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Notes from the First Week of the 2018 World Cup: A Lesson in the Culture Industry of Globalism

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The 2018 World Cup is sorting out to be less of a sporting event and more of a propaganda machine for the budding culture industry of globalism and globalization. While events on the pitch play out—like Mexico’s shock upset of defending champion Germany—they are interpreted through the lens of a globalist culture industry which prefers to tie what happens on the field to events off the field; indeed Germany’s loss has been blamed on the row over German players appearing in a photo with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a topic I have written about. Of course, this has not been the only instance where politics and off the field concerns have stolen the spotlight from what we should be focusing on: the sporting competition on the field.

Former U.S. national team star Landon Donovan caused “outrage” after appearing in a Wells Fargo ad to announce his support for Mexico. In the advertisement (which can be seen here) Mr. Donovan says “Wells Fargo and I are inviting anyone in need of a team to root for to join us in cheering for the Mexican national team. Vamos Mexico!”. In a Tweet announcing his support for the United States’ southern neighbor, Mr. Donovan appears with a scarf reading “my other team is Mexico”.

 

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I join Carlos Bocanegra in saying “Really?”. Image Courtesy of: https://www.upi.com/Sports_News/Soccer/2018/06/18/World-Cup-USMNT-icons-disagree-with-Donovan-for-support-of-Mexico/9461529329390/

 

It didn’t take long for other former U.S. national team players to respond to Mr. Donovan’s comments. On his Instagram account, Cobi Jones said “Nah man! Mexico is not ‘my team.’ Mexico is a rival in CONCACAF. In sport there is something sacred about rivalries. Meaning and history behind them! I don’t see Brazil cheering for Argentina. England cheering for Germany. Barca for Madrid. Man U for Liverpool or Lakers for Clippers. Yankees/Red Sox etc … It’s sports and you’re allowed to cheer against someone. Let alone your regional rival!”. Former striker and current ESPN analyst Taylor Twellman also joined in, saying on Twitter “I’d rather cut off my toe than ‘root for [Mexican flag] and I’m on the outside on this one, but how could I root for my/our rival? Imagine any [Chilean] players rooting for [Argentina] today. I can’t imagine how American Outlaws would feel if I rooted for Mexico … but then again I’m old school.” Of course, these emotional responses are both warranted and also understandable.

 

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Proud Americans. Images Courtesy Of: https://www.upi.com/Sports_News/Soccer/2018/06/18/World-Cup-USMNT-icons-disagree-with-Donovan-for-support-of-Mexico/9461529329390/

 

The previous generation of U.S. soccer players proudly represented their country at a time when football infrastructure was all but non-existent in the United States. Despite this lack of institutional support, they successfully qualified for the 1990 World Cup and built football in the country through their dedication and hard work. Therefore, when a player like Landon Donovan comes out and—in the name of a sponsorship deal with Wells Fargo—seemingly ignores the blood and sweat which (literally) went into building U.S. soccer from the ground up, it is bound to touch a nerve.

Unfortunately, however, comments like Mr. Donovan’s have come to be expected in a world which favors political correctness and culture industry catchwords over real emotional attachments. Indeed, the fact that Mr. Donovan prefers attachment to global capital (in the form of Wells Fargo) and culture industry compliant catchwords—over attachment to his nation—is evident in his response to criticism. His post in response both attempts to reaffirm his patriotism while also catering to the dominant strand of globalist one dimensional thought: “I believe in supporting each other and building bridges, not barriers”. Mr. Donovan is looking to defend himself by falling back on the politically correct trope of “building bridges”. What Mr. Donovan does not understand is that none of his former team-mates are advocating “building barriers”; rather they are just pointing out the rather obvious fact that it is ok to not support your rival; not supporting a rival does not mean hating a rival. Unfortunately, however, in the modern world it is the utopic ideas of “love trumping hate” which tend to frame events in a zero-sum game of “love” vs. “hate”. There can be no middle ground, and we see similar interpretations as regards other off the field developments during the 2018 World Cup.

When the coach of the South Korean national team Shin Tae-Young “admitted that his team mixed around its jersey numbers for recent training sessions and warm-up games because he believes Westerners find it difficult to ‘distinguish between Asians’, USA today deemed the comments “extraordinary”. Of course, there is nothing very “extraordinary” about the comments; Mr. Tae-Young’s move was a strategic one in footballing terms yet, in the world of one-dimensional thought, USA Today needed to frame the move in terms of the politically correct discourse created by the globalist culture industry. At the same time, there was outrage when the Mexican team’s fans chanted “homophobic slurs”. Of course, much of the outrage in The Guardian’s story comes from “Professors” at U.S. Universities who have very little knowledge of first hand football culture. Most real football fans know that, in the stadium, one’s sexual preference is irrelevant; what matters is supporting your team. Unfortunately for football fans of all sexual orientations, however, this fake outrage—and virtue signaling—only serves to further alienate football fans from one another. These divisions mirror the divisions created by the global culture industry in other walks of life.

Consumers of sports and main (lame)stream sports media prefer to have their own sense of “morality” and “virtue” confirmed, rather than look at the bigger picture. This is why CNN gleeefully reports on Russian oligarch (and Chelsea owner) Roman Abramovich’s program to bring seriously ill children to the World Cup. While Mr. Abramovich’s actions are of course laudable, they gloss over the cut-throat manner in which the oligarch made his billions during the free-for-all of privatization following the collapse of the Soviet Union. CNN prefers to sing the praises of virtue without even focusing on how the money was made in the first place.

In sum, football fans this summer should be cognizant of the fact that the FIFA World Cup is far from a sporting event; instead, it—like many international events—has become an incubator for the inculcation (indoctrination?) of the globalist culture industry. This culture industry is attempting to gradually homogenize the emotions of the world under the guise of a sporting event. What we all must remember, however, is that manufactured emotions are not real in any sense of the word, rather they are represent a gradual pacification of the world in order to create more docile bodies—in the Foucauldian sense—to participate in consumerism on a global scale.

 

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From the 2014 World Cup, But Still Very Relevant. Image Courtesy Of: https://thesunshineroom.com/category/world-cup-2014/
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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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U.S. Congressman’s Response to U.S. Soccer Team’s Failure to Qualify for the World Cup Confirms That Some American Politicians Have Forgotten How to Govern

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Given the amount of money invested in Soccer in the United States, it is certainly a disappointment that the United States will not be playing in next summer’s World Cup. Interestingly, the fallout from the team’s failure has also given us an opportunity to see just how far American politicians are from the very people to whom they are supposed to be accountable. USA Today pointed out some odd Tweets made by Congressman Brendan Boyle, a Democrat who represents Pennsylvania’s 13th Congressional District, in the wake of the United States’ unexpected loss.

 

Normally, Congressman Boyle’s Twitter feed is filled with the type of tweets one would expect from a Democratic lawman: Messages disparaging Republican President Donald Trump and typical messages pandering to identity politics. According to his Twitter feed, Congressman Boyle was educated at Notre Dame and Harvard University and—of course—unequivocally supports worker’s rights. No problems there. Congressman Boyle has represented Pennsylvania’s 13th Congressional District since 2014, a district that includes part of Philadelphia and is 87.2% White. Perhaps that explains the Congressman’s odd Tweets about football (or Soccer); few of his constituents are soccer fans!

 

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Alienating Potential Voters is Not the Smartest Thing to Do. Image Courtesy Of: https://twitter.com/repbrendanboyle?lang=en

 

His first Tweet, following the loss, was “I was really disappointed the USA men’s team didn’t qualify for the World Cup. Then I remembered I couldn’t care less about soccer”. Clearly, for anyone who understands a modicum about public policy, this was not the best thing to Tweet. When it comes from a man with a Master’s Degree in Public Policy from Harvard University, it is even more surprising. One would think that alienating any part of your constituency—in the name of sports—would not be the best course of action. What is even odder is that Mr. Boyle dug in when a user asked, rhetorically, if he did not understand the sport.

 

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An Odd Response; I Wonder How Latino Voters Feel About This. Image Courtesy Of: http://ftw.usatoday.com/2017/10/brandon-boyle-us-soccer-twitter

 

Mr. Boyle, however, was not done. He followed up with another oddly antagonistic Tweet: “Had no idea soccer fans were such snowflakes. Guys, do yourselves a favor. Watch the baseball playoffs. You’re Welcome”. The irony of a politician from the Democratic party calling others snowflakes should not be lost on anyone, and it reveals a lot about the nature of politicians in the United States.

 

That Congressman Boyle did not shy away from telling sports fans what to watch (instead of soccer) is also telling as it reveals a fascistic streak of thought. Perhaps the Congressman should be reminded that supporting worker’s rights does not mean that one cannot be—or is not—a fascist. But this is the state of politics in the United States. Politicians are so removed from the people they ostensibly represent that they believe they can say anything. After all, the 13th District is Democrat and will likely continue to be. Little of what these politicians say is genuine and often party-line rhetoric serves simply to ensure votes. And, sometimes even off-hand Tweets like these reveal a lot about the character behind the political office. While the popular narrative tells us that Democrats are “tolerant” of others, I should say that Congressman Boyle’s Tweets tell a very different story.

Here I will give a shout out to writer Brian Hickey who–intelligently–pointed out one of contradictions of this tweeting debacle: “One might think a legislator who plays the pro-immigrant card would – y’know – not spit all over the sport many immigrants love. But, nope, that’s not what happened here”. Similarly, Philadelphia soccer writer Matt Ralph pointed out that Congressman Boyle’s district is a soccer hot-bed. Representatives like Brendan Boyle show just how broken the political system has become; it is not about Left and Right at all. It is about politicians who have absolutely no concern, whatsoever, about their constituencies.

The World Cup Failures of Turkey and the United States Reveal the Ills of Industrial Football

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I have often remarked about the similarities between the two countries I call home; even though they are miles apart geographically and culturally they have an odd way of showing similarities in certain aspects. I am not talking about the bizarre visa spat between the two nations which saw both countries make identical announcements—down to a typo. Instead, I am talking about football.

 

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The Absurdity of Turkey and the United States Literally Cutting and Pasting Diplomatic Announcements Should Not Be Lost On Anyone. Images Courtesy of: http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/son-dakika-abd-vize-basvurusunu-askiya-aldi-40603924

 

After Turkey lost their chance at the World Cup following a 3-0  home loss to Iceland (who became the smallest nation to qualify for a World Cup), the Turkish press was incensed at an image of Barcelona star Arda Turan laughing as he left the field of play. Obviously we do not know what was going on in Mr. Turan’s mind, but one has to ask why he couldn’t have just walked off the field with his head bowed, at least feigning disappointment at losing out on the World Cup. His indifference prompted one Turkish columnist to write:

 

May God Grant Us Arda Turan’s Indifference

–As the Dollar rises…

–As the Euro breaks records…

–As our soldiers invade Idlib [a Syrian city]

–As taxes rise…

–As the tension with [Iraqi Kurdish President] Barzani continue…

–As inflation grows…

–As the weather gets colder…

May God grant our whole country…

Arda Turan’s indififference as his team loses 3-0…

Amen.

 

While it distressing to see a professional footballer take such little pride in his work, it is not altogether surprising. In the age of industrial football, players only care as long as money is flowing into their bank accounts. Where representing one’s country used to be a matter of pride for professional footballers, it is now merely an unwelcome distraction from the real money-making endeavor of playing for their club teams. It seems that the players have become as one-dimensional as their societies.

 

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Perhaps He Didn’t Know Whether to Laugh or Cry. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/yazarlar/ahmet-hakan/allah-hepimize-arda-turan-lakaytligi-versin-40603374

 

Surprisingly, it was no different in the United States as the country of 327 million lost to the tiny Carribean nation of Trinidad and Tobago (population 1.2 million) and crashed out of the World Cup due to results elsewhere. Of course, had the United States at least tied their match, it would have avoided arguably the biggest disaster in American sports history. The result prompted (understandably) rage from U.S. Soccer commentators. Before the match, former U.S. soccer great Alexi Lalas was ridiculed for calling the U.S. team “underperforming, tattooed millionaires”. How right he was, since it seemed like the U.S. team figured they had it all wrapped up following a 4-0 victory over Panama. U.S. sports media didn’t even focus on the match as they were too busy poking fun at Trinidad and Tobago for the waterlogged pitch they practiced on; ESPN’s piece was a typically derogatory news story coming out of one of the world’s richest countries. Of course, Trinidad ended up having the last laugh. Yet instead of recognizing Trinidad’s victory for what it was—deserved—much of the news focused on political issues.

The Guardian claims that this failure was “years in the making”, pointing out that perhaps MLS, the domestic league in the United States, has been of more of a help to Caribbean nations than to the U.S. Of course race came into the equation as well (as it always does whenever anything goes wrong in the U.S.), as pundits claim that the “pay to play” culture of American sports favors white athletes over more talented Latino and African American athletes. For some reason, even U.S. coach Bruce Arena suggested that it was U.S. immigration policies that made qualifying more difficult because it gave the Latin American countries more of an incentive to defeat the United States. If responding to (perceived) unjust immigration policies made teams play better football, than I’m sure Turkey would never lose when playing a member of the European Union. The absurdity of making a sporting failure political should not be lost on anyone.

In fact, I believe there are two reasons for the failures of both Turkey and the United States to qualify for the World Cup: Player apathy and structural issues that go far beyond politics. The first is obvious, and stems from Alexi Lalas’ criticism. Players in both Turkey and the United States are making so much money that they view international duty as an unwelcome distraction. In the American case, they were so strongly favored that they (wrongly) believed that the shear weight of their country’s name would carry them through. It was not to be. The second cause of this debacle is, as I said, structural. I have already written about why the United States will have difficulty in becoming a footballing power; it is because the best athletes are directed towards other sports which make much more money. This is part of the structural problem. In the Turkish context, it is the fact that sporting infrastructure is not well-developed enough to nurture young talent. For many clubs, the goal is profit in the short term. This means that clubs prefer to import foreign talent rather than nurture home grown talent. This means that there are less young players coming through the system with the aim of showing themselves on the international stage. By contrast, in smaller countries like Trinidad, Honduras, Panama, and Iceland, players are focused on getting discovered and play with more desire, as results show.

 

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The U.S. Crash Out Of The World Cup. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.espnfc.com/united-states/story/3226915/sunil-gulati-united-states-failure-to-qualify-for-2018-world-cup-a-huge-disappointment

 

Unfortunately, in the age of industrial football, many players from the larger countries have lost the amateur spirit that makes sports such a fun spectacle to watch. Hopefully, the qualification failures in both Turkey and the United States serve as a catalyst for change. Make no mistake, to chalk these failures up to “racism” or “immigration policies” is the easy way out; it is always easier to look for blame elsewhere.

The Recent Politicization of Sports Media Offers Insight into Wider Issues with Media and Sports in the United States: The Case of the Wage Gap Between Men’s and Women’s Sports

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What If I told you that one of the key issues that plagues the United States’ media system is: “that reporters, journalists, and publishers are expected to prioritize state interests above all and not to cross the lines drawn by the power holders, and if they do, they should be prepared to pay the price”? Would this seem absurd, especially if we substituted “state interests” for “progressive interests”? Personally, I don’t think it would be—and that is why it is telling that the above quote, taken from page 138 of Bilge Yesil’s study of the media in Turkey, Media in New Turkey: The Origins of an Authoritarian Neoliberal Statecan be applied so easily to the United States. In the age of neoliberal globalization, where economic concerns seem to be paramount, one could argue that all states have become authoritarian to some degree but that is a topic for another day; today I will focus specifically on sports media in the United States since it is a country where money has become so powerful that it runs most institutions, including the media.

This may be a reason that even sports reporting has become a battleground in the ongoing culture wars in American society. Whereas sports used to be a field in the United States that once served to unify a vast nation (most Americans can identify with a baseball team whether it is the San Franscisco Giants or the Boston Red Sox, for instance), it has recently become an increasingly divisive topic. ESPN has, as expected due to its corporatization, become a leading player in sending divisive messages guised as progressive thought; a recent article focusing on LPGA golf serves as a good example to study.

Anna Catherine Clemmons’ ESPN piece from 10 July focusing on LPGA golfers speaking up “about inequality” is more politics than it is sport. Take two of the questions players were asked: “How would you grade Donald Trump’s impact on women’s golf?” And “Would you ever consider not playing in the U.S. Women’s Open Because its being held at Trump National in Bedminster, New Jersey?”. As a sports fan, I am left wondering what on earth Donald Trump has to do with women’s golf, other than the fact that he is a rich white man, and golf is generally considered a rich white man’s game. If that is the common denominator, however, this article just smacks of racism and gender bias, in the same way that Barack Obama was made to unveil a bracket for the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament every March (seemingly) because he was a black man and basketball is generally seen as a sport appealing to black males in the United States. Of course, both of these characterizations of sport are inherently racist and it would behoove ESPN to avoid pandering to such base stereotypes.

 

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Two Very Odd Questions, and One Very Important Question. Images Courtesy Of: http://www.espn.com/golf/story/_/id/19865737/lpga-confidential-survey-speaking-golf-inequalities

 

Despite this glaring problem, Clemmons’ piece does raise one interesting issue (the one most female golfers she polled found to be most pressing), and that is the pay gap between female and male golfers in the United States. This would have been an interesting issue to follow, since it is one that has been in the news lately; the U.S. women’s national soccer team recently came out to criticize the U.S. Soccer federation for the wage gap between the U.S. Men’s National Team and US Women’s National Team (On April 5 2017 the US women did, in fact, get a raise). Since the pay gap and gender equality are hot topics in the United States, Clemmons would have done well to focus on the important topics, rather than bring politics into sports unnecessarily.

This would have been a good chance to bridge the divides in American society, rather than divide further, since the wage gap between women and men is a glaring example of the results of extreme capitalism; it affects all of us regardless of our sex. It seems that—in extreme capitalism—what you do does not really matter. What does matter is how much others value what you do. Take a plumber or an electrician or even a car mechanic. Although these are very useful jobs which can make a lot of money—without such professionals, the modern world would come to a halt—they are not valued as “prestigious”. This is why a run-of-the mill white collar worker working at an office for 35,000 dollars a year is viewed as having a “professional” job; it is the myth of the college degree that separates the white collar from the blue collar. Unfortunately, society has come to value typing on a computer more than it values getting a motor to run or fixing a leaking kitchen sink; essentially an “unskilled” worker with no real-world skills is viewed (in society’s eyes) as being “skilled”.

I believe that, at its root, this is one reason for the pay gap between women’s and men’s sports. Until more people consistently watch women’s golf—or women’s soccer, for that matter—they will be paid equally with men. That is, until views value women’s sports. But as long as male sports attract consistently more viewership, I do not see how women’s sports can garner the same kinds of money that men’s sports do. Likewise, it does not matter how great my writing is (of course its great ;), but until I am writing for a major sports or political website I will still be a marginal sociologist getting paid . . . .zero dollars. It has nothing to do with the quality of my work, rather it has to do with readership—and in sports terms, viewership.

One other reason for the pay gap stems from the inflated amount of money that (mainly male) sports figures get; remember when basketball star Kevin Durant was celebrated for not taking the maximum salary offered by the Golden State Warriors by accepting six (6!) million dollars less?). When six million dollars can be brushed off in a second, it shows just how much money is moving around in the world of professional sports. Take the disparity between how much the men in the NBA make compared to how much the women in the WNBA make: John Walters, of Newsweek, points out that

The league minimum in the NBA this season [2015-2016] is $525,000. The WNBA league minimum last summer was $38,000. Yes, the WNBA regular season is 34 games, compared with the NBA’s 82-game slog, but the highest-paid player in the WNBA makes roughly one-fifth that of the lowest-paid player in the NBA. Two years ago, 52 NBA players each earned more than all of the players in the WNBA combined.

 Of course, the NBA is a global entity that earned more than $5 billion last season. The WNBA, by comparison, barely breaks even. ESPN and Turner Sports pay the NBA a combined $2.6 billion annually to televise the NBA, whereas ESPN pays the WNBA $12 million annually for rights fees. That’s less than half of 1 percent of the NBA’s deal.

 

Again, the NBA wages are certainly inflated—but the WNBA just does not bring in enough revenue to raise their players’ wages. Walters’ article also points out how the US Women’s National soccer team—despite creating 16 million dollars more in revenue than the US Men’s National Team in 2015—cannot compete with the men’s wages due to the globalized nature of the football world:

 

The problem is that the USMNT [United States Men’s National Team] is tethered to the World Cup, the largest global sporting event outside the Olympics, which brought in $4.8 billion in revenue in 2014. The 2015 Women’s World Cup’s numbers are not available, but it likely brought in a small fraction of that sum. Germany earned $35 million for winning the 2014 World Cup in Brazil; the U.S. earned $2 million for winning the 2015 Women’s World Cup in Canada.

 

Again, we see that it is viewership and global sports revenues which determine the wages, not necessarily the quality of the product on offer. We can all agree that the U.S. Women’s National Team is much more successful globally than their male counterparts; women’s soccer just does not pay as much as men’s soccer does globally in the age of modern football. Thus it is not an issue of sexism, rather it is an issue of industrial football.

Clemmons’ ESPN article would have been well-served to focus on some of these points, so as to get to the root of what is going on. Without taking serious time to study the issues, journalists risk falling into the trap of succumbing to the old tropes of “misogyny” and “patriarchy”. Rather than divide men and women, we would do well to point out that men and women are experiencing very similar financial hardships in the sports world. For those who think that men have it easy and women are the ones being exploited, check out former minor league baseball player and author Dirk Hayhurst’s 2014 piece detailing the harsh conditions of minor league baseball in the United States. Mr. Hayhurst shows just how tough it is for those at the bottom end of the sports industry, playing in leagues that do not have the high viewership and player perks that the major leagues have. The issues are not about identity politics and about dividing men and women. Rather, the issues are about a sports industry that cares more about its bottom line—and profits—than it does about the athletes.

U.S. Soccer and the Illegal Immigration Debate

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Following Donald Trump’s surprise victory in the American presidential election there has been a lot of debate regarding his key positions as he reiterated plans to build a wall along the Mexican border and his goal of deporting between two and three million illegal (or undocumented, the term some circles in the U.S. prefer) immigrants. Unsurprisingly, there have been backlashes to Mr. Trump’s proposed policies. The chancellor of Cal State University vowed to not deport students as campuses nationwide planned protests while the chief of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) said that his department would not assist in deporting illegal immigrants.

This debate has—unsurprisingly—spread to the football field but not in the way that many may have anticipated. Despite media hyperbole designed to turn the 11 November 2016 World Cup Qualifier between Mexico and the United States into a political event, nothing of note materialized. The Miami Herald emphasized that there was no anti-Mexican sentiment in the stadium, and it was business as usual when Mexico went on to win 1-0 with a late goal courtesy of Rafa Marquez.

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U.S. Fans Hang a Political Banner At the Match (Top) While an Unidentified Mexico Fan Wears a Mask of U.S. President-Elect Donald Trump (Bottom). Both Images Are Taken From a Very Readable Piece That Appeared on MLS’ Website. The Piece States Some Things Mainstream Media Won’t Dare Mention, Such as one Mexican American’s Comment That “I was born here, but I’m a first-generation American. My family is from Mexico and normally I support Mexico when they play, but when it’s US vs. Mexico, I’m USA first. When I was born and raised, my mother was all, ‘We speak English at home. You’ve got to integrate yourself into society.'” Images Courtesy Of: http://www.mlssoccer.com/post/2016/11/18/us-mexico-fans-find-joy-refuge-common-ground-columbus-word

Reading the news, I was left wondering why on earth the match was expected to elicit any sort of political response. Aside from the fact that (state) media wants to emphasize division by reporting in certain ways, there is no reason that policies aimed to promote legal immigration and discourage illegal immigration should be seen as an attack on Mexico specifically, or any other country for that matter. Unfortunately, the media is not that nuanced.

I myself as a graduate student in a PhD program have heard the perspectives of those fed by this kind of biased reporting that drives division. I have been told that, since my mother is an immigrant, I should not agree with increased border enforcement. I answer that my mother is a legal immigrant who came to the United States to study and who eventually got a PhD so as to fulfill here dream of becoming a professor. I have been told that the most Nobel Prize winners have been immigrants. When I stress legal immigrants, the other side ceases to argue. The enforcement of borders is a normal policy the world over; when on a family trip to Norway I saw armed soldiers standing guard at the docks so as to ensure that all tourists returned to the cruise ship. I have been stopped by police in Sofia, Bulgaria, and asked to produce a passport so as to provide some sort of documentation in order to prove that I entered the country legally. Interestingly enough, none of this seemed strange to me. Although I dream of a world with no borders (since I enjoy traveling), I also realize that this cannot become a reality until all countries abolish borders.

The saddest thing in the debate is the fact that the American public is woefully uninformed, either because state media has a penchant for churning out extremely biased stories or because Americans have little knowledge of the rest of the world; I had a fellow graduate student tell me that he could “just walk across borders in Europe”. When I told him that he still had to enter the European Union at some point in order to do that, he was shocked. While I cannot fault this perspective—after all, travel is a privilege and a luxury—I can fault the media, since it does a dis-service to all those that would like neutral reporting. The media is complicit in pushing a false narrative that being against illegal immigration means being against all immigration. A good example of this kind of poor journalism is Al Jazeera America’s articleAl Jazeera America’s articleAl Jazeera America’s article about the American 2014 World Cup team which says:

The composition of the team reflects the shifting profile of the North American athlete and the migratory patterns that the U.S. government has so fervently attempted to restrict. Sixty percent of the roster is composed of first- or second-generation Americans, five of whom were born outside the U.S. The team could field a starting lineup of 11 players with direct ties to Mexico, Colombia, Haiti, Germany, Norway, Iceland, Poland, Latvia and the Philippines; 14 of the squad’s 23 men trace their roots through five continents.

This article implies that America’s strength—not only in footballing terms, but in social terms—lies in its acceptance of immigrants. It is a sentiment that I wholeheartedly agree with. But—and this is a huge BUT that is often ignored—that immigration should be legal. This is because I believe that illegal immigration is inherently unfair and unequal. In a democratic society the goal is—ostensibly—to make people equal. Obviously, given certain structural issues, this is a fairly utopian view but it is one that is necessary to further the myth of democracy; those of us living in such societies have no choice but to buy in. The unfairness of illegal immigration stems from many factors. It is, first and foremost, unfair to the countrymen/women of the illegal immigrant; they arrive illegally while others follow the legal route. It is also unequal to other foreigners; those that follow the legal routes to a visa or citizenship are actively being subverted. A third inequality that results from illegal immigration relates to the job market. If one is undocumented, they will work for any wage they can get. Unfortunately, this means that others—particularly poor African-Americans and poor white Americans—get pushed out of jobs since illegal immigrants are essentially competing with poor Americans for the same jobs. This is an inherent contradiction within American politics; illegal immigration is championed at the same time as racial equality even though it is clear that this means a loss of—and lack of opportunity in—jobs for many minorities in U.S. society.

The media do not take such a view, which is important to note since their stories are what drive the narrative of events in the United States. The LA Times reported that Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti was “expressing concern that mass deportations would hurt the Southern California economy, which he said is dependent on the labor and tax dollars of noncitizens”. The fact that a city in the United States should be dependent on the “labor of noncitizens” is, frankly, absurd and shows that something needs to change. Business Insider also wrote an alarmist piece documenting the economic disaster that may befall the U.S. if mass deportations of undocumented labor does indeed occur. They cite a study by the American Action Forum, described as “a nonpartisan, center-right-leaning think tank”. The study concludes that “Overall, removing all undocumented immigrants would cause private sector output to decline by between $381.5 billion and $623.2 billion. This translates to a 2.9 percent to 4.7 percent reduction in total annual output from the private sector”. While this would clearly mean a big hit to the U.S. economy, the article makes no reference to the fact that there might be unemployed American workers who could fill in and take the jobs of the undocumented deportees. Also, the article does not note the possibility that undocumented laborers who have not committed crimes—and are merely working hard to provide for their families by legal means—might be given documentation and therefore be allowed to continue working (a position that I support). In short, the media’s portrayal of a “crackdown” on illegal immigration is highly alarmist—and not just in terms of economics.

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But Who Is To Say That These Jobs Cannot Be Filled? After All, Relying on Illegal Immigrants For Jobs Is Exploitative Of the Undocumented Workers. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.businessinsider.com/cost-deporting-undocumented-immigrants-study-2016-5

Business Insider also published a piece that underlines the possible violent consequences of this crackdown not only in the United States, but in Central America as well. The article notes that many deportees have few connections to their home countries, and that they will just try to return the the United States if/when they cannot find employment in their home countries. Business Insider also warns that “these people would also fall prey to criminal groups — transnational gangs like Barrio 18 or MS-13 — that have turned northern Central America and parts of Mexico into war zones […]The consequence of deporting many immigrants — a number of whom were already criminals — to countries emerging from a period of war with weak law enforcement and little economic development was the growth of groups like Barrio 18 and MS-13, both of which have their origins among immigrants in California who were deported”. A professor of political science is quoted as saying “Honduran and Guatemalan gangs were aided by deportations as well as the spread of gang influence from El Salvador […] So, in a way, deportations were extremely important to the emergence and expansion of criminal groups like the MS-13 and Barrio 18”. Now, this article raised two important questions to me. The first is “As an American and Turkish citizen, what do I care about how deportations affect Central American countries?”. The second is “if these people are indeed violent gang members—or even have a proclivity for violence—then why would I want them to continue to stay in the country?”. A logical response would be…A president’s job is to take care of their own country and that violent people should not be on the streets. Seems sound, right?

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The Article Is Misleading; Homicides are Decreasing in Two of the Three Countries and I Would Argue That This Says More About Domestic Problems In The Triangle Than U.S. Policies. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.businessinsider.com/problems-with-donald-trump-deportation-plan-and-gang-violence-2016-11

As I have said, the media has a way of skirting the truth. When a former U.S. official is quoted, he says “as a result of that [U.S. deportation policy], we have created a disaster in Central America … where these gangs are fighting among each other, creating a massive migration of individuals into the United States”. While the deportation policy might have been one cause of “disaster” in Central America, I would argue that the true cause runs far deeper. Perhaps this is just another cause of blowback; American meddling in Central America during the Cold War and the policy of “kingmaking” by imposing and deposing strongmen by way of military coups hindered the region’s development so that most of the states are, now, unstable. This is why, for me at least, an abandonment of the notion of “empire” by the United States could lead to a more stable world in the future.

This is not solely a political blog, this blog is also about sports and I will bring the topic back. The main thing is that this kind of reporting misses the fact that there are some real issues regarding the consequences of illegal immigration. In October 2016 an illegal immigrant youth soccer coach was arrested in Texas for molesting eight of his young players. As someone who believes in the value of youth sport—and as someone who has coached youth soccer before—this kind of story is tragic. Soccer will forever be associated with the heinous crime of molestation for these young children, and no one has the right to soil the beautiful game in this manner. As long as the media continues to frame the possible U.S. immigration policies under a President Trump as “racist” or “xenophobic” we will never be able to actually discuss the problem maturely, robbing us of a chance at productive dialogue. The truth is that some—certainly not all—illegal immigrants are a problem and that a solution needs to be found. Allowing people like the alleged molester Marcos Ramos to stay in the United States is not only bad for Americans, it is also bad for Mexicans and other immigrants from Central America since people like Mr. Ramos feed into the creation of harmful stereotypes. Let’s hope for more productive discourse in the media on this topic sooner rather than later.

US World Cup Hangover: The Economics of Soccer in the United States

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The United States bowed out of the 2014 FIFA World Cup after a spirited performance against Belgium—a nation of just 11 million (or, as one humorous article put it, “a Dakota and a half”. For the record, Ohio’s population of 11,570,808 makes it the closest state in terms of population to Belgium. A “Dakota and a half” renders only around 1.5 million).

While the loss was not unexpected it was still upsetting for me as it is any time one of my countries loses in football—especially since, inexplicably, the US had a chance to win the game at the death before Chris Wondolowski—also inexplicably—managed to make a mess of his moment in front of goal. But football is, sometimes, like life. You get your one moment, and you either make the best of it . . . or you don’t. There is no real in between.

A few articles have been written in the wake of the United States’ second round exit, including a very interesting one that asks the question “Has the US Men’s National Team Plateaued?”. Personally, I would be less dramatic—after all, this is football and anything can happen. I should know. My other team, Turkey, made an improbable run to third place at the 2002 World Cup—and another to the semifinals of the 2008 European Championships with an admittedly under-talented side. Hard work coupled with heart and belief can go a long way in football (like it can in life)—just look at the Greece team that won the 2004 European Championship!

So do I think the United States will, in the next three World Cups (a twelve year cycle), have a stunning performance? Yes, I suppose I do. But I won’t ask them to compete with the likes of Brazil, Argentina, and Germany year in and year out. And that’s ok because I also—secretly—like soccer in the US to be more of an inside joke amongst those of us who truly enjoy the game for what it is, and not some marquis event for frat boys who want an excuse to slam beers at odd hours of the working day in the name of banal nationalism done ‘Muricuh style. And that inside joke would be made even sweeter if the US somehow managed to scare the world by advancing past the Quarterfinals of a World Cup. I’ve watched enough US matches on foreign soil to recognize the glee when the US concedes a goal—in the last week alone I’ve seen it in both Russia and Turkey—and I can imagine the fear of a US World Cup win.

It does not appear that soccer in the US will ever move beyond being an inside joke that becomes part of the country’s mainstream culture for just a few summer weeks once every four years (selling many Nike shirts in the meantime) before, again, retreating into hibernation. I don’t think like this because I’m negative or a non-believer in US soccer, it is mainly because I am a realist—both in International Relations theory and in terms of football. When one looks at the facts it should not come as a surprise that the United States will never be a true world power in football. At the heart of it—as in so many cases—lies economics (James Carville would be proud).

The top professional soccer league in the United States is Major League Soccer (MLS), a league that has been steadily improving since its inception in 1996 despite competing with the other major American sports for visibility, fans, and . . . athletes.

Its not hard to understand why. On April 10, 2014 MLS released their salary information and the results were shocking. The top seven salaries in MLS—those of Michael Bradley, Jermaine Defoe, Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane, Thierry Henry, and Tim Cahill—account for 31% of all player salaries. In fact, as Empireofsoccer.com shows, the top 5% of earners represent 45% of total player salaries. That is a huge disparity for a country that prides itself on equality (perhaps there is a psychological dimension to this as well—the economics of MLS are fundamentally un-American!).

The salaries of the aforementioned seven players have, as empireofsoccer.com stated, inflated the league’s average salary to a figure of $207,831 (up from the 2013 figure of $165,066 when the median salary was just $100,000). Still, just a cursory look at a sample of the Colorado Rapid’s salary information for the 2014 season shows some glaring examples of the issues in play. At least three Rapids players—professional athletes who face far greater risk of serious injury daily than I ever did at work—make less money than I made sitting at a desk in my old day job!

Now compare the (admittedly inflated) average salary figure of $207,831 in MLS to the average salaries in the other major US sports from two years ago, courtesy of Forbes unless cited otherwise:

 

Major League Baseball (MLB): $3.2 million in 2012, now it is just under $4 million.

National Basketball Association (NBA): $5.15 million, now it is 3,453,241 (with a median of $1,500,000—fifteen times the MLS median in 2013).

National Football League (NFL): $1.9 million

National Hockey League (NHL): $2.4 million

 

The disparity is staggering. And now lets look back at that list of the seven highest paid MLS players, for a moment. Only three of the seven—Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey, and Landon Donovan—are American. And after Jurgen Klinsmann’s now legendary snubbing of Landon Donovan, only two of them made it to the United States’ World Cup squad! Clearly, what big money that does exist in MLS is certainly not going to help the development of the US Men’s National team. And that means that for your average American soccer player, the chances of making big money at home—and representing your country on the biggest stage—are very small indeed.

This in itself poses a problem for the development of the game in the US. Many talented soccer players at the youth level in the United States often play multiple sports. Soccer is either a fall or spring sport depending on where you live, so that leaves the options of American Football and Baseball in other seasons, not to mention Basketball and Hockey in the winter months. Unlike in other countries, where football is the only money-making game in town, American athletes have other options as well that may prove to be more lucrative in the long term. While it is obviously difficult to make it as a professional in any of the major US sports, the fact that there is more money—and more collegiate scholarships (Soccer has the same number of NCAA Division 1 scholarships as Swimming/Diving and Wrestling)—available in the other sports means that it is very difficult to keep the country’s best athletes playing football. This is a fact that, unfortunately, does not bode well for the hopes of developing a truly world class US Men’s National Team; it doesn’t meant that it is impossible by any means, just that it is more difficult than it is in other nations.

 

Tim Howard Does His Country Proud, But Can Only Slump Off In The End As Belgium Move On:

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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.bostonglobe.com/sports/2014/07/01/onsoccer/r7h11DZZUn5HsRJGqfZ0hJ/story.html

 

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