Support First Things by turning your adblocker off or by making a  donation. Thanks!

A young friend of Irish descent, who spent his high school years in Dublin, displeased by our publication of Stephen Webb’s  How Soccer is Ruining America , writes:

First Things can write what it wishes on theology, no arguments from me. You can write what you will on politics, up to and including launching ill advised wars on Persia, and all you’ll get is a big yawn . But when you go after football, sir, you have crossed a line. Dreadful, dreadful stuff. Football, like baseball, is ripe for so much literary gold and we are presented with an arguments about thumbs and “soccer is a game for girls.” Utterly, ludicrous.

He’s also a Yankees fan, so what does he know? (Although, just for the record, I like soccer, sorry, football.) Other people have thoughts similar to Dr. Webb’s. Bryan Curtis, writing in Slate , for one:
Soccer has become a favorite pastime of the American intellectual. “Many people would say that soccer is the latte or the Subaru of the sporting spectrum,” says Matt Weiland.

. . . Taking an interest in soccer indicates a certain cosmopolitanism; the game is an international one. A rooting interest in a British club like Arsenal might indicate Anglophilia, which never hurts in polite society. Soccer-love also says—and this is perhaps most important—that you reject the overweening hype and made-for-TV packaging that surrounds American sports for something that, in theory, approaches a purer experience. “If you’re an intellectual, the kitsch that shrouds, say, football is almost intolerable,” says Franklin Foer. “If you look at a European soccer crowd, all the shouting is coming organically from the crowd itself—that’s so much more appealing.” Soccer, largely divorced from shrieking announcers and Jumbotrons, feels more like an artistic endeavor than a television show.

He goes on to give more reasons intellectual-types like the game, or like to like the game. Spiked’s Mick Hume makes other points in What We’ve Learned From the World Cup’s Phony War . For example, we have learned that
‘soccerism’ is now the universal language of politics – and the scourge of the game. Football arguably touches people all over the world like nothing else today [and] this quality has been seized upon by isolated and unpopular elites who have sought to use football as a sort of substitute for politics, a vehicle to promote their own fantasy agendas. The phenomenon, first dubbed ‘soccerism’ on spiked around the Euro 2004 finals, has been in evidence again in the run-up to the World Cup.

On one hand, experts and authorities have lined up to blame the tournament for an imagined boom in social problems ranging from domestic violence and sex trafficking to binge drinking and heart attacks. On the other, an alternative team has praised football as a potential solution to everything from racism and global inequality to obesity and national identity crises.

Dear Reader,

We launched the First Things 2023 Year-End Campaign to keep articles like the one you just read free of charge to everyone.

Measured in dollars and cents, this doesn't make sense. But consider who is able to read First Things: pastors and priests, college students and professors, young professionals and families. Last year, we had more than three million unique readers on

Informing and inspiring these people is why First Things doesn't only think in terms of dollars and cents. And it's why we urgently need your year-end support.

Will you give today?

Make My Gift

Comments are visible to subscribers only. Log in or subscribe to join the conversation.



Filter First Thoughts Posts

Related Articles