Thursday, June 22, 2006

Bill Plaschke is an Ignorant Fool and Maybe Racist

On ESPN's "Around The Horn" yesterday (6/22/06), Bill Plaschke of the LA Times, during a discussion on the US World Cup team, made perhaps one of the most ridiculous statement of the day. While I don't have the exact wording, Plaschke in essence asked where were all the minorities for the US team since this was a sport played largely by ethnic minorities in the US. This statement is about as foolish as it gets and it brings three things to mind: (1) has Plaschke ever watched a National Team game or looked at its roster?; (2) is Plaschke being racist?; (3) does Plaschke's foolish statement somehow miraculously stumble bass-ackwards into a salient issue regarding the development of soccer players in the US?.

First, Plaschke is an idiot and obviously has never paid attention to the US soccer team. One glance at a team picture and roster reveals the diversity of the team. There are four African-American players (Beasely, Howard, Johnson and Pope) and one (Oguchi Onyewu) who is the son of Nigerian immigrants on the team. Three players have a Latino heritage (Reyna, Mastroeni and Bocanegra) and one is Asian-American (Brian Ching). Of these players six made starts in the World Cup, one played significant minutes and two didn't get an PT. Reyna was the team captain and Onyewu led the defense. Needless to say, the US team certainly doesn't lack ethnic diversity as Plaschke suggests.

Second, Plaschke's statement may be borderline racist and is definitely a stereotyping of ethnicities that is unnecessary and unwarranted. Plaschke seems to suggest several things with his statements. The first is that white athletes are not good enough to compete on the world stage in soccer and second is that black and latino athletes are naturally better than white ones. To say this is just utterly stupid because obviously there are many great white soccer players, many great latino soccer players, many great asian soccer players, and there are many great black soccer players in the world. Just look at the successful teams in the World Cup and the leading players in Club play--they are comprised of players of all ethnicities. So, maybe Plaschke is suggesting that white Americans are not good athletes compared to latinos and blacks? Despite the many stereotypes that exist about blacks, whites, asians and latinos in America, particularly in sports, it is clear that each ethnicity has produced excellent athletes. Ultimately, it is this sort of uninformed, prejudiced and stereotypical statement that perpetuates such views especially from a so-called sports columnist and is incredibly irresponsible.

Third, from Plaschke's statement we can look at how the US soccer system develops its players. Plaschke wasn't thinking about this when he made his statement but he almost stumbled into an important issue for US soccer.

Initially, one has to look where our soccer players come from in the US. ESPN Soccernet's Fred Guzman writes far more eloquently and knowledgeably about this topic than I do. But, I will try to summarize what Guzman writes and add to it from my own personal experiences.

Guzman writes that soccer is a predominantly middle-class sport in the US, which is quite different from other countries. Elsewhere, soccer is played by all and the poorer communities have produced many of the best players in the world such as Maradona and Tevez. Soccer is a way out of the poverty for these people. To me the comparison is obvious. Soccer is the equivalent of basketball, football and to some extent baseball in the US. It is the path for to untold riches for the poor and may be their only way out. US soccer doesn't draw from this pool because soccer is obviously not as lucrative a sport in the US.

Guzman goes on to state that the US soccer system exacerbates this system because the Olympic Development Program (ODP) caters to the middle- and upper-class, to the detriment of players from poorer backgrounds. ODP is like AAU All-Star teams in basketball and costs a significant amount of money to join. Unfortunately, there isn't the corporate backing of ODP as there is for AAU because there is far less money to be made in soccer than basketball in the US for these companies. Consequently, ODP fails to cultivate players from poorer backgrounds that have produced many great soccer players around the world and great athletes in the US.

Bill Plaschke obviously wasn't thinking about this aspect of the US soccer system when he made is foolish comments on Around The Horn but his statement does provide an opportunity to think about the development of US soccer players. Fred Guzman makes some excellent points as well, but this issue needs far more attention from the US Soccer Federation to help raise the US program to an elite level.

Update 6/24/06 9:29 p.m.: Interesting NY Times article about Brazilian soccer and how most of the stars come from poverty.


Kurt said...

The late, great LA Times columnist Jim Murray had a great saying, that the best athletes came from "people closest to the earth." In essense, the poor, who did see this as a way out. As he explained well, for many years many of the US's best boxers were Irish, because that was basically the bottom of the totem pole. That has changed over time.

I don't love the MLS, but it is a key step for that reason, bringing people the chance to make a living at a sport, drawing more youth to it.

And, by the way, if they were the same age, Murray would have taken Plaschke out behind the Times building and kicked the crap out of him for what he writes about every sport.

Anonymous said...

Wow. You're quite angry over nothing. US Soccer stinks because it gets 4th and 5th tier athletes in the US, plain and simple.

The Fan's Attic said...

Kurt: That's a great quote.
Anonymous: What I'm angry about is that Bill Plaschke is an idiot and didn't think before he opened his mouth. And, I don't think I'm even that angry. I also agree with you US doesn't get the best athletes and if it wants to get better it needs to get these people to play soccer.

sager said...

Hey, it's the same thing in Canada. There are soccer fans, there are soccer players, but that hasn't built into critical mass when it comes to being able to compete at the world level.

(Canada's ranked like No. 83 in the world. For a G8 nation, and soccer success does have a lot to do with economics, that's pretty terrible.)

Again, it's because the programs aren't there that would get the athletes for whom soccer is the No. 1 sport.

sager said...

Oh, and more thing. Jim Murray would have totally whaled on Plaschke.

Matt R. Horon said...

Good post and congrats on the Deadspin link love.

Plaschke is a friggin idiot, and watching ATH is a surefire way to kill brain cells, although it's almost as fun as more convential methods--like heavy drinking.

For a real trip, drink heavily while watching ATH.

Soccer is clearly a middle class and upper class sport in the US, and until that changes, I'm not sure the US will have much of a shot in international competitions. The US looks like a junior varsity squad playing against the big boys at times, with their plethora of 5 foot 10 inch and slightly built players, regardless of race.

Imagine if the US' best athletes played soccer instead of football, baseball, and basketball. I have no doubt we'd be among the best in world, just from a demographic standpoint--the large population, and the amazing resources to poor into development would lead to a world class team.

Landon Donovan cant touch Alex Rodriguez, Kobe Byrant, or Terrell Owens for pure athletic ability. Perhaps one day that will change, and we'll be bemoaming the lack of athletes in MLB or the NFL.

I don't see it happening soon though.

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