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Segregation in U.S. Soccer


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Just thought this might be interesting.

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from: http://football.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,9753,1508828,00.html

Racial divide driving a wedge into soccer's grassroots

Steven Wells finds issues of race and class still blighting the sport's development in the United States

Friday June 17, 2005

Boston's Pop Warner "urban suburban" American football league collapsed earlier this month. Parents of the suburban 7-14-year-olds said that the urban kids played too rough. And urban playing fields were "unsafe". And that the urban kids played "intimidating" rap music.

You'll have worked out that "suburban" and "urban" are euphemisms and that this is a row about race and class. League director Al Perillo told the Boston Globe that white middle-class parents have been scared off by TV news reports of drive-by shootings. But they're also sick "getting beat 30-to-nothing every time they go to Boston".

It's easy for an Englishman to write about racism in American sports. It's easy to forget that you come from the country that gave the sporting world the banana barrage, the monkey noise, the "paki" chant and Ron Atkinson. And from a continent which - taken as a whole - seems to be stuck in 1938.

That said, the segregation of US cities still shocks. And nowhere is this divide more obvious than in US soccer. No one is keeping statistics on just how effectively working class African-Americans have been excluded from America's grass roots soccer explosion. But everyone is agreed that US soccer is - to use Greg Dyke's phrase - hideously white.

In Raleigh, North Carolina African-American kids reacted with disbelief when a teacher told them about her brother-in-law - black US defender Eddie Pope. They were reportedly "stunned" when Pope sent them an autographed poster.

When H. Wells Wulsin moved from a small town in Ohio to teach in inner-city Washington, he enthusiastically set about starting a soccer program. "Even after weeks of posters, PA announcements and word-of-mouth advertising, I still had barely enough players to fill the field. It was the first soccer team at the school in over 25 years, and the lack of interest shattered my world paradigm. Our athletic director had warned me: 'kids don't play soccer in the ghetto. Just football, basketball, track.'"

But others have succeeded. Steve Bandura runs the Anderson Monarchs youth soccer team in inner-city Philadelphia. He shows the kids footage of Pelé and other black players (and, for some reason, David Speedie) "making the point that most of the world's footballers look like them". And every winter he gives his young players the option to switch to basketball until the new soccer season starts. And every year - without fail - the kids choose indoor soccer instead.

Every other team in the Monarchs' league is predominantly white. And most years the Monarchs win everything in sight. There is only one other non-school African-American team in Philadelphia - a city that is 40% black. "The reason is," says Steve, "that there just aren't soccer programmes being run in African-American neighbourhoods. If there were then what we do here would be repeated many times."

One organisation out to do just that is Soccer In The Streets - which claims to reach as many as 7,000 inner-city kids a year. SITS literature emphasises an anti-drug/anti-gang message - but dig a little deeper and you uncover a gushing well of gung-ho pro-soccer evangelism. As British-born SITS chairman Phil Hill told the Atlanta Journal Constitution: "I want the sport to succeed in this country. We saw the US come eighth in the world with a middle-class team. Just think what's going to happen when the inner-city kids are playing!"

There are four African-American players in the current US men's squad but at the grassroots - despite the efforts of organisations like SITS and individuals like Bandura - US soccer remains overwhelmingly suburban, middle-class and white. Everybody seems to agree that monoculturalism is holding the game back, but nobody seems sure how to change the situation. And perhaps not everybody wants to. And there's the rub. Most African-American kids grow up assuming that soccer is a white sport. And there is the suspicion (although no one is actually saying it) that an awful lot of white middle-class parents and officials would really like to keep it that way.

While attending an awards ceremony, Bandura, coach of the all African-American Anderson Monarchs youth soccer team, overheard a local official muttering: "If they think they're going to do what they did to basketball, they're crazy."

In his book Taboo, Jon Entine points that 65% of NFL and 80% of NBA players are African-American. Norman Mailer spoofed the fear these statistics provoke in an article for the New York Review of Books: "We white men were now left with half of tennis (at least its male half), and might also point to ice hockey, skiing, soccer, golf (with the notable exception of the Tiger), as well as lacrosse, track, swimming, and the World Wrestling Federation-remnants of a once great and glorious white athletic centrality." Mailer might have added to his list "extreme sports" and Nascar - both as dumb as toast and both white (or, to put it another way, both free of blacks). And both increasingly popular with white Americans.

Meanwhile, soccer has become - in the words of Tom Simpson, president of the A-League's San Francisco Bay Seals - the "dream alternate sport for the white suburbs". A safe place where the grandchildren of the "white flight" generation can play in monocultural safety. And who'd want to change that?

In the 19th century America's white suburban cricketers strove mightily to avoid any contact with Negroes, Germans and (shudder) the Irish. As a result the sport all but died and baseball inherited the earth.

Amazingly, in the first decade of the 21st century, US soccer might be making the exact same mistake.

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While that's more anti-American than anything else (I'm sure Brits care a lot about black-Americans), he is pretty much 100% correct.

The US will never win until the blacks and Latinos are part of the system. And when they are, they will be one of the top 5.

The main issue is the lack of fields in the urban centers.

It has nothing to do with black, white, purple, green. When you grow up poor, you want success more. It just happens that most of poor urban America is black. And you grow up tougher. Hence the suburban middle class (who just happen to be mostly white), complaining that their little babies are being hurt playing against the big bad ghetto teams.

Although its funny, its okay for blacks to want to watch golf because the have a black super star golfer, but its racist if whites watch "white sports" like NASCAR. Granted, I don't understand how anybody can watch any kind of auto racing, but I don't understand how people watch golf either.

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Well, at least the US have appeared to have won the battle that we are still waging, that soccer here is somewhat still an ethnic fortress, and not yet accepted into the general mainstream.

I agree with Bangoutoforder that there are errors in the article (ie: that soccer is a whitebread sport in the US, when it clearly has lots of lower class and persons of colour in it) , but it is still interesting especially the quotes from the black inner city coaches trying to make things happen there. British journalism on the US tends to be superficial and stereotypical, as is much of US journalism about the rest of the world. Britain sure doesn't have much to teach others about world understanding.

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The article relies too much on anecdotal evidence and generalizations to make a convincing case, IMHO. But one thing I found interesting was that, in the second to last paragraph, he mentioned cricket having been usurped by baseball because of its unwillingness to to be more inclusive. The reality is baseball is undergoing the same difficulty as soccer in attracting African American athletes.

In 1975, 27% of major league baseball players were black; today, 30 years later, the percentage has dropped to just under 10%. Don't believe it? Check the Toronto Blue Jays 25 man roster. Currently, African Americans number exactly two: Orlando Hudson and Vernon Wells. That's it, 8%.

Is it because of racism, as this article alleges in U.S. soccer? Or is it a lack of facilities for African Americans? Or is the sport simply less popular with African Americans than football and basketball (while, conversely, increasingly popular with Latinos)? Baseball's response has been to fund a program similar to "Soccer in the Streets", called "RBI" (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities), trying -- like soccer -- to provide facilities in urban areas and get young African Americans playing the sport. It's going to be a long haul for baseball, though, as I suspect it will be for U.S. soccer.

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Guest Jeffery S.

I am not surprised about the article, as it is likely right -though for class questions, which fall out onto the black populations in the inner cities. Another question is the cost of playing; when I look at what many clubs charge kids to play I am shocked, even in Canada it is exhorbitant. That is an automatic screening out factor. In the end the middle class kids prevail.

Yet beyond all this, the way to encourage guys to play is to help them see that it also could give them a pro possibility, that it is something that is cool and that cool people make money doing it.

I know it is so unlikely to succeed, but kids live on dreams (mine, right now, is dressed head to toe in his Barça kit, in the house, and we already had his last day of the soccer season party this morning). And this is where the US, and Canada too, are so lacking, in that there is no incentive for the top pro clubs to be looking for the best young prospects and sticking them into an extensive, all-age, quality development program. If that incentive was there, with its economic corollary (future sale of players), clubs for sure would be promoting players in disadvantaged areas, and it would not be a question of only those who had the money to play leagues or think about preparing for university, where a scholarship might also fall.

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I'm sorry if I see this issue through my rose coloured specs......but having played semi-pro/minor league hockey in my youth. I believe athletes will rise to the highest level of play that their skill will allow.

Teams want the best players now, no matter of ethnic/minority status.

I'll apologize in advance for my WASP outlook but using ethinc or minority status as an excuse is not acceptable. If you're good enuff you're good enuff. Desire will get you through alot of obsticles.

If baseball has become vanilla or basketball has become chocolate or soccer......which still is lacking a North American identity has become neither. I think this has more to do with with what your peer group is into rather than if the game you play is segregated.

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The facilities are out in the suburbs (mostly), the costs of teams (expecially regional/provincial selects) are high and higher, there are no clubs to finance the young underpriviledged and, in the States, it seems non-white kids have less of a presense in soccer (role models).

Compare the 2002 U19 WWC USA and Canada teams. The USA teams were pretty much all blonde-haired Cindis or Tiffanis, whereas the Canadian team was much less homogenous.

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quote:I'm sorry if I see this issue through my rose coloured specs......but having played semi-pro/minor league hockey in my youth. I believe athletes will rise to the highest level of play that their skill will allow.

Teams want the best players now, no matter of ethnic/minority status.

I'll apologize in advance for my WASP outlook but using ethinc or minority status as an excuse is not acceptable

At least you said you're looking through rose-coloured glasses, because, otherwise, you basically ignored all the hurdles minority athletes have faced in playing at a level their skills deserve.

And we're not talking ancient history either. For example, black quarterbacks only became more prominent in the NFL in the late 90s. Southern based NCAA basketball teams only felt comfortable fielding all black starting lineup in the 90s.

Just as in the general society, discriminatory hiring decisions are still made even though it is hurting the company's bottom line; you can't expect sports teams to be living a bubble immune from all of society's ills.

Blaming the victim for not being able to pass the hurdles rather than acknowledging the problem and/or tackling the problem is a classic excuse used by generations of defenders of the status quo.

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