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Tuesday, January 27, 2015  |   Madison, WI: 25.0° F  
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Citizen Dave: Soccer and the culture wars

I watched the United States and Portugal played to a tie in the World Cup. Well, to be precise, I saw the last fifteen minutes or so of the match, which is the most soccer I have ever watched in one sitting.

Like many Americans, I was shocked when the match ended, in part because Portugal scored in the closing seconds and in part because it seemed no one had any idea that it was the closing seconds.

It turns out that in soccer the match ends when the referee says it does. There's no official clock except the one on the ref's wrist, which he keeps to himself.

Conservative barracuda of a columnist Ann Coulter had some fun with the World Cup when she used it as another bludgeon in the culture wars. Basically, Coulter argues that the increasing popularity of soccer in the U.S. is a liberal plot and another example of the steady erosion of American values of hard work and personal responsibility.

Coulter shouldn't be taken too seriously, especially when she's not being too serious and, in this case, you can't read her without reading some tongue-in-cheek "let's really get the liberals going on this one" fun into her piece.

I am on a cultural fence here. On the one hand, I am an urban liberal who is supposed to love soccer. On the other hand, I really don't so much. I like baseball. And how 'bout them Brewers, huh?!

But I suspect that soccer will actually and finally start to take serious root in this country, mostly because every mother will become a soccer mom. Why? Because they don’t want their sons to end up crippled and brain-damaged by age 45. American football has a huge problem with concussions that it just can't fix without fundamentally altering the game. Soccer is pretty much what football will become if we start to take its health threats seriously.

Concussions are a growing concern in soccer, but the rate of concussion in soccer seems to be about half of what it is in American football, and if you really want your kid to avoid brain injury, get them to play baseball and make sure they wear a batting helmet.

And, in truth, soccer has some baseball-like qualities to it. It's not all about the score -- it's about the movement of the ball and the positioning of the players. It's subtle in a way that I kind of like.

But if soccer is ever going to really catch on in the U.S. the way our football has, it has to become TV-friendly and litigious to match the culture.

What really struck me about my 15 minutes of soccer watching was that there were no time-outs and thus no commercials. In football, there is a kickoff, followed by several minutes of commercials, followed by three plays and a punt and more commercials. Then play resumes, but there's a close call on the field. So, the play is replayed in slow motion from 100 different angles and the referees huddle, which gives us the opportunity to hear more about four-by-fours and hemies and spicy food at restaurants in the middle of shopping mall parking lots. We return to our game to watch exciting shots of the referees still conferring. The modern American football game is like a court proceeding during which somebody tries to sell us stuff. It's the perfect reflection of an overly litigious and officious society that settles its nerves by buying things. (So, take that, Ann Coulter.)

I might watch a record amount of soccer on Tuesday as the U.S. takes on Belgium in the World Cup. This is because I live in the United States and I have Belgium in the office pool. I selected that country because they went through a lot in two world wars, and because I like their beer very much.

And I'm taking no sides in the culture wars. I'm just going with the flow. If I'm expected to be interested in soccer, as a card-carrying urban liberal, to be interested in soccer, well then by God I am!

And I'm taking no sides in the culture wars. I'm just going with the flow. If I'm expected to be interested in soccer, as a card carrying urban liberal, well then by God I am!

But when it's all over I know there's still almost a half-season of baseball left. And how 'bout them Brewers!

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