I. EXCEPTIONALISM AND NATIONALISM
The United States Men’s National Soccer Team (USMNT) has always been about class, money and white boys in the effort to achieve hegemony at the FIFA World Cup. Neither the American soccer hierarchy, the coaching staff nor the footballers themselves have had the courageor the intelligence to approach the deeper issues of class, money and the Anglo-American young men dominating the national team.Such a revolutionary act would run counter to their obsessive hunger to achieve status as a great football team within the world community. However, before I begin a commentary about class, money and white boys dominating football (I will refer to the beautiful game asboth “soccer” and the international term “football”), I think it is important to give a different worldview than that of the American media commentators who havereacted to the various matches that the US team have played at the World Cup in Qatar. There needs to be an intellectual perspective on the defects of the US Men’s National Soccer Team that does not flinch from providing a criticism that could help bring about a revolutionary change in the national character itself of the team: a team that does not represent the American people in the total sense of the term, but whose football values are rife with egotism, ethnocentrism and arrogance. Beneath the desire for dominance at the World Cup is the conscious and unconscious beliefamongst the governing bodies of the US Men’s Team that the team should prevail and emerge victorious simply because it is Anglo-American and middle and upper class.
Before the match between the US team and the Wales national team, the commentators, Landon Donovan, Alexi Lalas and Clint Dempsey, played out their crass propaganda of American nationalism, and referred more than onceto howgreat this ‘golden generation’ of the national team were and how they would reveal the greatness of America in the stadiums of Qatar. They were vitriolic toward those who did not perceive the United States’ supposed greatness on the pitch. At the same time, all three of the former national team footballers were tightlipped about the darkness that fell before the World Cup began in Qatar, with the deaths of thousands of the migrant workers who created the football venues— architectural splendor created by the hands of laborers, many of them giving their lives. There was never any mention of the daily human rights abuses that go on within Qatar itself. As one American journalist, Brandon Contes, wrote so vividly about these commenters’ primitiveness:
While Fox Sports has been condemned for what they’re not saying about the controversial FIFA World Cup taking place in Qatar, one announcer may have said too much after inadvertently speaking on a hot mic.The 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar began on Sunday with Rob Stone, Eni Aluko, Clint Dempsey and Alexi Lalas hosting the opening ceremony for Fox Sports. Although they shamelessly chose not to comment on Qatar’s deplorable labor abuses and human rights violations, one announcer was heard commenting on an athlete’s teeth.As the camera panned to Qatar soccer player Hassan Al-Haydos, silence on the Fox Sports broadcast was interrupted by a voice saying, “nice teeth.”The two biggest candidates for who may have said “nice teeth” would appear to be former American soccer players Dempsey and Lalas. But considering it was just two words, it’s hard to definitively determine the voice behind the comment.
Among these so-called football commentators, Landon Donovan, Alexi Lalas and Clint Dempsey, one should note their anti-intellectuality – that is, their inability to talk with some objectivity about the weakness of the American men’s football team as well as their strengths. They also displayed a certain immaturity in their assessment of the matches the American national team played against Wales and England, exclaiming over and over how the Americans should have won those matches. These Anglo-American commentators mirrorthe national character of the United States in general, in that there is a historical inability to engage in any kind of serious or sincere self-criticism of the men’s national ‘soccer’ team. In one sense these American commentators, like the majority of the men’s national team,form part of the “white boys” that I referred to at the beginning of this essay. Neither these commentators, nor the footballers on the pitch, speak for the vast majority of the American people. They do not represent, either, the more resilient and vast national minority groups that also play football throughout the United States.
I would also like to expose the sheer opulence of the American men’s team’saccommodation in Qatar, which speaks to the repugnant smell of the decadence that prevails in the way the team is ‘housed’ in Qatar:
Upon arrival last weekend, USMNT players rode past marinas on The Pearl, Qatar’s most exclusive district. They cruised into Porto Arabia and down a two-lane road with blue-green water on either side. They arrived at the Marsa Malaz Kempinski to find waving American flags and unmatched luxury, an entertainment lounge and a private beach. “Unbelievable,” midfielder Brenden Aaronson said of the accommodations. “It's world-class.”Top-flight soccer players, of course, are used to some degree of lavishness. But this, the only World Cup hotel on an artificial island, outfitted by a U.S. soccer staff intent on meeting every imaginable need, is “one of the best,” forward Tim Weah said. Their lounge boasts big-screen TVs, PlayStation, pingpong tables, a pool table and a putting green, players said.The broader hotel, meanwhile, touts itself as a “majestic palace” that “exudes both Arabian and European elegance.” During the World Cup, a standard one-bedroom costs $5,163 per night. The palace has an ornate spa, a massive “oyster chandelier” and marble everywhere. It has seven restaurants and four bars; outdoor pools and paddle courts. It is, in its own words, “an island of palatial grandeur.”
There is among the US Men’s Soccer Team an acknowledgement that they care little about modesty regarding their living arrangements in Qatar. If one sees one of the American commercials, where some of the American football players are masquerading as if they are at an ancient Roman banquet, and how they emerge onto the pitch as larger-than-life sports heroes, one would have to admit they outperform the pathetic escapades that ancient Greek and Roman historians wrote about such athletic narcissists in their age.
The commercialization of American soccer, as Anglo-Americans call the great football spectacle, is also tied to vast networks of corporate monies. Concerning the FIFA World Cup, very few of the millions of Americans know the web of money entanglements that the Fox television network is a part of. A British news network online revealed the following monetary connections between Qatar and the American television media network, Fox, and its muted voice on political issues that affected this World Cup venue in Qatar:
FOX Sports' coverage of the World Cup, which will not address the host nation's human rights record, is notably sponsored by state-owned airline Qatar Airways, it has emerged.
FOX Sports has the rights in the US to the English-language coverage of the tournament held in Qatar but announced it will focus on the on-field action, rather than addressing the country's human rights record.
The network's plans only changed once the deal with Qatar Airways was agreed and finalized. The agreement reportedly included comped flights to the host nation, presumably on the state-owned airline. In October, FOX insisted it will focus on soccer not the controversial tournament's host country and its human rights record or treatment of migrant workers.
The present writer was himself forced by necessity to view the World Cup on the Fox Sports 1 television network, knowing now thatI, like millions of other Americans, are a part of the sweetheart deals made between an American corporation and a country that cares little about the welfare not only of its thousands of migrant workers but their own working class,which is hardly ever given a voice at home or abroad. Money is the engine that binds the American National Soccer Team in its grand scheme to become the exceptional football team of nations who play in the FIFA World Cup.
II. A LACK OF WORLD VIEW IN INTERNATIONAL FOOTBALL
From an international perspective of class and power politics regarding the FIFA World Cup, there was this admission by a journalist for the New York Times:
At every World Cup and Olympics, television broadcasters grapple with how they will balance the promotional nature of airing a worldwide sporting event with the journalistic imperative to cover the darker side of sports. The question has grown in importance as the selection of hosts has regularly been tainted by accusations of bribery and bid-rigging and authoritarian nations, eager to burnish their images, have emerged as some of the fiercest, or only, bidders.
For the human rights issues remain that the many of the footballers from various nations, including those of Germany, England, Belgium and Wales, were keen to express themselves about, and which there was nevera single voice of political dissent from the middle-class American footballers that represented the United States at Qatar.
The New York Times essay went on to further express how human rights and workers’issuesare part and parcel of the FIFA World Cup:
The Qatar World Cup provides plenty of reporting opportunities for Fox. The U.S. government has said that FIFA officials were bribed to award the World Cup to Qatar. Plagued by disorganization, the event was moved from the summer to the late fall five years after Qatar was awarded the tournament, and the start date was changed earlier this year. Homosexuality is a criminal offense in Qatar, leading to questions about how gay soccer fans will be treated. Just days before the tournament began, Qatari officials changed when and where fans would be allowed to drink alcohol.
“You are never just covering a soccer tournament in the World Cup,” said Bob Ley, who hosted ESPN’s coverage of the 2010 and 2014 World Cups. “You are never just covering a 90-minute match because the meaning of the World Cup is a meeting of cultures, governments, systems and ways of life.”
The US Men’s National Soccer team mirrors its national government’s political overreach among nation states. It has this urgency, this insatiable demand that other football nations acknowledge its greatness, which does not exist. At the same time, the American footballers and the managerial staff do not acknowledge that the matches are also a cultural, and in some cases a political, duel between two adversaries on a grassy pitch. The American Men’s manager is loath to admit that football is also a political event and a cultural spectacle. Anews network reporter wrote about the American manager’s denial of the obvious: “Berhalter however insisted that while tensions between the US and Iranian governments remain, politics would not enter Tuesday’s occasion.I envision the game being hotly contested for the fact that both teams want to advance to the next round – not because of politics or because of relations between our countries.We’re soccer players and we’re going to compete and they’re going to compete and that’s it.”
III. CLASS STRUGGLE AND NATIONAL MINORITY INCLUSIVENESS
I mentioned at the beginning of my essay about how the National Men’s Soccer Team is about class and a lack of national minority inclusiveness. We have yet to see young men on these teams from the working-class Mexican American barriosor theworking-class ghettos of Black Americans. We have yet to see young menwho are Mexican American, African American and Native American being a part of the national men’s soccer team, those who play in the small parks, isolated parking lots and sandlots in Wichita, Kansas, in Chicago and in the deep South as well. We are ‘entertained’ instead by the snobbery and naïve arrogance of the middle- and upper-middle-class Anglo-Americans who have been catered to by the media and corporate sports interests regarding the sport of football. The parents of these Anglo-Americans have the incomes to create a glassbubble of exceptionalism regarding their right to play the sport, with little regard to the other classes who would also like to participate in the world venue of football. Football belongs to the heritage of the working class, and it is from the youth of that class that the spectacle of the sport will become visible and great on American football pitches and on thestage of the World Cup. However,it is important that we give a full and vivid critique as to why football in America is rife with class and racial discrimination. As reported by an American reporter on a sports link:
Soccer, in its purest form, is the most accessible and racially diverse team sport in the world. But American soccer, as Precious realized, is not. It’s disproportionately white and upper-middle-class. Doug Andreassen, the former chair of a U.S. Soccer diversity task force, recognized this decades ago. He’d look around a country home to tens of millions of non-white people. Then he’d look around soccer boardrooms, and out onto fields, and wonder: “Why doesn't soccer in America look like America?”
However, the author, who wrote this commentary in 2020, was able to give a more direct answer as to why American soccer is oneof money, class and white privilege:
The superficial answer is obvious. Participation, in most cases, requires money. Soccer’s diversity problem, at its core, is a socioeconomic problem. And in America, after centuries of racial oppression – of slavery, Jim Crow laws, redlining, ongoing mass incarceration, and so much more – socioeconomic problems are race problems. In 2017, the median non-Hispanic white household owned $171,700 in net wealth; the median Black household owned $9,567. White America controls soccer, just as it controls so much else.
But the full answer is more complex. It’s rooted in a uniquely American youth sports industry built around economic and social capital. The industry fuels a sprawling soccer network that excludes minorities and perpetuates the power of those white men in charge.
“This,” Lowery says, “is systemic racism in soccer.”Once upon a time, soccer was a working-class sport. It still is in many countries. A century ago, it was in the United States. Early amateur teams sprung out of ethnically diverse urban areas. Semi-pro leagues came and went.
American “football”does not demonstrate genuine creativity. It lacks verve and audacity by the players on the pitch. The American Men’s National Soccer Teamdoes not have a profound feeling of the American experience of the beautiful game. As the former Argentine World Cup manager, Cesar Luis Menotti put it so well: “To be a footballer means being a privileged interpreter of the feelings and dreams of thousands of people. Our football belongs to the working class and has the size, nobility and generosity to allow everyone to enjoy it as a spectacle.” Once the US National Men’s Soccer Team abandonsits hegemonic quest to dominate world football as demanded by the American media and the United States Soccer Federation that governs the team, and once the National Men’s Soccer team becomes a football team of national minorities and white working-class footballers as well, then it will find its great national American character on the World Cup pitch.
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