Soccer and the American intellectual

I found this Slate article on soccer and the “intellectual classes” in America to be quite interesting, as it is certainly notable how popular international soccer is among my clearly intellectual cohort of highly-educated friends and colleagues.  I was just joking the other day with someone that productivity in the NC State Political Science department is certain to take a nose-dive starting Friday as I know a bunch of my colleagues will hit a local watering hole to start watching the afternoon World Cup games at 2:30 (I’m in class till 3:10, so I’ll have at least 40 more minutes of productivity).

Soccer has become a favorite pastime of the American intellectual. “Many people would say that soccer is the latte or the Subaru of the sporting spectrum,” says Matt Weiland…

For decades, it was baseball that felt brainy and top-heavy—thanks to the efforts of men like George F. Will, who was forever wondering how Tony LaRussa reminded him of Tocqueville. From John Cheever to Stephen Jay Gould, baseball’s beat poets looted the game for metaphors for and clues to the national character. Those same deep thoughts are now regularly located in soccer, which seems primed to yield both grand sociopolitical theories and inchoate childhood longings.

What brought soccer to the smart set? Well, one could simply argue that soccer’s time had come. Many of the writers in question (Eggers, Foer) were in their formative years when soccer became a mandatory youth sport in America, as well as a part of the American sporting scene (a moment generally pegged at Pelé’s signing by the New York Cosmos in 1975.) “What you’re seeing now is the result of the gold rush of soccer in the 1970s, when Pelé came to America and made it cool for kids,” says David Hirshey, soccer aficionado and executive editor of HarperCollins.

This essay certainly rang true with my personal experience– I’m certainly the right age and was part of the youth soccer boom myself, but I’d love to actually see some data on this.  Surely, there exists a dataset where one can correlate soccer fan-dom with educational attainment.  Another thought I had– how unique is this to the US where being a soccer fan is largely a niche activity– like driving a Subaru or sipping lattes?  In other countries where soccer is the sport, I presume there is not any socio-economic divide.  If you’ve got answers, or at least good suppositions, let me know.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

One Response to Soccer and the American intellectual

  1. saideman says:

    I guess I am older than you. Or a bad intellectual. I watch a bit of WC soccer, but it is far from my favorite sport to watch or play. I did play a bunch in grad school with the folks in my department every Friday, but I enjoyed the almost weekly Sunday softball game more.

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