Soccer, The Normal-Sized Player's Game

Jan 13, 2016
Originally published on January 13, 2016 10:20 am

Much as we talk about certain financial institutions that may be too big to fail, you can be absolutely certain that the one organization in the whole wide world that truly fits that definition is FIFA, the grubby behemoth that runs soccer. Too many international sports associations are rife with corruption, but the graft exposed at FIFA beggars the imagination.

Americans, of course, have virtually no interest in FIFA, for most of us are athletic aliens, caring not a whit for Earth's game. Sorry, but I must count myself among those who do not find soccer as entertaining as our own favored sports. I've always thought it was perfectly idiotic to call an exercise that you perform with your feet "the beautiful game."

Click the audio to hear more of what Frank Deford has to say about soccer.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

OK, let's talk of a different kind of performance, on the soccer field. Commentator Frank Deford is not the biggest soccer fan. It is not now America's game. Yet, Deford finds something in soccer that is impressively democratic.

FRANK DEFORD, BYLINE: Much as we talk about certain financial institutions that may be too big to fail, you can be absolutely certain that the one organization in the whole wide world which truly fits the definition is FIFA, the grubby behemoth that runs soccer. Too many international sports associations are rife with corruption. But the graft exposed at FIFA beggars the imagination. Americans, of course, have virtually no interest in FIFA, for most of us are athletic aliens caring not a whit for Earth's game. Sorry, but I must count myself among those who do not find soccer as entertaining as our own favorite sports. I've always thought it was perfectly idiotic to call an exercise which you perform with your feet, the beautiful game. But at a time like now, when American football and basketball overlap, I'm forced to recognize the special beauty in soccer. I'm talking about the men's game here, but it applies to the women's as well, that soccer is physically democratic. The typical American boy simply can't aspire to succeed at the team games that he grows up loving. Our favorite sports are effectively populated by freaks. The average NBA player stands 6-foot-7. And for all the talk about concussions, obesity may be the greater football concern. More than 400 NFL players top out above 300 pounds. And a quick word about baseball players, too - no, they're not gargantuan creatures. But success depends so much on hand-eye coordination, especially as pitchers throw faster all the time, that it's only a small subset of even fine athletes with extraordinary eyesight who can hope to master the game. Ask Michael Jordan. So yes, while soccer's foot fancy is a bizarre perversion of what sets human beings apart from dumber beasts, its beauty is that normal-sized people can play it. The average major league footballer stands less than 6 feet tall. If we Americans continue to demand larger monsters for our favorite sports, soccer's appeal must increase. I'm sorry. While I can't accept that the game itself is beautiful, the opportunity that soccer provides the world over is lovely. And it deserves an honorable stewardship that lives up to the destiny that it offers. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.