Thursday, March 12, 2009

How Stephen H. Webb is Ruining America: A Jeremiad

(Note: this is a tongue-in-cheek parody of this First Things article by Webb about how soccer is ruining America. The words I've changed are in bold.)

Update: 11:43 P.M. Links and some further thoughts added at the end of the post.

Update, March 27: It's become clear that Webb intended his article as satire. Still, it was pretty harsh and at least some of the criticisms seemed genuine. Anyway, the guys from the excellent Avoiding The Drop spoke to Webb and had him watch a soccer game for the first time ever and report in. I guarantee you'll like him much more after reading this. Sounds like they may even have made a convert!

(By the way, he also talked to Jason of Match Fit USA before this and I missed it. Also worth a read).

Soccer is Stephen H. Webb and his ilk are running America into the ground, and there is very little anyone can do about it. Social critics have long observed that we live in a therapeutic society that treats young people critics of soccer as if they can do no wrong. Every kid criticism is a winner, and nobody no grumpy old man is ever left behind, no matter how many times they watch the ball society going the other way. Whether the dumbing down of America or soccer Webb and his kind came first is hard to say, but soccer is their writings are clearly an important means by which American energy, drive, and competitiveness is are being undermined to the point of no return.

What other game kind of rant, to put it bluntly, is so boring to watch read? (Stories about bowling and golf come to mind, but reading the sound descriptions of crashing pins and the sight of the well-attired strolling on perfectly kept greens are at least inherently pleasurable activities.) The linear, two-dimensional action of soccer form of these diatribes is like the rocking of a boat but without any storm and while the boat has not even left the dock. Think of two posses pursuing their prey in opposite directions without any bullets in their guns. Crusades against soccer is are the fluoridation of the American sporting scene literature.

For those who think I jest, let me put forth four points, which is more points than most fans readers will see in a week of games collected volume of anti-soccer rants—and more points than most anti-soccer players writers have scored made since their pee-wee days.

1) Any sport criticism that limits you to not using your feet brain, with the occasional bang of the head, has something very wrong with it. Indeed, anti-soccer writing is a liberal’s dream of tragedy: It creates an egalitarian playing field by rigorously enforcing a uniform disability. Anthropologists commonly define man according to his use of hands his brain. We have the thumb intelligence, an opposable digit that God gave us to distinguish us from animals that walk on all fours. The thumb brain lets us do things like throw baseballs and fold our hands in prayer. We can even talk with our handsbrain. Have you ever seen a deaf stupid person trying to talk with their feet without their brain? When you are really angry and acting like an animal, you kick out with your feet react without your brain. Only fools punch a wall with their hands. The Iraqi who threw his shoes at President Bush was following his primordial best instincts , but might not have thought about the consequences. Showing someone your feet, or sticking your shoes in someone’s face, Writing or talking without your brain is the ultimate sign of disrespect. Do kids ever say, “Trick or Treat, smell my hands”? Did Frank Tyger not say, "There is no evidence that the tongue is connected to the brain?" Did Jesus wash his disciples’ hands at the Last Supper? Did Terry Pratchett not say, "They say a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, but it's not one half so bad as a lot of ignorance." No, hands brains are divine (they are one of the body parts most frequently attributed to God wise men), while feet the brainless are in need of redemption. In all the portraits of GodEinstein’s wrath, never once is he pictured as wanting to step on us or kick us; he does not stoop that low.

2) Sporting Arguments should be about breaking kids your own ideas down before you start building them up. Take baseball, for example. When I was a kid, baseball was the most popular sport to analyze precisely because it was so demanding. Even its language was intimidating, with bases, bats, strikes, and outs OPS, VORP, PECOTA and DIPS. Striding up to the plate gave each of us a chance to act like we were starring in a Western movie brilliant people, and tapping the bat to the plate testing our ideas in the blogosphere gave us our first experience with inventing self-indulgent personal rituals. The boy chosen to be the pitcher Bill James was inevitably the first kid on the team to reach puberty gain popular acceptance, and he threw a hard ball interesting, well-supported ideas right at you.

Thus, when inventing new methods of writing while using your brain, you had to face the fear of disfigurement being laughed at as well as the statistical probability of striking out. The spectacle of your failure was so public that it was like having all of your friends invited to your home to watch your dad forcing you to eat your vegetables. We also spent a lot of time in the outfield blogosphere chanting, “Hey batter batter!” "Fire Joe Morgan!" as if we were Buddhist monks on steroids. Our chanting was compensatory behavior, a way of making the time go by, which is surely why at soccer games on the anti-soccer Interwebs today it is the parents uninformed who do all of the yelling.

3) Everyone knows that soccer brainless writing is not a foreign invasion, but few people know exactly what is wrong with that. More than having to do with its origin, soccer arguing without thought is not a European sport because it is all about death and despair. Americans would never invent a sport where the better you get the less points you score. Even the way most games of these arguments end, in sudden death without a point, suggests something of an old-fashioned duel. How could anyone enjoy a gamewriting where so much energy results in so little advantage coherent thought, and which typically ends with a penalty kick out without making a point, as if it is the audience that needs to be put out of its misery. These pointless argumentsShootouts are such an anticlimax to the game progress of dialogue and are so unpredictable that the teams might as well flip a coin to see who wins—indeed, they might as well flip the coin before the game, and not play at all.

4) And then there is the question of gender. I know my daughter will women everywhere won't kick me when she they reads this, but soccer is uninformed arguments are by and large a game for girls. Girls are usually too smart to waste an entire day playing baseball writing pointless diatribes, and they often do not have the bloodlust for football Internet arguments. Soccer Informed debate 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, soccerinformed debate mimics the paradigmatic feminine experience of childbirth more than the masculine business of destroying your opponent with insurmountable power.

Let me conclude on a note of despair appropriate to my topic. There is no way to run away from socceruninformed debate, if only because it is a sport all about running. It is as relentless as it is easy, and it is as tiring to play as it is tedious to watch. The real tragedy is that soccer pointless argument is not a foreign invasion, but it is not a plot to overthrow America. For those inclined toward paranoia, it would be easy to blame soccertrivial argument’s success on the political left or the political right, which, after all, worked together for years to bring European decadence and despair to lower the bar of civil discourse in America. The left politicians tried to make existentialism, Marxism, post-structuralism, and deconstructionism pointless debates fashionable in order to weaken the clarity, pragmatism, and drive of American culture. What the left politicians could not accomplish through these intellectual fadsfutile arguments about political matters, one might suspect, they are trying to accomplish through futile arguments about sport.

Yet this suspicion would be mistaken. Soccer Trivial argument is may be of foreign origin, that is certainly possibly true, but its promotion and implementation are thoroughly domestic. Soccer is a These inane arguments are self-inflicted wounds. Americans have nobody to blame but themselves. Conservative suburban families, the backbone of America, have turned to soccer unsupported arguments on the Internet in droves. Baseball is too intimidating, football too brutal, and basketball takes too much time to develop the required skills. American parents in the past several decades are overworked and exhausted, but their children are overweight and neglected. Soccer is Internet arguments are the perfect antidote to television and video games. It They don't forces kids to run and run, and everyone can play their role, no matter how minor or irrelevant to the game world. Soccer and television Internet arguments are the peanut butter and jelly of parenting.

I should know. I am an overworked teacher journalist, with books to read and books to write, and before I put in a video for the (imaginary) kids to watch while I work in the evenings, they need to have spent some of their energy. Otherwise, they want to play with me! Last year all three of my kids were on three different soccer teams making inane arguments at the same time. My daughter is on a traveling team, and she is quite good. I had to sign a form that said, among other things, I would not do anything embarrassing provide any factual support to her or the team during the game. I told the coach I could not sign it. She was perplexed and worried. “Why not,” she asked? “Are you one of those parents who yells at their kids? “Not at all,” I replied, “I read books on the sidelines during the game, and this embarrasses my daughter to no end.” That is my one way of protesting the rise of this pitiful sport. Nonetheless, I must say that my kids and I come home from a soccer game a meaningless debate contest a very happy family.

Stephen H. Webb Andrew Bucholtz is a professor of religion and philosophy at Wabash College penniless journalist and blogger. His recent books include American Providence and Taking Religion to School haven't been published yet.

Related: A nice FJMing of Webb over at Avoiding the Drop.

Update: 11:43 P.M. The intertubes are alive about Prof. Webb's piece! Here's a brief smattering of some of the other pieces I've seen so far.

- The Wall Street Journal decided to pick this piece up? I thought they had standards...

- A great post on the matter at the always-excellent Unprofessional Foul.

- A good take from Carlos Caso-Rosendi via the comments here; he noticed this piece long before the rest of us.

- Another strong piece on the matter over at Ginge Talks The Footy.

- Alex Massie offers a British perspective on Webb's nuttery over at his blog on The Spectator's site.

- A more political take on the matter at Philosoraptor.

- A good letter in response from Chuck Adams.

It's amazing that this has provoked so much reaction already, but in some ways, it proves the theory I expounded in this post. The extreme arguments get all the attention. If Webb had merely written a piece saying that he didn't like soccer, he'd be just one voice among many and no one would care. Because he takes it to ridiculous levels and brings in politics, religion and nationalism, people around the world suddenly know who he is (and he gets himself a nice WSJ byline). I'm sure there are plenty of people watching, and that certainly isn't going to encourage civil or reasoned debate. Moreover, Webb makes every group he represents (Americans, conservatives, Christians, baseball fans and probably some more that I missed) look bad by comparison. The title of my post is perhaps an exaggeration, but there's a nugget of truth in it. In my view, it's this tendency Webb represents towards extreme positions and non-rational debates that just turn into mudslinging and flame wars that's ruining our society, not soccer.


  1. Its Called Football4:04 PM

    F'n brilliant!

  2. YES!! Well done Andrew!

  3. Anonymous8:38 PM

    Very good!
    Wabash, Boulderdash, Poppycock...
    Yet another response here:

  4. Top Drawer Andrew!! Make sure you get your Vancouver Whitecaps tickets when they get an M.L.S. team.

  5. This is fantastic. Stephen H. Webb would be wise to consider the wrath of Andrew before writing his next piece.

  6. You do realize that Webb's piece was meant to be tongue-in-cheek, right? It was meant to poke fun a the "X is Ruining America" type articles while taking some lighthearted swipes at a game American's don't understand.

  7. Catulus3:12 PM

    If this was supposed to be a light, tongue in cheek article, it is badly written. I find it rather creepy myself. I found a portrait of the man, I found his gaze a bit disturbing also... I would not be surprised if one day we hear that he was a closet serial killer, or something like that.

  8. The Wall Street Journal does not have a humour section. They posted it in the OPINION section. Of course, those guys think Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity are conservative philosophers... ha!

  9. Anonymous11:27 AM

    It was obviously a piece of satire...I am not quite sure why there is all of the outrage about it. Didn't the "Trick or treat smell my hands" give it away?

  10. Catulus9:47 AM

    If it was an obvious piece of satire, it was not obviously satiric enough. May be someone should teach the Stephen H. Webb about the dangers of excessive subtlety.


  11. Hey there; I'm a writer for "Avoiding the Drop", and we actually got Dr. Webb to watch a game and write a review. Head on over if you're interested in more of this.

  12. Thanks to everyone for stopping by here. Webb apparently did mean it as satire, but as Catullus pointed out, he didn't make that terribly clear from the beginning (and I would have expected to see a satirical rant like that in The Onion, not The Wall Street Journal). Anyway, the Avoiding The Drop guys talked with Webb and may have even made a convert of him. I've added the link to their post at the top, but you can find it here as well.

  13. Anonymous2:19 PM

    Thanks for posting this, I played in the U.S. soccer U15 national championships and that was enough to show me why soccer ISN'T ruing America. So many different races, and genders. This is the worlds game and it makes me sad to see people like him don't respect what we believe in. I wouldn't publish an article saying how I think Christianity is ruining the world(Stephen Webb is a huge Christian).