Believe it or not, there are still humanities professors who hold to the old ideals of essence before existence, gender roles that are divinely mandated and universal, and an unabashedly tribalistic understanding of national identity. Stephen H. Webb, professor of theology at Wabash College, is one of them. He has taken time from his busy schedule to write an old school anti-soccer screed for the Wall Street Journal, excerpts an commentary follow.
1) Any sport that limits you to using your feet, with the occasional bang of the head, has something very wrong with it. Indeed, soccer is a liberal's dream of tragedy: It creates an egalitarian playing field by rigorously enforcing a uniform disability.
Another way of saying that soccer creates a "uniform disability" is to say that it requires a highly rarefied skill, that of manipulating a rather heavy ball into a rigidly guarded net while running full bore. A sport simply isn't a sport unless there is some kind of "uniform disability" in the rules. An eighty-year-old man could carry a football into the end zone if there was no threat of being clobbered by a three-hundred-pound linebacker at twenty miles an hour.
Anthropologists commonly define man according to his use of hands. We have the thumb, an opposable digit that God gave us to distinguish us from animals that walk on all fours. The thumb lets us do things like throw baseballs and fold our hands in prayer. We can even talk with our hands. Have you ever seen a deaf person trying to talk with his feet? When you are really angry and acting like an animal, you kick out with your feet. Only fools punch a wall with their hands. The Iraqi who threw his shoes at President Bush was following his primordial instincts. Showing someone your feet, or sticking your shoes in someone's face, is the ultimate sign of disrespect. Do kids ever say, "Trick or Treat, smell my hands"? Did Jesus wash his disciples' hands at the Last Supper? No, hands are divine (they are one of the body parts most frequently attributed to God), while feet are in need of redemption.
Ohhhkay. First of all, the fact that our forelimbs are not committed to walking, and are equipped with opposable thumbs that give us the ability to grasp things, is one of the things that distinguishes human beings, and is damned convenient at that, but it is not the thing that most defines humanity. That would be the ability to reason much, much better than Dr. Stephen H. Webb. As for the assertion that we are universally inclined to use our feet when enraged, it is clear that Dr. Webb has never seen a real fight in his life, and that his knowledge of human violence is based chiefly on Bruce Lee movies. Finally, the part about hands being "divine" and feet "in need of redemption was just damned weird. I myself have gangly legs, and I've been know to pick up a dropped pencil or what have you with my toes from time to time. Was that, blasphemy?
This entire section is the sort of 'eight ball and a twelve pack' lunacy one typically finds in letters to the North Platte Telegraph. To see it presented in the Wall Street-Journal, for serious intellectual consideration; is just, wow.
Sporting should be about breaking kids down before you start building them up. Take baseball, for example. When I was a kid, baseball was the most popular sport precisely because it was so demanding. Even its language was intimidating, with bases, bats, strikes and outs. Striding up to the plate gave each of us a chance to act like we were starring in a Western movie, and tapping the bat to the plate gave us our first experience with inventing self-indulgent personal rituals
Baseball is so fucking hardcore, the players have to stand up during the ninety percent of the game when they're doing nothing!
The boy chosen to be the pitcher was inevitably the first kid on the team to reach puberty, and he threw a hard ball right at you.
Oh I'm sure he did Dr. Webber, you naughty slut.
Everyone knows that soccer is a foreign invasion, but few people know exactly what is wrong with that. More than having to do with its origin, soccer is a European sport because it is all about death and despair. Americans would never invent a sport where the better you get the less you score.
Ah yes, soccer is a foreign invasion. Professor Webber could have spared himself a great deal of time and embarrassment if he had simply written three lines stating what is clearly his true reason for hating soccer.
As for the old line about soccer being low-scoring, well this is true. Keep in mind though that most American exposure to the game is through either the World Cup or the Champions league, and that scoring for high-stake championship games in all sports is lower than average. It is simply not true that most soccer games end in scoreless ties or that "the better you get the less you score." Here, for example, are the scores from last weekend's English Premier League games.
Manchester United 1-4 Liverpool
Arsenal 4-0 Blackburn Rovers
Bolton Wanderers 1-3 Fulham
Everton 3-1 Stoke City
Hull City 1-1 Newcastle United
Middlesbrough 1-1 Portsmouth
Sunderland 1-2 Wigan Athletic
Chelsea 1-0 Manchester City
Aston Villa 1-2 Tottenham Hotspur
West Ham United 0-0 West Bromwich Albion
Out of ten games played, seven produced clear-cut winners and losers, and there was only one scoreless draw. We now move from the categorically wrong assertion to, something very special.
And then there is the question of sex. I know my daughter will kick me when she reads this, but soccer is a game for girls. Girls are too smart to waste an entire day playing baseball, and they do not have the bloodlust for football. Soccer penalizes shoving and burns countless calories, and the margins of victory are almost always too narrow to afford any gloating. As a display of nearly death-defying stamina, soccer mimics the paradigmatic feminine experience of childbirth more than the masculine business of destroying your opponent with insurmountable power.
Words fail. Save them for someone who hasn't exhausted his supply of repressed gay insinuations long ago. Let's just all take a moment to imagine Dwight Schrute saying the exact words quoted above and bathe in the glory.
I must say that I find Webb's undiluted sexism strange; considering that he has a daughter and, presumably, a very satisfied, thoroughly destroyed wife. Perhaps he yearns for unencumbered Spartan virility not in spite of his experiences with his daughter but because of them, something about having a female in an eternally subordinate position to him, or perhaps I speculate too much.
Soccer is a fine game, one that requires unbelievably precise skill and athletic fitness. to try to dismiss the sport as foreign and unmasculine requires the sort of delusional fever-dream logic that we see in Dr. Webber's column. It really is tragic that even apparently smart people can be so overcome by xenophobia and an infantile need to consider themselves The Subject that they lead themselves headlong off the intellectual cliff. But I suppose that's how it's always been and always shall be with the asshole segment of the population. Nothing to do about it except point and laugh and for the love of God don't let one of them gain leverage on you.
Damn it must suck to be this man's student.
God damn it must suck to be his wife.