be ready for the next level. There are much more places to play across the three college divisions than in one or maybe two divisions in professional leagues. You also get 4 years to show that you are worthy of the next level, instead of a tryout period that can last only months in a professional environment. In this way, colleges provide a kind of “back-door” into the professional and national team setup that could aide greatly in catching talent missed at earlier stages [1].

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Gabriel de los Rios/MLSsoccer.com

Lastly, and maybe most importantly to American soccer, this option provides the greatest opportunity for Americans to forge an intimate connection with a soccer team by preserving the collegiate system [3]. University teams are virtually the only organizations that can provide the ties to the surrounding community necessary for the development of a deep connection with a team. In improving the level of training given to collegiate players and still allowing them to be nestled in a community which will readily support them, maybe American soccer fans can have their cake and eat it too.

References:

[1] Fox Soccer Exclusive. The Future of College Soccer. Four-part series by Leander Schaerlaeckens. Accessed on November 16th, 2013. http://msn.foxsports.com/foxsoccer/usa/story/college-soccer-under-spotlight-as-competition-with-professional-soccer-leagues-grows-102413

[2] Examiner.com. Does college soccer hurt the US National Team? Mike Burke. Accessed on November 16th, 2013.  http://www.examiner.com/article/does-college-soccer-hurt-the-us-national-team

[3] Pitch Invasion. In defense of American college soccer: a community perspective. Andrew Guest. Accessed on November 16th, 2013. http://pitchinvasion.net/blog/2009/08/31/in-defense-of-american-college-soccer-a-community-perspective/

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Nov 08 2013

Profile Image of Natasha Catrakilis

Where’s our La Masia?

A recent article in the The New York Times about “an American boy wonder in Barcelona” caught my eye this morning.  The wonder boy is Ben Lederman, age 13. The Lederman family packed up everything and left their lives, family, and friends in California to move to Barcelona in 2011 when Ben (who was then 11 years old) was invited to train at La Masia, the famed youth academy run by the global soccer juggernaut FC Barcelona, what many would say is the best football club the world has ever seen.

Ben is the first United States-born player invited to train at La Masia, and that distinction, while significant, means little to his overall quest: to work his way up through the Barcelona youth teams and someday, maybe, become the first American to play for Barcelona’s first team.

Ben Lederman

After reading the article, I thought back to a 60 Minutes episode that I watched this summer on CBS – The Super Cartel, Sticker Shock, Barça (while the entire episode is very interesting the part pertaining to this post is clearly the last segment on Barça). In this episode, Bob Simon profiles the Catalonian football club and the training system it built that produces such gifted players that nearly 70% of the current team is manned by its graduates. So it makes sense then why the Lederman family decided to make the life-altering decision to move to Barcelona and give Ben the opportunity of a lifetime. Parents want what’s best for their children, and La Masia is the best.

 

 

It is safe to say then that youth development is a, if not the, key factor to Barça’s success. Perhaps this is something the United States can learn from as we continue in our struggle to build a truly successful soccer league.

 

A fellow classmate of mine (Bryan Silverman) wrote a blog post earlier this semester, “U.S. Youth Soccer vs. Soccer Fandom in the U.S.,”  in which he pointed out that

the United States has the highest participation of youth playing soccer in the world, with almost 4 million American children registered with US Youth Soccer.Furthermore, the United States saw the most accelerated growth rate of high school soccer between 1990 and 2010 than it had ever seen before.

 

So the desire of the youth to play the beautiful game clearly exists in the US, and we obviously have the talent (cough, cough… Ben Lederman). However, most soccer youth academies in the US are simply an extracurricular outlet. Until recent times, the US had nothing like La Masia to nurture our most talented young soccer players, but the MLS has recently launched 19 of its own soccer academies in cities across North America — and they’re modeled on European soccer academies like La Masia. Granted, it takes many years to create the sort of environment, ethos, and reputation that La Masia provides – the program did not just form overnight. La Masia also has the cultural association of being Catalonian – a truly unifying identity, something that, as Barça’s President Sandro Rosell says, is “in their blood.”

 

Many of you reading this are probably thinking that the only reason kids like Ben Lederman go to La Masia is for the hopes of playing for Barça one day. So even if an “American” La Masia was established , which team would those players hope to play for one day? There is no “American” Barça. La Masia is only great because Barça is great.

 

It’s the classic “which came first: the chicken or the egg” question. Which needs to come first: the youth development program or the team? I myself am not sure of the answer in general. But I would say that for Barça specifically, it was the youth program. However if you consider other successful teams around the world, that’s not necessarily the case. Many other clubs owe their success primarily to transfers (and yes, I’m aware that Barça does get some incredible players via transfers, but that makes up a minority of their team).

 

Whether or not the United States is capable of creating teams that rival Barça is not certain, but I do believe that, given the increasing interest and participation of our youth, part of the answer lies within our youth development programs. We are a country that constantly emphasizes the importance of our youth and the fact that they are the hope of our future. In education and the workforce, we strive to give the American youth all the best opportunities. Therefore, the same can be applied to the soccer arena. Perhaps then, families like the Ledermans won’t feel the need to sacrifice a life in the US and move halfway across the world in order to provide “the best” for their children.

 

 

4 responses so far

Oct 06 2013

Profile Image of Bryan Silverman

U.S. Youth Soccer vs. Soccer Fandom in the U.S.

The United States Youth Soccer logo.

A common question that people often ask is, “why has soccer not taken off in the United States the same way that other sports have?” Although there are a variety of hypotheses, ranging from “it just isn’t the style of play that Americans like” to “it isn’t high scoring enough” to “there isn’t a professional league at a high enough level,” I think it is interesting to analyze the disconnect between I see between the high participation in youth soccer and the lack of fandom that exists.

Interestingly enough, the United States has the highest participation of youth playing soccer in the world, with almost 4 million American children registered with US Youth Soccer. Furthermore, the United States saw the most accelerated growth rate of high school soccer between 1990 and 2010 than it had ever seen before. There are also a growing number of television channels that provide access to both foreign and domestic games to help with the soccer push even further. An interesting number that seems contrary to what we think about fandom in the states is in a poll from ESPN in the Economist, demonstrating soccer is the second-favorite professional sport behind only American football in the United States for Americans ages 12-24. What do these numbers say to me? There is a large constituent of those who play, and perhaps there is a growing number of fans, but why are Americans thought of as not liking soccer, then?

However, I have to ask myself, “why do I love to play the game so much, and enjoy watching it, but would not consider myself an avid fan of the game?” And I think that there are probably numbers that exist about taking either side of this argument, but to me, I love watching sports because of its social nature. Watching the Masters finals on that first or second Sunday in April, sitting down with chips and dip every Sunday to watch American football, or going to Cameron to be a Cameron Crazie with 1,500+ others, soccer seems to fall into a catch-22 situation. I like to watch sports and be a fan because I get to do it with friends and family. But when friends and family don’t enjoy watching, then I don’t end up watching. Will the United States reverse this cycle and become a nation of fans of this beautiful game? Or perhaps we really are in a period of transition where people think the sport might not be big while in reality it has a huge following? Only time will tell.

6 responses so far

Oct 04 2013

Profile Image of Matthew Schorr

Un Nouveau stade de foot à New York : conséquences locales

Les conséquences politiques de foot sont souvent nationales et internationales. Par conséquent, c’est souvent possible d’utiliser le foot comme aperçu du psychisme national et des affaires étrangères. Considérez l’équipe nationale française comme microcosme d’une société idéale qui intègre chaque partie diverse de l’ancien empire, et les fêtes en Afghanistan comme symbole du désir d’être affranchi de l’oppression du Taliban. Puis, considérez le fait que les puissances impériales utilisaient le foot comme moyen d’avancer « la mission civilisatrice », de propager les valeurs occidentales dans des colonies.

Mais les conséquences politiques de foot sont aussi locales. Le projet de construire un nouveau stade de foot qui peut accueillir presque 30 000 à New York atteste de ce fait. Les New York Yankees et le Manchester City Football Club, propriétaires d’un nouveau club du MLS qui s’appelle le New York City Football Club, sont en train de chercher un siège pour leur équipe. Les partenaires ont proposé la construction d’un stade à Queens, un arrondissement de New York. Cependant, beaucoup de résidents de Queens et les New York Mets, qui ont leur siège à Queens, ont rejeté en mai la proposition. Alors, un nouveau plan était proposé : de mettre le stade dans le Bronx, un autre arrondissement, où il se situerait à côté de Yankee Stadium. Les propriétaires considèrent aussi la possibilité de le mettre à Brooklyn, un troisième arrondissement. En tout cas, le nouveau stade sera le premier stade de foot professionnel à New York (Red Bull Arena, le stade des New York Red Bulls, un club du MLS, se situe à Harrison, New Jersey).

Ferran Soriano, PDG de Manchester City; Michael Bloomberg, maire de New York; et Hal Steinbrenner, propriétaire des New York Yankees après avoir annoncé un partenariat entre les clubs pour créer un nouveau club MLS à New York. (REUTERS / Mike Segar)

(REUTERS / Mike Segar)
Ferran Soriano, PDG de Manchester City; Michael Bloomberg, maire de New York; et Hal Steinbrenner, propriétaire des New York Yankees après avoir annoncé l’établissement d’un partenariat pour créer un nouveau club du MLS à New York.

Pourquoi cette grande controverse qui concerne l’adresse du stade ? Les complexités politiques sont innombrables et, comme d’habitude, c’est impossible de faire plaisir tout le monde en même temps. Il faut considérer le prix du stade (pour les propriétaires et pour la ville de New York), les conditions de l’achat du terre, la circulation, la coordination des calendriers (pour que les plusieurs équipes de l’arrondissement ne jouent pas à domicile en même temps), la destruction des espaces verts, la commercialisation du quartier, l’économie, les transports publics, le tourisme, l’opinion publique, les contrats (de l’entrepreneur en bâtiment et des vendeurs du stade), et l’incommodité d’un grand projet de construction. En plus, chaque arrondissement à l’étude a déjà un grand complexe de sport : Yankee Stadium dans le Bronx, CitiField (le stade des Mets) et le Billy Jean King National Tennis Center (le siège du tournoi de Flushing Meadows) à Queens, et le Barclays Center (le stade des Nets) à Brooklyn.

Un plan de la ville de New York.

Un plan de la ville de New York.

J’ai initialement appris du projet de construire ce stade quand j’ai lu un article de Charles V. Bagli, « Soccer Club’s Latest Stadium Proposal Would Give the Yankees a New Neighbor », dans le New York Times. L’article m’a étonné parce que je n’avais aucune idée qu’il y aura un nouveau club de foot à New York, ma ville natale. Je trouve qu’il y a un manque de discours à propos du projet—malgré l’opposition publique en Queens—probablement parce que le projet est à ses débuts. En plus, le foot professionnel n’a pas beaucoup de supporters à New York, une ville qui aime surtout le baseball, le football américain, et le basket. Toutefois, j’imagine que les New-Yorkais feront attention ; les conséquences économiques, politiques, commerciales, et sociales du projet sont trop importantes pour le peuple d’être désintéressé.

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Sep 23 2013

Profile Image of Ian Bruckner

Vulgar Chants a Problem for MLS Teams

The Viking Army, a fan group for the New York Red Bulls, one of several MLS team working with fan groups to kick their habit of vulgar chants. Courtesy of nyt.com

When most fans of the beautiful game hear the term “vulgar chants,” they probably conjure images of English hooligans, racism across Europe or any game the United States Men’s team plays in Mexico. However, according to a recent report in the New York Times, vulgarity is becoming entrenched among fan groups at MLS games and teams are struggling to find ways to induce fans to stop. In this article, entitled “M.L.S. Tries to Mute Fans Vulgar Chants,” Andrew Keh details how similar chants involving dirty language have been popping up across the country. One chant in particular, the wording of which is “unprintable” but has the initials “YSA” (I’ll let you figure it out) originated in Europe.

According to Keh, teams including the New York Red Bulls and Real Salt Lake have sent letters to fan groups asking them not to chant profane language. The Red Bulls offered each of its three official fan groups $500 for  for every game in which they improved. Two of those groups accepted the offer, and have since received $4,000 each towards paraphernalia and travel. A spokesman, nicknamed Terror, for the third group, the Garden State Ultras, said that the Ultras do not support the chant but also are uncomfortable with the idea of incentives.

Understandably for a league that is slowly but surely establishing itself, many teams want to create a fun, exciting atmosphere, but one that parents feel comfortable taking their kids to. In some ways, this is a good problem to have. MLS teams used to be desperate for attendance, but now average attendance at an MLS game is higher than that of the NBA and NHL. Therefore, the problem many teams face is that of creating an atmosphere that is safe and fun but also intense. Hopefully, the Red Bulls and other teams are successful in their efforts. I doubt that the use of foul language is the beginning of European-style hooliganism, but Americans are accustomed to a pleasant atmosphere at professional sporting events. The future of soccer in the United States rests on its youth, and if parents are loathe to take their children to games because other fans are yelling profanities, the game’s future popularity may suffer.

3 responses so far

Sep 23 2013

Profile Image of Lindsey Barrett

“Fair Play”: Science, Steroids and Sports

 

Skill is a delicate balance between hard work and natural ability. And while the tension between the two has to be efficient to produce a capable student/shot putter/basket-weaver, it’s often completely lopsided; you’ll have that kid in your chemistry class who only every studied the night before every final and waltzes out with an A, and you’ll have the kid who comes off as dumb as a bag of rocks, yet works like a dog for every assignment put in front of him, and has the results to show for it. Each arrives at the finish line, and there’s no guarantee that the naturally gifted will get there first, but Brilliant McOrgo had to put in a lot less work.

The dynamic between discipline and natural talent is evident in a number of domains, but particularly visible in any kind of physical field.  My area of expertise isn’t soccer, but ballet—in that discipline, the body you’re born with can mean the difference between the stage of Lincoln Center, and its mezzanine.  Natural flexibility, high arches, loose joints, long Achilles tendons, and a short torso with long legs, arms, and neck; lacking any of these isn’t enough to preclude a person from a successful career in ballet, but possessing one or all of them makes success a whole lot more likely.

In the September 9th issue of The New Yorker, Malcolm Gladwell reviewed David Epstein’s new book “The Sports Gene,” in which the author applies this phenomenon to, well, sports.  Gladwell refers in his review to renowned Finnish cross-country skier Eero Mäntyrant, who carries a genetic mutation that causes his bone marrow to produce a surplus of red blood cells.  In a high-endurance sport such as cross country skiing, this gives him an immense advantage; it doesn’t mean he didn’t work immensely hard to get where he is today, but it means that he naturally had a better springboard than his fellow skiers.  The same goes for Bahamian high-jumper Donald Thomas, who, as the lucky beneficent of remarkably long Achilles tendons, was able to win the world championships 8 months after he first started training. But the focus of Gladwell’s article is the athletes who try to level the field; athletes like Lance Armstrong, and Alex Rodriguez, each of whom used science to further the possibilities of what the human body can accomplish, or as most people would describe it, cheated.

But it’s possible to argue that Armstrong and Rodriguez’s actions, in principle, were in fact ‘leveling the field.’ In baseball, for instance, MLB has no problem with players receiving corrective surgery on their eyes, or replacing the ulnar collateral ligament in the player’s pitching arm with one from a cadaver or from elsewhere in the player’s body; this, too, is using basic scientific understanding to correct for slight deficiencies that make a substantial difference in successful play.  Baseball players, on the whole, have vision immensely superior to the rest of the population, on which they rely to accurately catch and hit tiny balls zooming at 90 miles an hour; better vision can be the difference between bench warming at the local high school and pitching for the Yankees. Tendon replacement surgery, too, turns the athlete into a “better version of his former self.” Armstrong and Rodriguez used endocrinology as opposed to ophthalmology or orthopedic surgery in order to enable themselves to work harder—is the line between different areas of science really stark enough to delineate the quotidian from the morally depraved?  This is the question Gladwell raises in his review of Epstein’s book, and I think it has value.

Soccer is famously all but free of doping scandals, as sheer force or superhuman endurance, while helpful, aren’t as quite key as in other sports.  There’s no steroid for agility (though if there were, I’m certain soccer would be more of a part of this conversation). But that’s not to say that the sport is immune; just in June, FIFA voted to incorporate new biological profiles for players to insure against doping.  In any event, the overall question applies to all areas of sports: why do we so thoroughly revile players for some measures, and not others? Why is the difference between corrective surgery and EPO doping the difference between getting ahead, and craven cheating? Gladwell doesn’t exculpate Rodriguez or Armstrong, and nor should he.  But emotions are often too intertwined with sport for rational discussion to even be possible; the suggestion that an athlete who used measures to ‘get ahead’ is anything but the most disgusting kind of traitor is more often than not laughed out of the room. In the specific cases of Armstrong and Rodriguez, they should be reviled; Armstrong in particular cloaked himself in the credibility of the cancer community to dispel suspicion, and any revulsion thrown his way is pretty well deserved.  But at the same time, it’s important to examine the assumptions we operate under when we consider any and all physical enhancement to be morally reprehensible in sports.

 

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Sep 12 2013

Profile Image of Lindsey Barrett

Too Darn Hot

 

For the first time in its history, the FIFA World Cup is set to be held in a country in the Middle East; the  2022 tournament will be held in Qatar.  The federation’s awarding the bid to Qatar was seen by many as bold and forward-thinking– as Sepp Blatter, FIFA’s president, pointed out, “It was time to go to the Arabic world”, as soccer is a game played “not only in Europe, but around the world.”  If we’re operating under the idea that soccer is the true lingua franca, we should act like it.  But symbolic changes bring with them technical ones as well; there are distinct differences between a global tournament being held in Qatar and one held in Switzerland, the most glaring (sorry) of which would be the heat.  The summertime temperatures in Qatar often reach 120 degrees; it poses a very real safety risk to the players to force them to play through such conditions.  And so a number of a FIFA officials, headed by Blatter, have floated the idea of a November-December Cup, when the weather would be all but ideal with a range between the mid 60’s and 80’s.

Yet Blatter is facing substantial opposition, primarily from critics who object to the scheduling conflicts such a move would create.  Shifting the Cup from the summer to the early winter would mean changed TV schedules, professional schedules; in other words, a shift could threaten profits for the television networks (namely Fox and Telemundo, who’ve paid a combined 1 billion USD for the rights), the clubs, and the players as well.  All for a competition which, for all the bragging rights winning confers, is not as financially profitable as typical club play. There’s mumbling about contradicting tradition as well, but that argument has less ultimate validity when you juxtapose it with the image of strikers fainting like schoolgirls on the pitch.

And yet in all the objections raised, it seems the wellbeing of the players has been completely lost in the shuffle.  Sports is a business like any other– but like any other business, neglecting workers is both morally reprehensible and ultimately counterproductive.  Assuring that a club’s best players are only barely recovered from heatstroke before beginning their regularly scheduled season doesn’t much help their bottom line.

This is hardly a problem unique to soccer; you need only look to the NFL’s most recent settled class action on the TBI’s of thousands of its players, or Joe Nocera’s columns on the abuse of NCAA athletes , to know that treating players like chattel is a sports-wide problem, an odd contrast with the immense monetary value our society tends to accord them.  Hopefully, in this small instance at least, the incidental fact that soccer players happen to be human won’t be forgotten.

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