Showing posts with label Soccer. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Soccer. Show all posts

Monday, May 11, 2015

Fascism and American Sports,,,

Let me say at the start that I truly enjoy sporting events, and teach a college course in sports economics. I have raised funds and brought many students to their first professional games: basketball, baseball, soccer. Growing up on Long Island, NY, I was a child of the NY Islanders Dynasty.

I also have reason to support military veterans, whether it be at the college at which I teach, or from a more personal perspective: My son is a Marine, my uncle was a Navyman, and I’m in the Coast Guard Auxiliary.

But I am also a student of history, and what I see occurring at sports stadiums today is frightening at best.

In his 2003 seminal essay, “The 14 Characteristics of Fascism” in Free Inquiry Magazine, political scientist Dr. Lawrence Britt summarized the fascist regimes of Hitler (Germany), Mussolini (Italy), Franco (Spain), Suharto (Indonesia), and Pinochet (Chile). Dr. Britt found they all had 14 elements in common. Some of these include:

Powerful and Continuing Nationalism – [the] constant use of patriotic mottos, slogans, symbols, [and] songs….in public displays

Disdain for the Recognition of Human Rights - Because of fear of enemies and the need for security, the people in fascist regimes are persuaded that human rights can be ignored in certain cases because of "need." The people tend to look the other way or even approve of torture, summary executions, assassinations, long incarcerations of prisoners, etc.

Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a Unifying Cause - The people are rallied into a unifying patriotic frenzy over the need to eliminate a perceived common threat or foe: racial, ethnic or religious minorities; liberals...

Supremacy of the Military - Even when there are widespread domestic problems, the military is given a disproportionate amount of government funding... Soldiers and military service are glamorized.

Obsession with Crime and Punishment - The police are given almost limitless power to enforce laws. The people are often willing to overlook police abuses and even forego civil liberties in the name of patriotism.

Enter the Sport Stadium: the largest on-going collection of citizens in "public displays."

Now, I expect the National Anthem at the start of a sporting event. I look forward to it, to be honest. And I even appreciate the playing of other nation’s anthems when the match is international. But the trend is now towards something very unsettling – so unsettling that it’s reminiscent of the elements of Fascist Propaganda cited above.

The last time I went to a Mets game Citifield, I have to admit that I was a little uncomfortable when I was exposed to a “new tradition” in the 6th inning: the announcer required that we all stand, sing God Bless America, and participate in honoring ‘the veteran of the day.’ The fact that a stadium full of thousands dutifully rose as soon as they were told to, in order to honor the military, should cause some pause. In fact, it’s downright chilling.
I thought this was a one-time special event; I have since observed this ceremony multiple times, at multiple baseball stadiums. It’s now the norm.
This past week, the Washington Post revealed a ‘formal,’ paid relationship between the government and the NFL for much the same type of intertwining of the military state and sport.

As articulately expressed by,

“The national anthem is a long, drawn-out, pregame event. There’ll be a flyover by the Blue Angels at the perfect, climactic moment. During a break in the action, some soldier returning from Afghanistan or any other foreign war-zone will be reunited with his family while the stadium erupts in deafening applause and heart wrenching sobs.

Well, hold off on purchasing those tickets just yet, because the Washington Post found something interesting this week. All this patriotic propaganda- the troop-salutes, the banner ads, even the community service events where troops and NFL teams “build or re-build” a playground together, come with a price tag.
Fourteen NFL teams were paid a total of $5.4 million by the Department of Defense to cover the nationalistic propaganda filling downtime during the games.”

That’s right: not some organic, groundswell of thanks to our vets; but a paid program by the Pentagon to create a pro-military groupthink at a captured audience. Think about that.

So yesterday, perhaps my sensitivity was on high alert, but what I saw at a Major League Soccer game was equally scary. Soccer – often thought of as the international, or even “un-American” sport – took its required worship of the Police State to yet another level.

In the wake of the murder of NY Police Officer Brian Moore – thousands of police officers from around the nation lined the highways of Seaford, NY for his funeral. It was portrayed as a show of “support” for the officer and his family – but of course, the majority of those in attendance wouldn’t have known him if they had tripped over him when he was alive. Rather, at a time when police wrongdoing is revealed daily on websites such as, this was not a show of respect as much as a show of force: the Blue Line that protects its own, showing its muscle and demanding respect and awe from the public.

The start of the inaugural match between the New York Red Bulls and the New York City Football Club in Harrison, NJ, was launched with a moment of silence for the slain officer (I could argue that while police officers get such treatment, hundreds of innocent Americans slain by police get no such honor…but I won’t belabor that point.) But then the players entered the field – with black armbands. They didn't read, “Moore” – they read “NYPD.”

Yes, I have a problem with that.

At a time when there is a public relations war between the cops and the citizens they are supposed to serve; when police defiantly turn their back on the Mayor of New York City when he dares to criticize their tactics; when courtrooms have revealed the systematic and routine planting of evidence on innocent citizens; when military equipment and armaments are being distributed to civilian forces – yes, I have a problem with two sports teams being required by their league to “take sides.” When I was insolent enough to suggest so on a Supporters Club website, the post was removed by administrators with no explanation.

When I was merely 2 years old, none other than General and President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned,

"In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists, and will persist."

BBC’s documentary “Fascism and Football” is described thusly: “A documentary on how the Fascist regimes of Spain, Italy and Germany made football an important pillar of their propaganda and the lengths they went to in order to control the sport…”

Sports Fans, take note: The next time the masses at the stadium is told what to do, and how to do it, and when to do it, in an effort to honor the Police State – be aware of how you are being used – and the history behind it.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Jason Collins, Professional Sports, and Regressive Writers

It’s no secret that I view sportswriters with a very cynical eye.  I have seen too many sportswriters frothing at the mouth to destroy some player due to sexual flings or dalliances with ‘performance-enhancing substances.’  I have often wondered how many of these writers suffered from “I-can’t-play, so-I’ll-criticize-players” syndrome.  And I have also wondered how much homophobia in sports is due not only to the tight-lipped locker room code of silence, but to the complicity of homophobic writers as well.

So, the coming out story of Jason Collins this week provided some interesting reads, as news services tripped over themselves trying to get the now-feel-good story.

But buried under the story of the gay athlete, imbedded in the writings of these very sportswriters, lie the seeds of conservatism that reveal their regressive stances.  Take these three bylines about Collins’ decision:

From ESPN: “Jason Collins said has gotten "incredible" support since coming out as the first openly gay player in one of the four major U.S. pro sports leagues…”

From The Sporting Scene, in New Yorker Magazine: “Jason Collins…has made history, becoming the first active male player in any of the big four of American sports leagues—baseball, hockey, basketball, and football—to come out as gay.”

And from the Reuters News Service:  “Collins, a 12-year player in the National Basketball Association (NBA), became the first active athlete from any of the four major U.S. men's professional sports leagues to come out publicly as gay.”

Now, in addition to learning that Jason Collins has come out as gay,  (and in addition to wondering if there is a little plagiarism going between the New Yorker and Reuters), what other ‘fact’ could you glean from those three  representative statements?

“one of the four major…”

“any of the big four…”

“any of the four major…”

Ah.  There must be Four (count them) major Professional Sports leagues in America.

And indeed, for decades, writers referred to “The Big Four” – Baseball, Basketball, Football and Hockey.

One has to wonder how long they will go along blithely repeating the same rubbish, in light of the fact that the United States is no longer a land of Four professional sports, but Five.

Some Attendance figures from the 2012 season to consider:

  1. National Football League:      66,960
  2. Major League Baseball:          30,352
  3. Major League Soccer            17,872
  4. National Basketball Assn:       17,319
  5. National Hockey League:       17,126

My, what’s this?  Yes, in 2012, attendance at Professional, Major League Soccer games exceeded both Basketball and Hockey.

In 2007, Major League Soccer became the fifth professional team sport to turn a profit from media revenue.  It was also the first year that every single MLS match was televised - something neither Basketball nor Hockey can claim.

By 2010, three MLS teams had turned profits.  That may not sound very exciting, except when one compares that to testimony by Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig, who reported to Congress in December 2001 that professional baseball on the whole had suffered 232 million in losses, and only nine of thirty MLB turned a profit.  Last year, eleven of thirty NBA teams lost money

Perhaps most telling, according to Forbes Magazine, during the year before the NHL lockout, only three of 18 Hockey teams turned a profit: the same proportion as Major League Soccer.

A recent study showed that among twenty-year old Americans, Professional Soccer is now the #2 sport in America.

So, Jason Collins is the first openly gay man in the “Big Four?”

Guys, perhaps the writing pool needs to lake a long, hard look at itself.  The United States, by all criteria, is now a nation of the “Big Five.”  But because someone, some decades ago, decided to call team sports the “Big Four,” the writers continue to parrot an anachronistic – and incorrect – statement of the state of sports in America.

Yes, reporters, you too are responsible for the regressive, conservative attitudes within sports and its fan base. Get with the 21st Century…please? Start giving Soccer it's place among the other four sports leagues, and stop dismissing a major American sport as an ethnic oddity kid-sport to be brushed aside.


Sunday, July 29, 2012

Why Soccer Could be the Future of American Sport

Can you imagine the American-based National Football League holding the Superbowl in, say, Italy?

 Could you imagine 29 Basketball teams allowing one Argentine team to play with them, and then having the audacity to call their national tournament the “World Series of Basketball?”

Can you imagine a Boston Bruins hockey player falling on the ice, and being immediately helped up by a New York Ranger?

Probably not.  But that’s because American Sports are…well…American, and insular.  Only during the Olympic season, and during rare, fleeting American media coverage of major global matches such as Soccer’s World Cup, are Americans even aware of sports in other nations.

And yet, in this insular world, the winds of change are blowing.  For those not glued to the London games, this past weekend saw a series of sporting events, here in the United States, that indicates a growing challenge to “The Big Four” (American Football, Baseball, Basketball, and Hockey) and the insularity of American sports.

Yesterday (Saturday, July 28), France held its Trophée des Champions, the equivalent of France’s Soccer Superbowl….in Harrison, New Jersey.

In spite of threatening weather, 15,000 fans turned came out to the New York Red Bulls Stadium to watch Olympique Lyonnaise battle Montpellier to mark the official start of French soccer season (the cup is played at the beginning of the ‘next’ season, rather than at the ‘end’ of the season).

"New York is a magical place, and we were more motivated to play in New York and for a Cup final," Said Lyon forward Jimmy Briand, who scored the tying goal in the 77th minute and also converted the decisive penalty kick to give Lyon the title.

The game is traditionally played in France, but the last three cups have been settled in other French-speaking foreign nations: in Montréal, Canada; Tunisia; and Morocco.  This marks the first time that the French have chosen to pay their ‘soccer superbowl’ in Anglophone America, and is indicative of the winds of change blowing on the international – and American – sports scene.  The match was televised in almost 200 nations around the world.  

“I think this was a solid first step for the French Federation to grow their brand with the American fan base and with American companies looking to expand even more into soccer,” said Chris Lencheski, CEO of Front Row Marketing Services, the Comcast-owned company that helped with the tour and the French Cup. “The U.S. is becoming more and more soccer savvy, because of the efforts of MLS and the continued marketing prowess of foreign clubs, and it makes great sense for the French to be in the mix as well. Today was a great example of how strong French soccer is, and it played out not just before a crowd in New York but before a global audience online and on TV. It was a great day for their league and for the sport.”

Meanwhile, the NY Red Bull Soccer Team was not on hand to witness the match at their home stadium.  The Red Bulls, the top-seeded Soccer club in Major League’s Soccer’s Eastern Conference, was playing the Montréal Impact in their Saputo Stadium.  

I openly admit: I have recently become an MLS junkie.  We had the Red Bulls-Impact game live-streaming on our laptops last night, while the Western Conference powerhouse LA Galaxy (home to now-famous import David Beckham) match against FC Dallas was on the Flat-screen TV six feet away.

But I also know I am not alone:  In 2011, MLS reported an average attendance of almost 18,000 per game, with a total attendance of 5,468,951.   Prior to the 2010 season, MLS had never broken  4 million in attendance,  and only barely did so in 2010 (4,002,053). That’s a one-year increase of 37 percent, and that’s just stadium attendance; it doesn't include media spectators. 

Even more important: At an attendance of nearly 18,000 fans per game, Major League Soccer is now attracting more fans, in the stadium, than 17 NBA teams and 15 NHL teams (*see list at end of post).  Last year, the NY Red Bulls averaged 19,700 fans per game; the NY Rangers pulled 18,000; the NJ Nets, 14,000; and the NY Islanders 11,000.  

Why the impressive growth in soccer in the U.S.?

Perhaps traditional American sports fans are tired of ego-driven million-dollar salary contracts.  

Perhaps they’re tired of having Corporate money shoved in their face at every turn. 

With each new NFL or MLB stadium expansion or rehab, from Green Bay to Citi Field to Fenway Park, more space is given to premium suites that are out of the reach of ordinary fans; in contrast, Major League Soccer teams have devoted entire seating sections to independent Fan Clubs that bring drums and chants and banners and passion.  The fans-in-the-stands are actually respected and appreciated, and it shows.

As I watched from my chair last night, four times I saw soccer players extend a hand and help up a fallen man from the opposing team.  I watched guys on opposing teams exchange shirts with each other at the end of the match in a display of sportsmanship and camaraderie.

And I realized I am part of a growing number of Americans embracing a truly global sport, played the way professional sports used to be played, with a respect for the players, each other, and the fan base that has long gone by the boards in America’s “Big Four.”

 (Photo: Bill Gaudette, NY Red Bulls Goaltender)
*NBA teams with lower average attendance than MLS: Clippers, Suns, Nuggets, Wizards, Pistons, Raptors, Rockets, Bobcats, Hawks, Bucks, Timberwolves, 76ers, Hornets, Grizzlies, Nets, Kings and Pacers.

NHL teams with lower average attendance than MLS: Bruins, Sharks, Lightning, Oilers, Hurricanes, Predators, Panthers, Stars, Avalanche, Devils, Ducks, Blue Jackets, Jets, Coyotes, and Islanders.


Tuesday, July 24, 2012

A Tale of Two Stadiums: NY Red Bulls, and Mets' Citi Field

 Over this past weekend, I had the opportunity to attend two different sporting events with my boyfriend and my son.  In both cases, these events were ‘firsts” for me:  my first major league soccer game, and my first time attending Citi Field.  And in spite of the pervasive corporate influence in both places….one franchise “did it right,” and one was horribly wrong.

On Saturday, July 21, I watched a match between the New York Red Bulls and the Philadelphia Union at Red Bull Stadium in Harrison New Jersey.  It was the first time I had ever seen a live professional soccer match.  I was a little nervous, simply because I assumed this would all be ‘new’ to me (Disclosure: I was a soccer coach for “mini-kickers,” the five-year old soccer kids, in the early 1990s in Cheshire County, New Hampshire.  I also had the wild experience of watching the European Cup in a bar in Holyhead, Wales at about the same time.  But I still entered the stadium feeling ‘unprepared’ as an American at a soccer game).

The journey to Red Bull Stadium (to see the Red Bulls, owned by the Red Bull Company) on the New Jersey PATH trains was efficient, but certainly not, shall we say, “aesthetically pleasing.”  The signage at the NJ PATH stations is sparse and incomplete, and certainly not up to the standard that this New Yorker is  used to.  Fortunately, the Red Bull  crowds knew their way about, and I followed them to the stadium in Harrison, NJ.  The stadium is located in an urban – nay, industrial – part of town, with nothing to see for miles around but iron and steel and rust and grit.  

Nonetheless, the stadium rocks.

Seating 25,000 fans, the stadium is larger than Fenway Park in Boston.  It is not a “football” stadium, rented by a soccer team, but a SOCCER stadium.  It is touted as the *premier* Major League Soccer stadium in the United States….and  it is, from a fan’s perspective – a great (and fun!) stadium.    
We entered the stadium and my son was handed a red bull cap.  We found our way to our seats - fairly inexpensive seats (about $24) in section 223.  I was a bit nervous, as these seats were located in a “corner” of the field, and fairly “up” in the stadium.  I was pleasantly surprised by how good the seats were.  In fact, I can honestly say that there is not a bad seat in the stadium.  All of the action was clearly viewable from any point in the stadium.  

And the match began.

We had an unbelievably, enjoyable, wonderful time.

The fans (both the Red Bull fans *and* the visiting Philly fans) were *excited* about the game.  The stadium is built with metal floors, so stamping your feet made NOISE.  The opposing Philadelphia team brought in drums and fans, and they made incessant noise the entire time.  At the other end of the stadium, Red Bull fans unleashed a multi-level banner supporting New York, and matched the Philly fans in excitement and noise.  (We’ve discovered there are several Red bull support groups that have special seating privileges as an official ‘fanbase,” such as the Viking Army and the Raging Bull Nation.)  This was a REAL rivalry, and it was exciting!  I found myself being drawn into the rivalry…and standing and cheering when “our guys” made a goal.  In fact, both goals were made by headers by Kenny Cooper (pictured above)  – a name I didn't know then, but I sure know now.  Just as I now know the name Thierry Henry now.  And just as I now know the name of Bill Gaudette, the goaltender who was *clearly* in command of communication with the rest of the team throughout the game. I was drawn into the game, and found myself booing and cheering and clapping and standing and being completely involved  (My boyfriend stood up so fast at one point to cheer that he fell back into his chair with a low blood-pressure head rush!  Though he continued to scream…)   

Were there drawbacks?  Sure.  No fan likes to be charged $7 for a medium beer or $9 for a large beer (the $7 purchase was actually a better buy). And the corporate domination of the team was clear: the Red Bull Company owns both the team and the Stadium; the team is named after the company (after previously  being called the Empire Soccer Club and he MetroStars),  and the corporate logo is the same as the Red Bull energy drink logo.  But the Red Bulls have managed, in spite of that clear corporate connection, to keep further corporate money “out of your face.” And one must admit that, given the predominance of “the Big 4” (Baseball, Football, Basketball, and Hockey), how in the world could soccer make a splash on the American sports scene without significant corporate support?

The Red Bulls won the game 2-0.  I was elated.  I was psyched.  I went home a fan.

Then, on Sunday, it was on to a Mets game.

Understand that I am a dyed-in-the-wool Mets fan.  I went to Shea Stadium as a kid; I grew up (in spite of generally being sports-ignorant) knowing the names Tom Seaver, Bud Harrelson, Jerry Grote, Ed Kranepool, Cleon Jones, and Tommie Agee.  I sat in box seats in 1969 as the Mets moved towards World Series victory.  I have imagined how a Mets Logo would look as a tattoo on my calf.  This is MY team.

But I had never been to Citi Field.  And I went with an open mind, and an excitement at having been able to attend a Mets game, once again, this time with my son.  And it wasn’t just any old game  - it was a game against the Traitorous Los Angeles Dodgers, whose exit from New York led to the birth of the NY Mets. 

So, off on the 7 Train we went to Citi Field.

We arrived, and I was excited as I anticipated seeing the Jackie Robinson rotunda for the first time.  I have to say, it was pretty disappointing. It was smaller than I thought, and was merely a staging point for herding crowds .  Oh well. On to the stadium.

On the positive side….I must admit...I LOVED the pavillions.  In a masterpiece of engineering and design, in spite of the fact that we were up on the Promenade level,  the “food courts” were masterfully designed.  I felt that I was at an outdoors food pavilion at Jones Beach rather than somewhere in Queens adjacent to LaGuardia airport.  The open-air feeling, and the variety of food choices, were a sheer delight.

Unfortunately, the food was insanely expensive and of fairly low quality.

$8 beers, *cold* fried dough, carrying trays unable to hold 3 mini-sausage & peppers, and no carrying trays able to contain draft beers without massive spillage were annoying at best.
The game experience  - in spite of my wanting to LOVE everything – was disappointing.
The seats (we were in section 424), were decent.  In fact, it seemed that most seats were pretty decent in the new CitiField (except for the fact  that we had to stand to see balls hit along the third baseline in the outfield).  No complaints there.

But the Corporate over-kill was overwhelming.

I counted thirty-six different corporate advertisements assaulting my senses around the stadium.  Even the scoreboard that gave basic information (balls, strikes, outs) disappeared from time to time for “corporate messages.”  Every inning and half-inning was introduced on the Jumbo-tron by a new Corporate Sponsor and fan who had “won” a corporate sponsor contest.  The sheer information-overload made it almost impossible to separate – and comprehend – the player statistics from the game stats to the Corporate infomercials.

The stadium floor is poured concrete, which meant that it was virtually impossible to drum up excitement, as all fan sound was muffled even as it started.  And the musical accompaniment was incompetent when it came to generating excitement.  As a child of the 1960s, I was used to the Jane Jarvis Organ getting the crowd excited.

 Instead, at Citi Field, the musician played one, perhaps two measures of a song or chant.  The crowd would try to join, the organ would stop, and the fans would be lost.  End of excitement.  For 12 innings, this continued without change: there simply was no momentum established to get the fans excited. It was a BIG change from the days of Shea that I remembered as a child.

Perhaps most disappointing of all -  were the Clothes Police.

Keep in mind, this was a sporting event.  An OUTDOORS event.  In 95 degree heat.  It was not an Opera at Lincoln Center.

Guys at Football games arrive shirtless and paint their bodies with team colors or spell out words.  When we went to Red Bull Stadium, we took our shirts off and waved them in the air in celebration of Cooper’s goals.

But at Citi Field?  No way.

As I left my seat to get some beer, I was shirtless, but brought my shirt with me (just in case).  As I somehow anticipated, one of the hundreds of security-conscious employees grabbed me and explained that I needed to wear a shirt.  I decided to comply without a fight, and walked away, arranging my tank top over my head.

Security ran after me.

“You can put your shirt on in them restroom, or right here,” he commanded.

“I’m putting it on right here,” I responded, as I continued to walk and arrange my shirt.  He followed me to make sure.

Later in the stands, both my boyfriend and I removed our shirts in the 95 degree heat, with the sun bearing directly down upon us.  We saw other guys in sections 404 and 435 taking their shirts off.
A Mets Security Goon came running into the stands to “require” us to wear shirts (in spite of the fact that our backs were against a wall, and no one was sitting next to us).  20 minutes after complying, a different security goon came to check that we were properly clothed.  I learned later that Citi Field refuses admittance to anyone wearing a T-shirt that conveys what they feel is a ‘controversial’ message.’ 

After I got home, I received an email survey about my Citi Field experience.  It asked if I was satisfied with the level of Security. The implication was that in security-conscious, paranoid New York, “Security” was a “good “ thing.  

For me, it was like watching a game under the surveillance of a Corporate-driven Fascist State.
The comparison between these two stadiums was stark.

The difference was *not* in corporate financing: both were clearly corporately financed.  The difference was in the perspective that both teams took towards their fan base, the freedom they afforded their fans to celebrate, the inclusion of their fans in their overall team drive towards success.

I am thinking, today, that I am glad I did not have that Mets tattoo inked on my calf.  And that I can’t wait to see my next Red Bulls Game.