Friday, June 17, 2005

U.S. Soccer's race and class divide

Here is an interesting article in The Guardian about race and class issues in U.S. soccer. Basketball is so ingrained in cities, it's difficult to see soccer supplanting it. But it's true that many kids in cities don't even get the chance to choose. Black players are in larger roles on the national team than they were 10 years ago, and DaMarcus Beasley and Tim Howard have found success overseas. But Beasley is from soccer-mad Indiana, and Howard is from the college town of New Brunswick. New sensation Eddie Johnson is from a small coastal town in Florida.

Now look, I'm not advocating that we force soccer down the throats of inner-city black kids. However, I don't think we'll have to. Showing footage of Pele and other black soccer stars could do wonders. Then again, national broadcasts of the major European club competitions would help too, since virtually every top club is a hodgepodge of races and ethnicities. We must be careful in the way we go about this. The way some people write about "developing the game," it sounds more like "exploiting talent so as to win the World Cup." I have a bit more idealistic view, in that I really think a lot of these kids who grow up in a basketball culture would be drawn to soccer's natural emphasis on improvisation, skill, and aesthetics. I think kids who love basketball would also love soccer. To me, that's true development. Soccer may not supplant basketball (nor would I necessarily want it to), but it can certainly complement it.

This raises a really sticky subject, and I'm not sure if I can adequately address it on a sports blog. The question is whether we should be aggressively promoting sports to inner city kids at all. One side says that sports help keep kids out of trouble and teach them good values. The other side says that sports fill kids with delusions of grandeur, causing them to forsake their studies for futile attempts to become pro athletes--specifically (at least recently), pro basketball players. That playground legends like Rafer Alston and Sebastian Telfair now grace NBA rosters does nothing but fuel these ambitions. I'm not sure what role soccer would have in this environment. Certainly, there are fewer stars to emulate, unless Nike starts putting up murals of Ronaldo and Thierry Henry on playgrounds. Perhaps soccer would be viewed as more of a pasttime than a path to riches, and maybe that would allow kids to re-focus their attention on their studies. I recognize this is wishful thinking, and obviously I don't think soccer would fix the education problem in cities.

Despite all my concerns, what this is really about is inclusivity and equality. America's cities and schools remain heavily segregated, and interscholastic athletic participation remains one of the only theaters in which kids from different background can interact. The hideous comment by the Philadelphia soccer official: "If they think they're going to do what they did to basketball, they're crazy," justifies promoting soccer to black kids on its own. While sports will never solve this country's problems of prejudice, I feel they can at least serve as way of making contact, after which the problems can truly be addressed. Why not start with fair play on the pitch? We have to start somewhere.


Blogger Carol said...

Very interesting thoughts, Tyler!

1:03 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home