Book: Offside: Soccer and American Exceptionalism
Writer(s): Andrei S. Markovits and Steven L. Hellerman
Fascinating book. In sociology, "American Exceptionalism" is an area (usually political) in which the United States is completely different (exceptional) from the rest of the world. Author Markovits realized that sports is another example of American Exceptionalism: while nearly the entire world is united in watching soccer, American does not. And yet just as American ignores soccer, the rest of the world ignores the American "Big Three" of American football, baseball, and basketball. Why is that? Why is there such a sporting disparity between America and the rest of the world?
Even if you're not a fan of soccer, or even interested in sports, this is a topic that should appeal to your cultural curiosity. A simplistic answer could be that Americans simply aren't used to soccer and the rest of the world is unfamiliar with our sports, but Markovits goes much deeper. He explores the history of amateur and professional sports in the United States and you may be surprised to see how prominent soccer was in the U.S. a hundred years ago. I learned many things in reading this book, including the surprising fact that college football was more popular than professional until just a few decades ago. It was college football that displaced soccer -- collegiate sports being the lead-in to the pros. College sports are another American exception since around the world, kids go from high school right into professional soccer. (In fact, now that the United States has a professional soccer league in Major League Soccer, students are doing just that, and it's a good thing, since soccer in American colleges is played with completely different rules than "real" soccer; yet another American exception.)
If you are fascinated by the sporting culture, society in general, or wonder what the world will be like in fifty years as we become a truly global nation, you need to read this book. Understanding the sporting culture of both American and the rest of the world is an important step to understanding society.
Markovits doesn't give solutions to the lack of enthusiasm Americans in general have shown to soccer, but he does conclude that there is hope. MLS is going well, and fulfilling its major goal in that it is producing new young American soccer stars like San Jose's Landon Donovan which will (hopefully) help lead the United States to success on an international level. There's also the advent of women's soccer, which is wildly popular in the U.S., while -- oddly -- mocked in other countries. The future's looking bright for American soccer, but only time will tell if soccer can become America's fourth sport.