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Offside: Soccer and American Exceptionalism

Andrei S. Markovits
Steven L. Hellerman
Copyright Date: 2001
Pages: 362
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    Book Description:

    Soccer is the world's favorite pastime, a passion for billions around the globe. In the United States, however, the sport is a distant also-ran behind football, baseball, basketball, and hockey. Why is America an exception? And why, despite America's leading role in popular culture, does most of the world ignore American sports in return?Offsideis the first book to explain these peculiarities, taking us on a thoughtful and engaging tour of America's sports culture and connecting it with other fundamental American exceptionalisms. In so doing, it offers a comparative analysis of sports cultures in the industrial societies of North America and Europe.

    The authors argue that when sports culture developed in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, nativism and nationalism were shaping a distinctly American self-image that clashed with the non-American sport of soccer. Baseball and football crowded out the game. Then poor leadership, among other factors, prevented soccer from competing with basketball and hockey as they grew. By the 1920s, the United States was contentedly isolated from what was fast becoming an international obsession.

    The book compares soccer's American history to that of the major sports that did catch on. It covers recent developments, including the hoopla surrounding the 1994 soccer World Cup in America, the creation of yet another professional soccer league, and American women's global preeminence in the sport. It concludes by considering the impact of soccer's growing popularity as a recreation, and what the future of sports culture in the country might say about U.S. exceptionalism in general.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2418-2
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-2)
    Andrei S. Markovits and Steven L. Hellerman
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 3-6)

    A Definite trend toward cultural convergence has been one of the main aspects of globalization. In the course of the twentieth century, especially among countries of the advanced industrial world, a set of common icons has developed that have become part of what we call Western culture. While this has been true on all levels, elite as well as mass, this commonality has been particularly pronounced in what has come to be known as popular culture. Whereas this cultural convergence has to a considerable degree coincided with America’s rise to political and economic prominence in the twentieth century—thus comprising...

  5. One The Argument: Sports As Culture in Industrial Societies AMERICAN CONFORMITIES AND EXCEPTIONS
    (pp. 7-51)

    Eric Hobsbawm brilliantly argued that throughout the twentieth century in “the field of popular culture the world was American or it was provincial” with one unique exception: that of sport. Hobsbawm credits soccer as the universalizing agent for sport in the twentieth century the way American culture was for much of everything else. Hobsbawm states: “The sport the world made its own was association football, the child of Britain’s global presence.... This simple and elegant game, unhampered by complex rules and equipment, and which could be practiced on any more or less flat open space of the required size, made...

    (pp. 52-98)

    Soccer failed to gain more than a marginal existence in American sports culture for three interrelated reasons, each of which can be conveniently and respectively labeled historical-sociological, cultural-anthropological, and organizational-institutional. The first—and certainly the most important and instrumental—is that soccer as both a recreational and spectator activity was “crowded out” in the nineteenth century from below by the prior emergence and success of baseball as a sport for the American masses in spring and summer, and from above by American football as a sport for the middle and upper middle classes in autumn. This chapter mainly focuses on...

  7. Three Soccer’s Trials and Tribulations: BEGINNINGS, CHAOS, “ALMOSTS,” OBSCURITY, AND COLLEGES
    (pp. 99-127)

    Despite its overall existence on the fringes of American sports culture, the history of soccer in the United States has indeed been “long and varied.”¹ This chapter presents the motley patchwork of respectable marginality—ranging from the beginnings of soccer’s discernible presence in the late 1800s through the years immediately following World War II—by first delineating the world of club and semiprofessional soccer in the United States, offering a taste of this world’s organizational disarray and including an account of the early attempts to organize the sport in the United States. Subsequently, we turn our attention to the professional...

  8. Four The Formation and Rearrangement of the American Sport Space in the Second Half of the Twentieth Century
    (pp. 128-161)

    Above all other factors, there are four key developments that defined and shaped the American cultural sport space in the second half of the twentieth century: modern and mature organizational stability, racial integration, geographic and franchise expansion, and, most important, the ubiquitous presence and effect of television. The first development noted here—the maturity of modern sports leagues in terms of their political economy—meant that the professional venues of the Big Three and One-Half had all achieved a level of stability that ensured their permanent existence and modern institutionalization.¹ Major League Baseball had attained this level of economic and...

  9. Five From the North American Soccer League to Major League Soccer
    (pp. 162-200)

    UnliketheNASL, by omitting the definite article and calling itself “Major League Soccer,” this new league wanted to convey to the world that—just like Major League Baseball—it stood for the apogee of the sport of soccer in the United States: alone, uncontested, unchallenged, at the very top, (perhaps even) permanent. This nomenclature can be seen as signification of the very first time that soccer in America had assumed at least a modicum of organizational rationality and institutional clarity, in which Major League Soccer embodied the apex of a pyramidal structure whose subordinate parts had a direct relationship...

  10. Six The World Cup in the United States
    (pp. 201-234)

    The World Cup USA organization, responsible for staging the 1994 World Cup in the United States, had set several specific goals for the event. Foremost was the maximization of profits for itself, the USSF, FIFA, television networks, and the nine World Cup host cities. This required making each match successful in terms of attendance, security, and logistics, as well as television and press access. Additionally, arrangements with corporate sponsors and retailers, based on advertising sales and product licensing, brought in substantial revenue.¹ Another goal was to attain a respectable American television audience by utilizing a strategy that sought to attract...

  11. Seven The Coverage of World Cup ’98 by the American Media and the Tournament’s Reception by the American Public
    (pp. 235-263)

    There simply can be no doubt that in the course of the last two decades of the twentieth century, coverage and awareness of the quadrennially held world championship of soccer, otherwise known as the World Cup, has grown tremendously in the United States. The data are clear: While barely present in the sports pages—let alone the general news sections—of American “papers of record” such as theNew York Times, theWashington Post,and theLos Angeles Times,as well as America’s leading sports weeklySports Illustrated,until the mid 1980s, all of these publications covered the subsequent tournaments...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 264-272)

    The United States has played a preeminent role in the twentieth century and it has done so in most facets of human endeavor, be it in science and politics, the arts and economics, social organization and culture. What rendered the United States such an original, dynamic, valuable—but also controversial—contributor to all these aspects of the human condition in the twentieth century was the fact that its very own history and existence were part of a larger whole, yet separate from it. In particular, America’s intimate, yet also conflicting, relations with its European progenitors has been the source of...

  13. Appendix A A Statistical Abstract on Recreational, Scholastic, and Collegiate Soccer in the United States
    (pp. 275-281)
  14. Appendix B A Sample of Opinion from American Sports Columnists and Journalists regarding the 1994 World Cup
    (pp. 282-297)
  15. Notes
    (pp. 299-340)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 341-352)
  17. Index
    (pp. 353-367)