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A prof brings the crazy on youth sports

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The beauty of the Wall Street Journal editorial and commentary pages is that you know there’s going to be some sort of what-is-killing-America craziness: you just don’t know who is going to be today’s culprit.

Today’s culprit: soccer.

3014377716_193a4e7747OK, on the count of three, I want everyone to say, “Death to America!”

The writer is a Wabash College religion and philosophy professor named Stephen H. Webb, and the article is actually pulled from a partnership with the religious journal First Things. It is published by the Institute on Religion and Public Life, which essentially is a vehicle to further the reach of neocon Catholic priest Richard Neuhaus (who died in January) and his like-thinkers. So it’s no wonder its content fits so snugly with the Journal’s editorial page.

webb-sThe defender of freedom (pictured at right — it’s nice to see he’s done well since playing Haverchuck on “Freaks and Geeks”) sees soccer as a threat (and he says he’s not kidding) for four reasons:

1. You can’t use your hands. “Indeed, soccer is a liberal’s dream of tragedy: It creates an egalitarian playing field by rigorously enforcing a uniform disability.” Wrongo, prof. The ultimate liberal’s dream of tragedy is swimming, where we get in touch with our pre-evolutionary fishy selves.

2. Sports should be about breaking kids down before you build them up. Webb uses baseball as an example, though he never gets around to how soccer builds you up before its breaks you down (wait — didn’t he in point No. 1 say soccer already broke you down by enforcing a uniform disability?). “When I was a kid, baseball was the most popular sport precisely because it was so demanding. Even its language was intimidating, with bases, bats, strikes and outs. … The boy chosen to be the pitcher was inevitably the first kid on the team to reach puberty, and he threw a hard ball right at you. Thus, you had to face the fear of disfigurement as well as the statistical probability of striking out.” Note to prospective students of Webb’s class: be prepared to dodge a high, hard crucifix to the chin.

3. Soccer is a European invasion of death and despair. “Americans would never invent a sport where the better you get the less you score. Even the way most games end, in sudden death, suggests something of an old-fashioned duel. How could anyone enjoy a game where so much energy results in so little advantage, and which typically ends with a penalty kick out, as if it is the audience that needs to be put out of its misery?” He’s way off here, mostly because, as the great Indiana band MX-80 notes in “Facts Facts,” lacrosse is the only truly American sport. So it’s closer to accurate just to stop at “Americans would never invent a sport.”

4. Finally, and this should be no surprise coming from someone teaching at an all-male college (the school newspaper is the Bachelor — it should have a rose across the nameplate), soccer is for girls. “Girls are too smart to waste an entire day playing baseball, and they do not have the bloodlust for football.” Wait, didn’t Webb say in point No. 2 that baseball is so great because it’s demanding? ” Soccer penalizes shoving and burns countless calories, and the margins of victory are almost always too narrow to afford any gloating. As a display of nearly death-defying stamina, soccer mimics the paradigmatic feminine experience of childbirth more than the masculine business of destroying your opponent with insurmountable power.” If Webb thinks soccer is the equivalent of childbirth, then he needs a little more education on the subject. First lesson: passing a soccer ball through his pecker.

Webb concludes his article by undermining everything he says above. Or maybe what he says above is reflects his own frustration that he and his family seem to enjoy hands-free terrorism.

Soccer is the perfect antidote to television and video games. It forces kids to run and run, and everyone can play their role, no matter how minor or irrelevant to the game. Soccer and television are the peanut butter and jelly of parenting.

I should know. I am an overworked teacher, with books to read and books to write, and before I put in a video for the kids to watch while I work in the evenings, they need to have spent some of their energy. Otherwise, they want to play with me! Last year all three of my kids were on three different soccer teams at the same time. My daughter is on a traveling team, and she is quite good. I had to sign a form that said, among other things, I would not do anything embarrassing to her or the team during the game. I told the coach I could not sign it. She was perplexed and worried. “Why not,” she asked? “Are you one of those parents who yells at their kids? “Not at all,” I replied, “I read books on the sidelines during the game, and this embarrasses my daughter to no end.” That is my one way of protesting the rise of this pitiful sport. Nonetheless, I must say that my kids and I come home from a soccer game a very happy family.

What the hell? Do you love soccer, or hate it? As Stephen Colbert says, pick a side, we’re at war! Then again, this is the sort of wishy-washy conclusion you might expect from a guy who co-founded the Christian Vegetarian Association yet was kicked out because he copped to eating meat.