Tag Archives: sports

A Brief Explanation of Why Americans Don’t Play Soccer (Association Football)

Most of the world calls soccer football. The United States of America calls football soccer because back when the rest of the world started playing that kicking game we were already playing something else called football. Today, despite being a (declining) superpower, we get beat by countries the size of a postage stamp who operate on budgets that can’t afford postage.

There is a reason for this, and it isn’t just that we don’t “get it” or that there is something in American culture that precludes our appreciating the finer points of slide tackles and dramatic flopping. The NBA proves we love dramatic flopping, and no, the reason why we Yankees don’t get the game isn’t some attention span deficiency either.  While soccer is incredibly boring, it is not arguably any more boring than that American game where you take a 1 minute break between every 20 seconds of action. So no, the real answer, or reason, is history. As in there is a historical reason we never got on the soccer bandwagon. Sorry, AN historical reason.

Soccer became soccer in London’s Freemason’s Tavern in 1863. That is when and where a bunch of football clubs got together and argued over whether or not the rules would allow a player to pick up the ball and carry it, as opposed to just kicking. The group voted to only allow kicking, causing those who supported the Rugby School’s version of the game, where you can choose to pick the ball up and run, to leave in protest. The two groups or factions never got back together. Forever after there would be two different games, association football, and rugby football, or as Americans know them, simply soccer and rugby- though we mostly ignore them both.

Back then England was very much meddling in the rest of the world’s everything. Business men, merchants, and their military were still colonizing and influencing all sorts of people and countries everywhere. It was all this influencing that helped both games, soccer and rugby, spread globally. It is also this influencing, and who was influencing who how, that these two games took on two sorts of identities or reputations. Soccer was, and is, the “every man’s” (or woman’s) game. Everyone plays. Kids kick balls of trash in third world hovels or favelas, while rugby is mostly for private schools and otherwise genteel clubs. A rugby shirt, or rugby “jersey” has a collar while soccer jerseys do not, mostly because rugby was played at clubs where the club houses required a collared shirt for entry. Soccer doesn’t really require a shirt for anything other than ripping off and twirling overhead after scoring a goal. It has oft been said that soccer is a gentleman’s game played by hooligans while rugby is a hooligan game played by gentlemen.

And this is why Americans don’t play soccer.

No seriously.

Back when those English guys were arguing about kicking or carrying the ball, Americans were busy killing each other in the Civil War. Once the dust settled and Americans found the time for recreation, the every-man game had already been established as baseball. There was some horse racing and boxing mixed in there too but respectable folks looked on those things the same way backstreet drag racing and MMA are viewed today.

There were of course those who weren’t the “every-man” or were the sort of men who wore collared shirts, and ties, and once those men were done with the war they went home to places like New York, New Haven, and Boston. They themselves were too genteel for any sort of game, kicking or otherwise (except perhaps rowing) but their sons having just gotten their blood all boiling with war and whatnot, were a bit more restless. These boys finding themselves confined in the classrooms of Harvard, Princeton, and Yale made an effort to find a way to expend energy, without lowering their status. They looked to the elites in England for ideas. Oxford and Cambridge were at that time favoring rugby football over the kicking style, and consequentially Princeton challenged Rutgers to a game of football using the rugby rules rather than the “association” rulebook in 1869. The game stuck- and spread. So while England was off influencing the sporting life of all sorts of people all over the world, football players at Yale and Harvard were influencing American kids in South Bend, College Park, and Chicago. Which is one half of the reason Americans don’t compete well in Soccer today.

The other half is money.

Back when all of this was happening, sports were just games, not business empires. This isn’t to say money wasn’t involved, but the idea was that sports, or leisure, was for people who already had money, thereby allowing them to spend their time running around kicking balls when others might be tilling fields or toiling in factories. An English gentleman would have, and there are some who still do, turn up their noses at the idea of playing a sport for money. On the other hand, an Englishman who isn’t gentle will absolutely invest money in order to beat someone who thinks themselves superior. Americans as a whole were never truly gentlemen in the first place, so in both places, England and America, around the same time, 1870-ish, “poor” people started paying people to play for their teams. Americans played baseball and organized a professional baseball league in 1871. English people played association football and organized, or legalized, professional soccer in 1885. So now the world had two very different games being played professionally by working class folks on 2 different continents. This professionalism was for the most part, in both places, rather colloquial with money being mostly limited to whatever some local deep pocket was willing to pay in order to beat the next town over. And here it was that the sporting world split in two, North America, and everywhere else.

Soccer was easily exportable. No matter the language, no matter your wallet, no matter your social standing, the world was ready to let you play association football (soccer). You could be poor and play, and for the most part, for another 100 years, this is what happened. Poor people played soccer and mostly remained poor. Some people eventually made some money, depending an on who and where they were, and eventually we got the Bundesliga and the World Cup, but it took a long time to build up to that. Or this. Whatever.

Meanwhile, back in the USA, you had all those rich boys playing rugby at fancy colleges. Rich Americans care a lot about winning. And being rich. Rich English people cared mostly about who your grandfather was, which is why the ones without cool grandparents left for the colonies in the first place and decided to beat the paternalists in a couple wars in order to better focus on making money (in fact Americans cared so much about money and so little about lineage that they were willing to kidnap the children of royalty from other countries and force them to labor in fields in order to make themselves rich. How’s that for priorities?). So with this mindset American colleges started paying coaches to come up with strategies to beat the rich boys at the other colleges. Then they started letting people without pedigrees into their fancy colleges, and paying them money, in order to beat the other schools. Pretty soon other schools, ones that were less fancy, started paying more money to local coaches and players, so that they could start beating the fancier schools in this game of rugby football. By this time every college, and high school, across the entire North American continent had a football team. Americans were so invested in this game that in the year 1905, 19 “students” died on the field of play. This paying athletes to come to college and possibly die got so out of hand that a group of schools met together in 1910 to start enforcing and changing rules to make the game safer- but mostly they combined to regulate pay for play. They called themselves the National College Athletic Association, or NCAA for short. It should be noted that by this time these simple games between two schools, were bringing in giant crowds of spectators (Harvard and Yale both broke ground for permanent football stadiums seating 30,000 and 70,000 respectively) and these crowds were being sold tickets. As is, and has always been, the American way, people were making money. As the NCAA started to flex its regulatory might and began pushing back against the profiteering in college football, those less attached to the collegiate life were pushed out and shortly thereafter a professional football league was begun (1921). The financial behemoth that is the NFL today sprung up out of the money that had already been seeded on college campuses. So much so that most Americans are more familiar with any particular college’s colors and mascot than they are with those school’s scholastic offerings.

While the English were off seeding the planet with this common people’s game, America was busy turning sports into business. Big business. Gargantuon business. FIFA organized in 1904 in order to regulate international competition, similar to the Olympic commission, but other than bragging rights, there was for the most part no money in it. Americans wanted money. This was back when Jim Thorpe, an American, sailed across the ocean to beat the rest of the world in track and field, just to later have his gold medals taken away because he had once played baseball for money. It took decades for the rest of the world to either build up enough capital to professionalize, or for the gentry to relent. By the time they did (relent) and the “beautiful game” stepped up to take center stage and cause earthquakes in Mexico, any given Yankee had plenty of other sports to choose from- and those other sports have a higher likelihood of making a good athlete rich.

Today, a ten year old in Texas with superior athletic ability who does not come from independent wealth can choose to either play American football, and compete with millions of other Americans in hopes of making millions of dollars, or they can focus on soccer in hopes of one day competing against billions of Brazilians, Argentines, Mexicans, Spaniards, Italians, and Germans to go live in a foreign country making thousands of dollars. For those who buck the norm and just love the game this may look attractive, but it is a lopsided choice. Also, if this young American fears concussions, he (not “she” as women’s sports, especially football, have not monetized at the same rate) could always choose basketball, baseball, hockey… or maybe even surfing.

So while the entire world sans-America joins together in sporting unity, and riots, let us not pontificate on what it is about soccer that doesn’t connect with Americans, or why it is that the USA just refuses to be like everyone else- or which sport is inherently better than another. We know why America doesn’t play soccer and it doesn’t have anything to do with shin guards.

http://www.newsweek.com/mexico-winning-goal-germany-caused-artificial-earthquake-world-cup-celebration-980478

https://www.factmonster.com/sports/baseball/baseball-america-history

https://www.fifa.com/about-fifa/who-we-are/the-game/index.html

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/14616700600680930?src=recsys&journalCode=rjos20

https://sydney.edu.au/sup/downloads/MediaReleaseSUSport12jun08.pdf

http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1032373215615873?journalCode=acha

http://www.history.ac.uk/reviews/review/678

http://www.upenn.edu/pnc/ptlapchick.html

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The History of Spring Break: I am an old man

For college kids spring break  is synonymous with sun baked debauchery. For parents of school aged children it is either an opportunity to take the kids and escape the cold, or the torturous task of a weeks worth of rearranged schedules and event planning. To what or to whom do we owe thanks?

Colgate University’s swim team.pool

 

In 1936 the Colgate swim team’s coach took his boys down to Fort Lauderdale to get a jump start on training in the Olympic sized Casino Pool. Now mind you back in those days Colgate was an all men’s, somewhat elite, possibly elitist school and that was a time when for the most part college was meant to prepare rich white kids to become rich white adults.

Part of becoming a rich white adult is meeting others likewise destined. Within a couple years this  Florida trip wasn’t a practice it was a meet (there is a pun in there).IMG_1661

This Florida swim meet/party became so notorious that one year a professor tagged along, wrote a book about it, and that book became the movie “Where the Boys are”. Twenty Five years later MTV was broadcasting unseemly things live from Daytona.

Ahh the decline and fall of the American empire.IMG_1677

I have my own tales of spring breaks passed, but none of them involve debauchery. They mostly involve taking the kids to the beach or Chuck E’ Cheese… but there was that one road trip to Rosarito.IMG_6077

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I Just Wanna Kick It: LeatherHead Sports Rugby Ball

Twas the night before the night before Christmas and all over campus… it was really quiet because all the students have gone home. The only sound to be heard was my high pitched excited squeal as the UPS man brought me a LeatherHead Sports rugby ball.GDXF7476

Once upon a time, in places like Oxford and Auckland men wore sports jackets to sporting events and football was called rugby. There were striped (hooped) pullover shirts with collars, bloody noses, and an inflated leather ball shaped a bit like an egg.164218684_1ec8029c21_o

That egg was kicked, punched, and tossed between goal posts till one day Teddy Roosevelt wielded a big stick and the NCAA legalized the forward pass. The ball flew forward better when the laces were turned inside out and the ends were made pointy. Hence those who listened to Teddy play football, and don’t get me wrong I love that game, but I respect my elders.

Rugby remains, but finding a ball that hearkens back to its origins is not as easy. Well, maybe it is easy if you know where to look, and where you should look, is LeatherHead Sports.

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Leatherhead Sports has been featured on theartofmanliness, acontinuouslean, GQ, Esquire, and pretty much everyone mostly thanks to thier custom hand made footballs and old school baseballs. Those are great (especially the medicine balls that I currently covet), but that rugby ball is my sugar plum equivalent and if you hold on to the ball after being tackled expect your head to be danced upon.IMG_8737

 

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Mancation: Leather Head Sports

Kaleo called shotgun, climbed in and said, “My five year old told all our neighbors I’m going on a bro-trip.” We agreed that was a good moniker but we were sticking to “mancation”.

It was getting much later than we had planned, and against my own rules, the first stop was actually planned.

“I told Paul we would be up there maybe around ten, we gotta get moving.”leatherhead sewing

Around noon we pulled into a gravel parking lot and parked next to a tractor. We knew we had the right address but there was no sign, no awning, just a red brick garage and a craggy old man dragging something toward a dumpster. He told us we would find Paul inside and upstairs.

Paul makes footballs.leatherhead multi balls

He likes the idea that people will go have a catch, maybe kick the ball around, but really, mostly these footballs end up on bookshelves and in trophy cases.

He makes some in zebra stripes, some in chrome, all sorts of ways. But it isn’t just footballs. He also does medicine balls, old school basketballs, medicine balls, and these old fashioned baseballs he dubbed the “Lemon Ball”. But really, the draw isn’t really the sporting equipment. In no small way, the draw is Paul.

Paul once had one of those dream jobs. Maybe not a dream job exactly, but more the sort of job that is sidled up right next to the dream. He was a photo editor for Major League Baseball. He worked for the League! Sure he wasn’t throwing out pitches or swinging for the bleachers, but he was in the building. A reasonable man would be content.

But what does reason have to do with baseball?

Leather Head Rugby ball at the Brohammas.com headquarters.

Leather Head Rugby ball at the Brohammas.com headquarters.

One day Kevin Costner and James Earl Jones pulled up to Paul’s office in an old VW bus and asked him to join them in Iowa. Not really, but after talking with Paul for a couple hours you get the feeling his is a byline in the Field of Dreams story line that you might find in the special features directors cut. It has that sort of romance.

Paul left MLB to work with a company that made baseball mitts. He wasn’t making the mitts, just advising those that did. Still not satisfied watching, or standing next to those doing something tangible, Paul left again; to make footballs.

Not advise those that make footballs, not to take pictures of footballs, but make them. With his own hands… and a sewing machine.IMG_5213

Walking into Leather Head Sports is a bit like stepping into the equipment room of an old movie. There are boxes full of balls, bats leaning up against the walls, and stacks of dye cut leather strips waiting to be sewn into treasures. Paul straps on a denim apron, sits down at a workstation, picks up a hammer, and starts pounding on a stack of something that will soon be a football. As he snips thread, cuts edges and works, we get him talking. He talks about why he does what he does, talks about the ridiculous things people ask to get monogrammed on the balls, and all the while his employees stand around impatiently trying to get some business done. They look maybe a little bit annoyed, they are trying to run a business, but you can’t get too upset when watching your boss do something he obviously loves.

He isn’t the only one who loves it.

An online search of Leatherhead sports will turn up feature after feature on Paul’s products. Guys are eating this stuff up. When we visited the shop he was busy sewing up a run of special edition balls for Urban Daddy, a website that specializes in keeping men up to date on whatever is the newest and the coolest thing around. Leatherhead balls are the coolest. He has been featured or contracted by USA Basketball, an Oscar winning movie (Silver Linings Playbook), the Wall St. Journal, Fox Business Report, Men’s Journal, and on, and on.threads

It’s not almost like, but exactly like, some voice whispered “If you build it, they will come.”

And we did.

And Paul, who has been featured by the who’s who of everything, took way too much time to host three vagabonds in his shop.

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Football Can Save the World

Football is the answer to all our problems.Don’t laugh, I’m serious.

Now I’m not just talking about sports in general but this specific one. I will concede that all sports, well most sports, have merit. It is good to learn that sometimes you win, and sometimes you lose. Winning takes work, or luck, or a weaker opponent. Sometimes you just aren’t good enough, sometimes the referee robs you, and sometimes you are just unprepared.

There are rules. If you choose to disobey the rules penalties are enforced, unless they don’t catch you, but someone always notices.

Sports are proactive, or reactive, but always active. Doing is required. You have to play. There are those who watch, and they are often loud and always have an opinion, but someone has to play.

All these things apply to sport and life. These merits have made room in our academic institutions and our children’s schedules. Long live sports!

But if I was told all sports must go but one, I would need no time for deliberation. The answer is clear. If I had to choose one sport with which to instruct our youth, one sport with the most to offer, one sport with which to craft our world, it would be Football!

First, before you start, I’ll address the violence. Yes, football is rough, so is life. I am not fundamentally against spanking kids, but I’m doing everything I can not to. It is hard not to because I know that sometimes a quick smack in the mouth teaches a lesson quicker than a sermon, 5 time outs, and forfeited toys. The problem is I don’t want my children associating smacks in the mouth with me. That’s what is great about football. There are strict rules governing the use of violence. There is room to exert it with everything you have, but only while in control. When you lose control there are the most severe of penalties… you get thrown out of the game.

There are pads to protect the player. In a violent sport there must be some sort of protection but pads also change the game. What my rugby playing brothers don’t understand is that football pads are covered in plastic and metal. Plastic and metal are much harder than muscle and bone. Pads allow a player to play past the usual physical limitations. Without pads a player could not run full speed directly into another player, who is also running directly at him, exploding into the contact rather than bracing for it. The pads remove hesitation and fear, allowing the player to give it their all without inhibitions. The result is much more explosive collisions, more intensity, and more violence.

Laws, family, and society work as pads for life. All can both protect us and change the nature of the game we are playing. The more padding life or society gives us, the harder we can play without fear of pain or penalty. If we abuse this padding the consequences are also amplified.

Football, more than any other sport, must be coached. Someone is calling the plays, directing the game, orchestrating the whole show. Every play is choreographed. There are so many moving parts that must work in concert with each other, that the one moving the chess pieces must be heeded. A player must learn to take instruction, feedback, and criticism, not only in daily practices but during the heat of battle as well. Player and coach must learn to communicate and wills must bend. Someone must lead and someone must call the shots. A player who wants to play must learn that performance gets the coaches attention. If a player wants to get noticed, wants to contribute, they must gain the coaches favor. Some coaches judge solely on skill and performance, others on personality and family. A player must learn that if the coach is running the show, the player must accommodate. Most all programs have multiple coaches. A player must learn to listen to different coaches and use these coaches as advocates in their favor with the head coach. Each individual must not only perform individually, but gain favor of layers of others, be they teammates or coaches, and at the end of it, all must work together to win.

Society works the same way. Jobs, governments, neighborhoods, and families all possess layers of hierarchy and networks that must be maneuvered and navigated.

Unlike basketball, baseball, or even hockey, no one player can completely dominate a game. There is no real Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods of football. In basketball all players are more or less doing the same activities, dribbling, passing, shooting, defending. Some may perform these tasks with slightly different roles but essentially a center and a guard are both dribbling, passing, shooting, and defending. There are some players who do all these things so well they can render the rest of the team secondary or even inconsequential. A pitcher can throw a no-hitter. A goalie can amazingly shut down an entire team… not in football.

Each position in football has a unique purpose, and all must be done well to have success. A quarterback is useless without good lineman, and the two positions are absolutely nothing alike. Receivers and linebackers are nothing alike but both are essential. The different positions are so varied that they require players with a staggeringly wide range of skills and abilities. Some positions require obscene size and strength, others speed and agility. Some take aggression and reaction, others vision and cunning.

To win a team and its players must learn to perform individual tasks while also relying on others to simultaneously perform completely different tasks. You must balance individual responsibility and trust in others, as well as a system. A player must learn to trust someone who is nothing like them; doing things they can in no way do themselves. Leaders may emerge and weaknesses may become apparent, but to win all must adjust and work together.

This lesson, above all else, can make the world a better place. We must not all be alike in the world, nor should we be. Difference is good, even essential. The key is learning to appreciate that no one position, or person, can do without the other and all are important.

As long as we are all on the same team.

We perform our roles with varying levels of success, while others do the same. We win, we lose, and our actions have consequences for both ourselves and others. The way we play in life has rewards and sometimes pain. How much better prepared is a person, or a society, that has practiced living while young, before it really matters? How much better prepared is someone who has learned what it takes to win, or lost and still got up to play again?

Our world and our society are fraught with problems. We have racism, starvation, greed, and selfishness. Irresponsibility, laziness, nepotism, and politics are everywhere.

What is to be done?

Let’s play football!

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Acquisitions

Inside wall of the Brohammasmobile.

 I aspire to one day own a home, or a space, that is both comfortable and interesting.  A place that is more curated than decorated.  On occasion I will peruse import stores with all their exotic statuary or fabrics and I always leave with none of those things.  My wife, tired of accompanying me on such ventures inquired why I never procure any of these treasures. 

 “If I want a Persian rug, I want to have gotten it in Persia, not South Philly.”

One day I may get myself to Persia.  While there I will still not get that rug; I don’t like Persian rugs.  I do hope that while I am there I will obtain some little something that I could only get there, or possibly get something I should only get there.

In travels past I have gotten a beer stien in Germany, an Eifel tower in Paris (a smaller one of course), and a sunburn in Mexico.  This year has been no different.  I made acquisitions of things that would remind me of a time and place, in hopes that one day said articles will have a spot in that place; the one I hope to one day create.

The spoils of war, without all that messy fighting.

 1. Ukule from Haleiwa Hawaii.

2.  Hat from J. Press in New Haven Connecticut.

3. Logo tie from Lionel Smith Ltd. in Aiken South Carolina.

4. Vintage print from the Baseball Hall of Fame.

5. Pennant purchased in the bookstores of every Ivy League school  (can you see which one is missing without using digital assistance?).

6. Across America By Gen. James F. Rusling, printed 1875.  Its take on my native people was, shall we say, “interesting”?

7. Maple box sold to me by a young Amish boy in Nowheresville, upstate New York, while his father peered eerily through the curtains of the house.

8. “All Right!”: The Narrative of Henry Box Brown as a Test Case for the Racial Prescription of Rhetoric and Semiotics, by Marcus Wood.  Purchased at the American Antiquarian Society in Massachusetts.

9. The Wanderer the Last American Slave Ship and the Conspiracy That Set Its Sails, by Erik Calonius, purchased at a thrift store in Wilmington, North Carolina.

10. The American Sporting Scene, written by John Kieran, illustrated by Joseph W. Golinkin, printed 1941.  Purchased in Cambridge Mass.

11. E Pluribus Venom, the art of Shepard Fairey.  Purchased at the Andy Warhol museum in Pittsburgh,

12. Fashion 100 Years of Apparel Ads by Jim Heimann and Alison A. Nieder.  Purchased in Newport, Rhode Island.

13. Sports as reported by the New York Times 1908-1984 (reprints of sports stories from the NYT). Purchased in NYC.

Of course, not everything experienced whilst travelling can be collected.  Some things while collectible, should probably not be collected.  Somehow my collection of craft brewed soda bottles has been sent to the cellar.

Kinda makes me wonder who really is the king of my castle.

Research

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