Monday, June 27, 2011

One Nation, Divisible After All

I was going to maintain "radio silence" about the men's game but then I heard about Tim Howard's rant regarding the Gold Cup ceremony. Hosted by Univision's Fernando Fiore, the trophy award was conducted in Spanish except for that portion honoring the US team.

Such a thing should be relatively uncontroversial: Los Angeles is a multi-lingual city and the vast majority of people in the stands understand Spanish. It was being broadcast to Spanish speaking households across the region. In California, la vida futbolistica is conducted largely en español. The Gold Cup final is an international event, and if French is the lengua franca of sporting events in Europe, Spanish is it for the Americas. Anglo players and fans who don't speak Spanish will understand enough to get the gist: Howard certainly knows this, and was clearly displacing his frustration about the loss into this pseudo-self-righteous and reactionary rant about proper procedure. 

Mind you, if Howard was a female player, he'd likely lose his place on the squad for more than a little while - FAs are particularly intolerant of the malcriada. (Ask Hope Solo.) But, no, instead Howard's rant becomes a focal point for nationalist identification. So, you know, the men's scene can look more and more like the worst aspects of the European game. Because this seems to be what the USSF and its corporate partners want.

There are finer points to this discussion: about the way ticket sales are managed, about the marginalization of fans of the USMNT in those processes (see, e.g. Alex Labidou's polemic for  There seems to be no process that saves some tickets from being sold until the finalists are announced. That said - everyone in LA knows this and bought tickets well in advance of knowing who would be in the final. There is no reason that USMNT fans couldn't do the same. The one good thing about the current system is that it shows the sheer quantity of Latino fans of the game - fans far too committed to the sport to wait to see if their team made it all the way.

Fact is, if the final had been between Costa Rica and Ecuador, you'd still have a sold out stadium and a great atmosphere.

For the record: the United States does not have an official language. Every effort to make English the legal law of the land has failed: this is something every American can be proud of.  This makes all kinds of things easier, it makes life richer and more interesting, and public space much more generous (in contrast, for example, with countries that refuse to produce official signs, documents in different languages to support the diversity of the language communities that live within that country).

Howard's rant will get lots of play because the issue of language is the preferred field for working out national panic about American identity. And that's of course, what's at stake.

What does need examining is the US Soccer Federation's cool relationship with Latino fans of the sport. I can imagine that for USMNT it must be depressing to never have a home advantage. (That "indivisible" motto now seems particularly ill-fated.) Surely the must be a better answer than digging in one's heals and stewing in rage. 

But, hey, at least the US men's team has a crowd in the stands. And the USMNT gets the red carpet from the USSF, the hype from Nike. And all the press.

Wish I'd seen that kind of support for the women as they slogged they way through the World Cup qualifiers.  Maybe we'd see better play from them if they saw better support from us.

So, to Tim Howard: Suck it up.

And to USMNT fans: You aren't real fans of the national team until that support extends to the program's better half.  Ideally with all the passion but none of the xenophobia. Indivisible? Show us what that word really means.

The intimate connections between the US and Mexico, by the way, will be on full display when El Tri takes on England today - a few of squad's best players are from California.

Team USA plays North Korea tomorrow. If the headlines are still about Howard's rant, well, then we'll know how far this so-called support for the game here extends.


  1. Spare me the sanctimony. I can't tell you the number of times we have attempted to "bring the passion" at women's games only to asked to "keep it down", threatened with arrest or generally made to feel unwelcome. Maybe things have changed for the better, but from 2000-2005, here's a brief history of what's happened to me personally:

    1. Nearly kicked out of RFK for chanting "It's all your fault" to an opposing keeper who let in a soft goal. Harsh treatment for a rookie, but we were mad after United lost the first half of a doubleheader.

    2. Threatened with arrest after daring to hang our supporters club banner during a freedom match. The GM told me that this is "our time, and we dont want United stuff visible."

    3. Told to knock off the drumming during a US-Italy friendly in Cary because it's too loud. Even the players commented on that one. They love the drumming.

    4. The less said about the WWC 03 opener at RFK the better. By the end of it, US fans were kicked upstairs. And they played Girls by the Beastie Boys over the PA. We still laugh about that

    I could go on, but won't here. I will probably take my daughter to games, but I'll save the passion for DC United and the Men's team.

    As for Howard, I do find it noteworthy that Mexican fans can boo the national anten and suffer no criticism, but when Howard points out that ceremonies are to be conducted in English and Spanish (why not French?) the condemnation is swift.

    Your point about the USSF and Latinos is way off too. After all, the past two team captains are Latinos and Latino fans are a sizable portion of the US support. It's normal to the point of no comment now to see mom and dad wearing the old country colors and the kids in Donovan and Dempsey shirts.

    I'm not attempting to defend the USSF which had made it's own errors over the years. There a lot changing that's not immediately visible, especially in the wake of a sizable number of Mexican fans booing the National Anthem.

  2. Yet in a world where I can get a quasi-simultaneous translator app for my smartphone, why can't CONCACAF broadcast all aspects of the awards ceremony in both English and Spanish at the same time? English is not an official language, but neither is Spanish. For people who are not bilingual (both monolingual English AND Spanish speakers), the exclusion is unacceptable given the affordability and availability of technology.

  3. @Sachin - all great points. I'm reminded, though, of an email exchange I had with the guy behind Free Darko: When asked why he never wrote about the WNBA, he said that the one time he did, he was criticized by the league. To which I said (probably in my head, and not to him): "So, when you write about the men's game, its because you are seeking the approval of the league? Since when?"

    Of course supporting your team shouldn't be such a chore, and fans shouldn't be chastised for being loud!

    I like to think of the people who become fans of a women's sports as honorary sisters, who via their love for the women's game find them face to face with some of the most awful forms of sexism - the sexism that women deal with in all sorts of aspects of their life.

    Sadly, a lot of the real crap comes from the organizations administering the sport. All of your examples are great for demonstrating how poorly the people managing the game understand its fans and its players. It's the treatment of all things associated with women as forms of finishing school. It makes me crazy.

    And you are right: I am too simplistic in the above - written, too, from outside the country.

    I'm the kind of person who likes being outside her native tongue, and I understand enough Spanish to not feel left out. The best events are fully bilingual, with broadcasters going back and forth fluidly.

    But the echoes of "Speak English" are too close to the xenophobic complaint of reactionary discourse in politics these days. It's not a simple complaint.

    Why the event wasn't approached in a fully bilingual way is odd - I mean, it isn't as if all the folks in the stadium in green shirts speak Spanish!

    That said, bilingual anything in California is itself a huge issue (public schools aren't allowed to be bilingual).

    To the other issue: The USSF is better than it used to be, but from my admittedly limited contact with local grassroots fútbol, I'd say that your average futbolista does not feel like they are part of the same world as that represented by the US soccer - access to fields, leagues, to development is much harder than it should be.

    As long as participation in competitive youth soccer costs big bucks, a whole class of people (of a range of communities) are left out.

    Of course, this problem is not solvable as public schools are being stripped for parts.

    Thanks for your comments - thoughtful, as always.

  4. Jennifer, have you heard of the so-called 'cricket test' issue that we had in England back in 1990 or so?

    The relationship between the USMNT and Latino fans of the sport, and the political ramifications of this, sort of reminds me of Tebbitt's comments.

    Great post, as always


  5. It's going to be up to Tim Howard and the USSF to repair whatever damage the comments caused to Latino fans of the USMNT. As Sachin noted above, the program has been trying to make a lot of strides within the Latino community in the US by hiring people like Claudio Reyna to change the communities they target for development. However contentious the relationship is between US and Mexico fans, fans who have a good understanding of the US game and it's limitations know how important Latino audiences and Latino youth are to the progress of the US soccer teams.

    Also, it seems worth noting here that the men's team is more diverse than the women's team.

  6. "In California, la vida futbolistica is conducted largely en español." As a California child of immigrants, this comment really rubs me the wrong way, I think partly because it is factually incorrect, and partly because it stereotypes the game "to those swarthy immigrants", and no one else. Up here in Northern California, most of the rec leagues are ran in English, although there are some in Spanish, Chinese, and Portuguese. MLS matches are conducted in English, but pick up ball can be in English, Spanish, Vietnamese or anything else. Most big time exhibition matches are in Spanish, and any one watching a game on TV may be doing so in English, Spanish, Portuguese, or Italian, and probably, a lot of other languages.

    The game is for everyone, played by everyone, and can be watched by everyone in their own language, someone elses, or both. I thought we were past confining the game to just one language and community since the 90's.

  7. Great stuff. Glad to see someone take this approach. My applause to you.

  8. Excellent post -and I'm not afraid to admit I follow the WNT (hey at least they have a decent coach and know how to hold on to a lead). Howard needs to get over it, the second they placed the final in LA it was set to be a sea of green. Stop choking and maybe you'll see more red in the stands in the future.

  9. @Anonymous - Yes, you are absolutely right. The game in California is deeply polylingual - one of its real pleasures. That's something I've celebrated in other posts - here I was reacting to the story re The Gold Cup, and to a longer history regarding the quite specific ways that Latino soccer culture is (basically) policed in Southern California.

    @Mr.Brown, I really love Howard as a player - know nothing about him other than his work on the field - and that one rap video. Was dismayed by that comment.

    Of course, I'm really grateful I don't lead a life where people stick a microphone in my face and record me at my worst.

    And let's hope that's right about the USWNT. They did well yesterday, I thought: wonderful to see a team correct its problems and really take over the second half.


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