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Football and Social Media: An Intriguing Relationship Reflective of Wider Societal Trends

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Social media offers an interesting form of postmodern communication between groups of people, yet—due to its banality (indeed, it has become the main form of communication for many people) the interesting aspects are often overlooked. Particularly, the Tweets of football fans are particularly fascinating since they tend to eschew the the rules of decorum and instead tend to say what they “really feel”.

Most recently’ the Italian side AS Roma’s English language Twitter account responded to Juventus’ announcement of a new store in Rome with a Tweet reading “Finally, something in Rome you really DON’T need to see”. While this may seem, on the surface, to be insignificant—just another off the cuff comment produced by the hyperreality that is the internet—a deeper look tells us that, in fact, the AS Roma fans might be getting at something deeper.

 

 

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Rome Has Many Famous Sites…the Juventus Store is Not One of Them. Image Courtesy of: @ASRomaEN Twitter Account.

 

AS Roma’s Tweet is first and foremost a rebuke at Juventus’ greed (itself born out of extreme capitalism). As the fiasco surrounding Juventus’ new badge showed, the team shows no shame in pursuing re-branding opportunities in a bid to increase their financial gains. Indeed, their eagerness to change their badge showed that the team has no respect for tradition or even their fan base (but, in typical fashion, the main (lame)stream media celebrated this abandonment of tradition). Opening a shop in Rome, a seven hour drive from Juventus’ home city of Turin, is just another manifestation of this greed. In this sense, AS Roma’s Tweet was also criticizing the rootlessness of postmodern society. This is an age when the football club—long a symbol of local pride—has become a globalized commodity. No longer content with the opportunities for financial gain in one city (or even one country), the team has become a global product to be consumed—making it indistinguishable from McDonald’s and Starbucks.

 

It is interesting to note that this is not the first time a football club’s humorous Tweet has become an internet sensation. Back in 2016 (I wrote about it here), the Russian club Zenit St. Petersburg hit back at the British newspaper Daily Mail for ridiculing their badge by naming it one of the “10 worst”. Like AS Roma’s Tweet, Zenit’s Tweet was also a form of social commentary. After all, what business of the Daily Mail’s was it to criticize the badges of football teams? It was a form of “journalism” (the quotes well deserved) that could only be produced in the postmodern hyperreality, where empty reporting is encouraged so as to generate more traffic (and, thus, more profit). It was also a news story which kept with the dominant technocratic trends of modern society with an obsession for rankings and categorizations. Most interestingly, the Twitter exchange between the Daily Mail and FC Zenit was also related to tradition. The Daily Mail—in a bid to save face—appealed to tradition by telling FC Zenit that they preferred the team’s old logo. FC Zenit responded in kind; indeed the Daily Mail’s old logo was much more “traditional” (adorned, as it was, with two British lions). Unfortunately for the Daily Mail, however, tradition does not sell in the modern world, and that may be one reason that the paper had to “modernize” their logo by making it a bland (and inoffensive) stylized letter “m”.

 

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Note the Number of Likes on Each Post, as Zenit Seem to have Outdone @Mailsport. Images Courtesy Of: @zenit_spb Twitter Account

 

By using the Sociological Imagination (to borrow C. Wright Mills’ term), we can see that these two humorous Twitter exchanges represent much more than mere online banter. They show us that online social interactions in the football world are also reflective of debates in wider society, and in this case it is specifically the debate between notions of “progress” and “tradition” which takes center stage.

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Football Shirts Get Political Again, This Time in The United States

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Almost a month ago, I wrote about a case where a football shirt started a political storm in Germany. Now, it seems, the same is happening in the United States. A few years ago, as I was filling out my Panini album (a must during a World Cup year), I couldn’t help but lament the fact that both Turkey and the United States would not be playing. For the U.S. it is an even bigger failure (given the amount of money invested in football), and the squad will have to settle with appearing in a few pre-tournament warm-up matches. While the U.S. faced France on June 9 2018, a French friend texted me to ask “Why are the U.S. jerseys so hideous?”. I didn’t know what he meant, so I tuned in and took a look. Indeed, the jerseys were a little off…the numbering scheme was, for some reason, colored like a rainbow! The players looked like school children, and—as a shirt enthusiast—I cringed at the design. The problem, of course, is not the fact that the U.S. men’s national football team is supporting gay pride. The United States is a diverse nation, and its gay citizens are just as valuable as its straight citizens. Indeed, the only thing that should matter, in an international football match, is representing your country. In this case, the only thing that should matter is being American. And that is the issue with these shirts: it is an unnecessary distraction and the numbering color scheme represents the ongoing politicization of all spheres of culture—sports included—in the United States of America. It is certainly a slippery slope.

 

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Really? Image Courtesy Of: https://www.nbcchicago.com/news/local/team-usa-ireland-pride-jerseys-friendly-dublin-484427761.html

 

The politicization of U.S. Soccer brings to mind the furious campaign by former star Eric Wynalda to become president of the U.S. Soccer federation. Mr. Wynalda, in the run up to his campaign, said all the right things. Indeed, he asked the right questions:

 

We have countries like Uruguay with 3.5 million people in the whole country. You have Iceland who’s beating England. They have more active volcanoes than coaches. We here have this massive undertaking. We have 350 million people [in this country] and we can’t figure out how to find 11? Really?

 

Sadly, however, U.S. Soccer would not listen, showing both the corporatization of football in the U.S. as well as the larger world. The mainstream media labeled him an “outsider” (the LA Times) and the New York Times—leaders of media manipulation as they are—chose to highlight his personal financial problems. The LA Times article identifies the main reason Mr. Wynalda has had trouble in the football world:

 

Multiple efforts to become an MLS head coach went nowhere, as his contemporaries with vanilla personalities were awarded positions. U.S. Soccer’s player of the decade in the 1990s, a veteran of three World Cups, became an outsider.

He wouldn’t encounter such obstacles in almost any other country, where strong if not downright defective personalities are accepted as byproducts of the creativity necessary to be a star player [Emphasis Added].

 

As football has become increasingly corporate in the age of industrial football, creative ideas—as is the case in most industries—have been discouraged. This is why Mr. Wynalda’s struggles are not just a “personal trouble”, to borrow the language of American Sociologist C. Wright Mills. Rather, they are representative of wider “social problems”: Industrial society in the United States has become reluctant to open itself to any ideas which challenge the dominant narratives, creating an environment which fosters one-dimensional thought in boardrooms across corporate America and in classrooms throughout the American education system.

 

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Eric Wynalda, A Patriot Who Has Become an Outsider In Our Brave New World. Image Courtesy Of: https://www.mlssoccer.com/post/2016/06/02/us-win-over-colombia-1994-world-cup-announced-were-here-stay

 

Of course, this is not the recipe for a successful country, a peaceful society, or even a functioning football association. We, as a society, have become used to allowing technocrats to shape all facets of our lives. The two candidates Mr. Wynalda ran against, Sunil Gulati and Carlos Cordeiro, were typical technocrats. The former is an economist who teaches at Columbia University; the latter is a former partner at Goldman Sachs. In fact, Mr. Cordeiro said he was the only candidate with  “the skills to help oversee an organization with a 170 person staff, a $110 million budget, a $150 million surplus, and more than four million players, coaches, and referees”. While these are of course important factors to consider, the fact is that these skills have absolutely nothing to do with football but everything to do with business. When profit becomes the main consideration, however, these are the qualities that come to the fore. In an uber-rationalized world—in the Weberian sense—an emotional former footballer like Mr. Wynalda is deemed unacceptable for the position; instead, it is investment bankers and economists who are the ones favored. And that is how we come to an absurd situation where the most important colors of a football shirt are not the national colors of a nation but those on back of the shirts.

 

The decision to allow rainbow colored numbers—in support of Pride month—drew outrage from many. In fact, it even made a footballer for the US Women’s national team abandon her dream of representing her country because her faith did not allow her to wear the “pride” shirt in question. Given this situation, it is easy to see that there is a problem here.

 

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Jaelene Hinkel Chose to Speak Up. Unfortunately, It Cost Her the Opportunity to Represent her Nation. Image Courtesy Of: https://www.nbcchicago.com/news/local/team-usa-ireland-pride-jerseys-friendly-dublin-484427761.html

 

While gay pride should certainly be supported—gay individuals are equal citizens of the United States—there are ways to do this and, unfortunately, football shirts are not the place for this. Anything that willfully alienates people—gay or straight, religious or secular, male or female—from the larger community (in this case the nation) should not be supported by anyone who is truly tolerant. It seems that forcing footballers to wear jerseys which support a certain quasi-political message represents an egregious imposition of politics on sports. It is no different from the calls from gay individuals to boycott the fast food restaurant Chick-fil-A ( https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/lgbtq-eating-chick-fil-a_us_5b1fb4cee4b09d7a3d770c81 . No one, regardless of their sexual orientation, has a right to tell people where to eat. Encroaching onto people’s personal lives like this is a form of fascism, and cannot be tolerated by anyone who values the liberty and freedom of individual human life.

 

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One of the First Lessons of Sport is That the Name on the Front of the Jersey Matters More than the Name on the Back Of the Jersey. The Same Goes For the Colors of the Jersey. If We Truly are “One Nation” and “One Team”, as the Banner Suggests, then We Have No Choice but to Abandon the Divisive Virus of Identity Politics. Image Courtesy Of: https://gaynation.co/outrage-as-us-soccer-team-dons-rainbow-jersey-for-in-support-of-rainbow-community/

 

Perhaps if the US Soccer Federation had spent its time developing the football program—rather than catering to identity politics—the U.S. would have a team to root for in the World Cup. Instead, we see the regressive nature of progressive America as the quality of football suffers when technocrats choose politics over sport. The politicization of football shirts, therefore, clearly shows that authoritarianism knows no political allegiance; it can come as easily from the “left” as it can from the “right”. Divide and rule is the oldest trick in the book, so resist the divisions and stand up for your country!

 

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