When a book starts off by praising Rupert Murdoch, I am more than a bit leery. In this case the reason for the praise was to thank Fox for initiating broadcasts of European soccer leagues here in the states. In that regard, the praise is justified for seeing the potential of high-caliber soccer in the United States, though I wish some other network had been as clairvoyant.
Franklin Foer’s intriguing book about soccer and globalization is a very interesting, though often quite depressing read. I am not sure if the title really captures the essence of the book, though. To me, it came across more like, “How Soccer Excuses Bad Behavior.” Throughout much of the book, numerous historical examples of wretched and loathsome actions are depicted and then correlated with soccer.
What troubled me was the tendency to romanticize the game despite it’s sinister side. The chapters on hooliganism, gangsters, nationalism, sectarianism, racism, and ethnic cleansing never seemed to clearly decry these actions as blatantly wrong. Instead they seemed to be explained away like they were just a part of the culture and local society. Lynchings were once a despicable part of life in the American South, but that does not mean they should be glossed over as part of the local culture. To me, wrong is wrong and that must be clearly stated and without an once of ambiguity.
To his credit, Mr. Foer does state in the prologue the following:
“The story begins bleakly and grows progressively more optimistic.”
Soccer has been a big part of my life too, as all three of my sons played it in their youth, with two playing both travel soccer and at the high school level. Despite the years of joy my family has received from soccer, I make no bones about the fact that certain aspects of the game need to be cleaned up – even more so now that I read Mr. Foer’s book. I must also say the book is nearly spot-on in its description of soccer and the American culture wars. After a certain age, none of my boys were interested in baseball and went on the play soccer and/or lacrosse instead.
Despite some reservations, I do think “How Soccer Explains the World” is a very useful read, especially for anyone who is interested in the sport, globalization, societal differences, and cultural diversity. To me, globalization is a wondrous gift that we all should become immersed in and fully enjoy. I love cheering for Manchester City from the comforts of my Michigan home. I have found the walking tours of Stamford Bridge in Chelsea and Old Trafford in Manchester to be very interesting. By the way- no mention of hooligans during the Chelsea tour.
Some may differ with me on the benefits of globalization. But, in my humble opinion, it has helped create greater understanding and a common, unifying bond among the seven billion or so residents on our Blue Boat Home we call Earth. I do believe we can celebrate our diversity and hold common interests at the same time without losing those positive aspects that make each individual culture so very special.