Soccer and Status Politics

June 27, 2014
Posted by Jay Livingston

Ann Coulter nails it in her column on soccer.  Not the part about the rising interest in soccer signalling America’s  moral decay. That’s just her usual attempt to be provocative.  What Coulter gets right is that soccer is part of the cultural divide.  The question she raises is much bigger than whether soccer is an inferior sport to baseball or football. It’s “Whose country is this anyway?”

Though she doesn’t say so explicitly, Coulter frames soccer is a matter of status politics – the struggle for recognition, respect, and prestige among different groups. She sees the soccer demographic as is a coalition of White liberals and immigrants of the past generation or two. The anti-soccer side comprises what Sarah Palin called “the real America” – non-urban, White, Protestant, nativist, Republican.  That’s Coulter’s side, and she’s worried that in the long run, her side will lose.

We’ve seen this match-up before. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Prohibition provided a vehicle for “real Americans” to assert the virtue and predominance of their way of life over that of the immigrant, non-Protestant groups. The opposition to Obamacare (and just about any Obama policy) had pretty much the same roster.  (See an earlier post here.) In both cases, these groups felt a threat to their position of privilege.  The anti-Obama crowd is explicit about this sense of loss and threat. America is “our” country, “they” have taken it away, and we are going to take it back.  (See my “Repo Men” post from three years ago.)

Coulter is absolutely open about her nativism and Xenophobia – none of this “America is a nation of immigrants” nonsense. Or as she says, “I promise you: No American whose great-grandfather was born here is watching soccer.”  And one of the bullet points in her argument that soccer is a sign of moral decay is
  • It's foreign.
Followed by
  • Soccer is like the metric system, which liberals also adore because it's European.
(The metric system is simpler and more logical. But it’s used in all those foreign countries, and it’s used universally in science – two reasons for conservatives like Coulter to give it the red card.)

Maybe liberals do like soccer because it’s European, or more accurately international.  But it’s equally true that conservatives fear things because they are foreign.  They demand that the rest of the world become American.  In 2006, John Tierney, a conservative/libertarian writing for the Times, said (here), “Instead of us copying the rest of the world, the rest of the world could learn from us. Maybe they love soccer because they haven’t been given better alternatives.” *

To see what else the soccer soccer coalition liked, I went to Google correlates and entered “world cup.” Unfortunately, data for the current World Cup are not in, so most of the queries are from 2010.  The map looks like what you would expect – the states where people Googled “World Cup” were the Northeast corridor and California. What’s more puzzling is that many of the highest correlates were for movies – Oscar nominees like “Avatar” and “The Hurt Locker,” but also movies liberals like – “Vicki Cristina Barcelona,” “Inception,” and “Eat, Pray, Love.” All these had correlation coefficients with “World Cup” of 0.87 or higher. Here are the results for “World Cup” and “Oscars 2010.”

The other highly correlated cluster of terms had a different theme:
  • hanukkah 2010 (0.8989)
  • passover 2010 (0.8972)
  • yom kippur 2010 (0.8950)
  • chanukah 2010 (0.8874)
Here are the graphics:

This does not necessarily mean that people who Googled “passover 2010" also Googled “World Cup.” It means only that in states where people Googled “passover 2010" people also Googled “world cup.” In New York and California, for example, it might have been Jews looking for information about Passover and while Hispanics Googled “World Cup.”

Soccer, Jews, and moral decay.  This combination reminded me of something Coulter said in a 2007 interview with Donny Deutsch, who happens to be Jewish (the full transcript is here):

COULTER: Well, OK, take the Republican National Convention. People were happy. They're Christian. They're tolerant. They defend America, they —
DEUTSCH: Christian — so we should be Christian? It would be better if we were all Christian?
DEUTSCH: We should all be Christian?
COULTER: Yes. Would you like to come to church with me, Donny? . . . . .
COULTER: No, we think — we just want Jews to be perfected, as they say.
DEUTSCH: Wow, you didn't really say that, did you?
. . . . . .

DEUTSCH: Ann said she wanted to explain her last comment. So I'm going to give her a chance. So you don't think that was offensive?
COULTER: No. I'm sorry. It is not intended to be. I don't think you should take it that way, but that is what Christians consider themselves: perfected Jews.

Coulter didn’t mention soccer at the time, but perhaps that is yet another sign of the how Jews are imperfect compared to Christians – they live in places where soccer is popular, places where small-town and suburban WASP conservatives are not so dominant. For Coulter, that’s not just imperfect, that’s moral decay.

*In 2012, Marco Rubio, addressing the Republican convention, used nearly identical language – the same know-nothing arrogance – in speaking about Democratic proposals like Obamacare: “These are ideas that threaten to make America more like the rest of the world instead of making the rest of the world more like America.”


Anonymous said...

Coulter’s inexplicable hatred of the Other is one reason why we should Never Trust Ann Coulter - at ANY Age, a new book available at

brandsinger said...

Ann Coulter is provocative, witty, controversial, daring, blunt, politically incorrect. Decrying soccer at the height of soccer fever is typical of her attention-getting tactics. She also says that it's boring, has hours of scoreless play, denies humans the use of their God-given hands, seems to generate poor sportsmanship, and is not really a manly sport because boys and girls can play it together through school.

We know her take on soccer is based on prejudice and personal taste. So what? She prefers America to Europe, apple pie to mille-feuille, ounces to grams. That's okay, no?

Coulter makes her living taking contrary positions. On serious subjects she challenges mainstream, liberal fads and hypocrisies — like the shameless demagoguery of the made-up "war on women." Glad you took Coulter's soccer commentary seriously.

Jay Livingston said...

As you know, Blogger has spam filter for comments that are generated by “spambots,” those programs that monitor blogs for keywords. When a spambot finds such a word, it posts a “comment.” It’s usually clear that whatever or whoever posted the comment has not actually read the post and is not responding to its contents but is merely advertising its own stuff. Blogger’s spam filter removes most of these, but – as both comments on this post demonstrate - it doesn’t catch them all apparently not all.