Despite some media denialists, soccer has its toehold

Germany players pose with their bronze medals at

Germany players pose with their bronze medals at the end of the World Cup third-place soccer match between Germany and Uruguay. (July 10, 2010) (Credit: AP )

John Jeansonne

Newsday columnist John Jeansonne. John Jeansonne

Jeansonne has been a reporter in Newsday’s sports department since

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Relief is on the way for those suffering from "Peleobia" - the irrational, intense and persistent fear of soccer. After Spain plays the Netherlands Sunday for the 2010 World Cup title, the likes of John Steigerwald and Marc Fisher, who somehow presume to speak for all American sports observers, can relax for another four years.

From Steigerwald, a Pittsburgh-based talking blockhead, came a call for a federal ban on soccer. (Even though Steigerwald calls himself a person who wants government "staying out of our lives.") Fisher, who writes on "daily life, politics and culture" for the Washington Post website, gravely warned that soccer is "the favorite sport of Osama bin Laden" because Americans "are reminded of the horrors of terrorism and the unfortunate abuse of sports by terrorists and by nations" when they watch soccer.

Sunday's championship participants, in fact, provide another glimpse at America's family tree. Spain: Christopher Columbus set sail, in 1492, from Barcelona, bankrolled by the Spanish monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella. The Netherlands: The Dutch settled New York City (then New Amsterdam) and Brooklyn (Breuckelen) and brought the sort of free enterprise outlook that established Big Town as a financial capital.

We are a land of immigrants, yet Glenn Beck, the conservative Fox News commentator who appears burdened by several phobias - xenophobia, the fear of foreigners, prominent among them - is among the loud voices insisting on a border security that keeps soccer out.

"It doesn't matter how you try to sell it to us," Beck railed. "It doesn't matter how many celebrities you get, it doesn't matter how many bars open early, it doesn't matter how many beer commercials they run, we don't want the World Cup, we don't like the World Cup, we don't like soccer, we want nothing to do with it."

The "we" apparently does not include the record number of apparently emotionally healthy Americans who clearly have been enthralled by the World Cup theatrics over the past month, producing dramatic increases in TV viewership and unprecedented water-cooler buzz.

Still, Steigerwald argued that "real sports like baseball, football and hockey are suffering because too many young kids are being indoctrinated with the idea that it's 'fun' to run around on a field kicking a ball." Calling soccer "a great game for socialists and communists," he proposed making it illegal "for anyone under the age of 14 to start playing soccer. You couldn't punish the kids, of course. Just throw the coaches in prison."

Fisher "explained" in a public correspondence with a German colleague that soccer "lacks the complexity and drama that makes for a great spectator sport;" that "most Latin American immigrants to the United States are baseball fans - even more so than many Americans" and that "most Americans have no clue who is on the U.S. team or even that there is a U.S. team . . . It's very nice for soccer-loving countries to have their little tournament, but to call it the World Cup is rather arrogant and overblown."

Given the total lack of reason or factual basis, such assertions can only be accepted as satire. While recent polling by The Economist/YouGov found that just 7 percent of Americans were following the World Cup "very closely," with another 14 percent "somewhat closely," it also showed that World Cup interest skewed toward the younger generation: Among 18- to 29-year-olds, 12 percent were in the "very closely" group and another 21 percent "somewhat closely."

That sort of changing demographic toward a diverse and global outlook can exacerbate soccer phobia. But for the millions of psychologically stable, baseball-loving, democracy-embracing, hot dog-eating Americans - in no way petrified by soccer's brief time in the spotlight - there still is another World Cup game to appreciate Sunday.