The football v soccer debate will be solved right after the raw v gear controversy.
The Secret of American Foreign Affairs
By Stanley K. Ridgley, Ph.D.
April 29, 2003
During his administration, Bill Clinton cut the United States Army from 18 active divisions to 10 and presided over an aimless “Blackhawk Down” foreign policy. How, then, could the U.S. military remain so formidable as to conquer Iraq, a nation of 24 million people, in three weeks?
A larger question is how does our military continue to outstrip the rest of the world in every category, from soldier training to leadership to the will to win? The answer to that question is one of the great secrets of American foreign affairs.
There is one primary reason for the rise of U.S. military power over the past century and its overwhelming capability to fight and win wars: American football.
Decried by some as a simple-minded sport that “glorifies” violence and appeals to the blue-collar, beer-bellied crowd, football is a phenomenon woven into America’s social fabric and into the psyche of her people.
The United States is a football nation - football players and football fans - and this sociological factor sets Americans apart from every other nation on earth.
American football is a brutal collision sport in which every player’s mettle is tested on every play. At its supreme level, the mutual human violence done in football is greater than that of any other sport in the world.
The only other sport that approaches football in bone-crunching controlled mayhem is rugby, another Anglo-Saxon game played almost exclusively by the British and Australians. Coincidentally, they were the two major powers providing ground troops for the war in Iraq.
Football is violent, but it is not aimless violence. Each individual collision is a tightly circumscribed competition that measures each man’s heart, drive, intellect, skill and cunning.
On both sides of the ball, strategy and counterstrategy - the multiplicity of options on a single play - contrive to create an intricate and sophisticated contest. Football is as cerebral as it is violent.
The only people who cannot comprehend football’s sophistication are snobs who would like nothing better than to believe that these slashing wide receivers and great gridiron behemoths smashing into each other are dumber than they are. What a devastating ego shock to realize that the average college professor would be incapable mentally, as well as physically, to play successfully the modern game of football.
Why incapable? Because a working intellect under intense psychological pressure and physical exhaustion is an entirely different quality than a working intellect languishing in the library.
Players must execute a sophisticated battle plan swiftly, decisively and flawlessly in extreme situations, while a similarly equipped and talented group of athletes is doing its best to stop them. Play after play, there is no room for error.
In football, there is no time for still more “resolutions.” The threat must be perceived and evaluated and the correct decision made now or the consequences could be ignominious defeat. The ethos of football and its prerequisite talents, attitudes and qualities are inculcated in abundance in America’s military leaders.
While the football ethos is reflected in America’s national spirit and her military, the Europeans draw from a distinctly different sports tradition; one developed on the playing fields of Paris and Potsdam, Boulogne and Berlin.
The ethos of what Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld called “Old Europe” is exemplified in the game of soccer.
Soccer is a beautiful and well-powdered sport, much like “diplomacy,” bringing to mind men in top hats and striped pants walking herky-jerky, as in black-and-white silent newsreels. Soccer is French jeu d’esprit , and it is the sport of the United Nations.
Soccer rules are easily understood, and the sport is imbued with a comradely egalitarian aspect. Players run about. They wave their arms. Sometimes, they fall down. Sometimes, they can even be tripped, and it is in these moments that Europeans first learn to be either bad actors or diplomats; tumbling on the turf, clutching a “bruised” shin, then bounding up unhurt to take a free kick (or a post-war oil concession.)
Soccer matches can and frequently do end in a tie. This abundance of scoreless ties leads one to suspect that for soccer players, as for U.N. diplomats, the goal is to stall until ultimately nothing is resolved, and no one can really be blamed. Tie-breaking “shootouts” in international play ought to be eliminated altogether, since an egalitarian draw of no winner, no loser, and no hurt feelings is a U.N. dream come true.
The activity, in the end, is pointless. But fans will neither despair nor rejoice at the outcome; aficionados in smoky salons, sipping espresso, can debate endlessly who played the better game.
Is it any wonder that the Old European nations shrink from decisive action, taking only tentative, mincing steps, hoping they’ll never have to fight for anything and unable to decide firmly whether there is anything at all worth fighting for?
Consider also what American football is not . It is not about passing the buck, walking while others carry the load or debating until you are overcome by events. Nor is it about ennui, languor and the c’est la vie attitude.
Football is about character and courage, might and mettle, decisiveness, strength and stamina. It is about men who sacrifice, who dare great things and who are not afraid to win great victories.
Hundreds of thousands of American boys and young men play football each year, forging a distinctly American character in the fire of competition. This character is reflected in the American military and its successes.
I am not the first to claim more from sport than might be deserved. Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, supposedly credited his victory over Napoleon at Waterloo to his having been schooled on the “playing fields of Eton,” his famous alma mater. So mightn’t there be substance here?
Perhaps. American football might not be the great secret of American foreign affairs success of the past 100 years, but it does capture much that is true about the United States and her mettle. And surely, it is one small part of why she is great.
Reprinted by permission of the author.
Stanley K. Ridgley is president of the Russian-American Institute. He served for eight years as executive director of the Collegiate Network, a national association of college newspapers, and for nine years as the editor of CAMPUS: America’s Student Magazine.
His articles have appeared in Heterodoxy , the University Bookman , the Charlotte Observer , the Raleigh News and Observer ,ORBIS foreign policy journal, and Charlotte Magazine , among others. In 1989, he founded the Duke Review , a conservative student newspaper at Duke University which still publishes.
Dr. Ridgley holds a doctorate in political science from Duke University and a bachelor’s in journalism from the University of North Carolina, and is a former military intelligence officer. He is the author of “Start the Presses - A Handbook for Student Journalists.” He told me that actually he enjoys playing soccer, but, "Soccer’s a ‘jogging man’s’ sport and a sport for overprotective mothers who want to shield their young men from injury. I find soccer to be a robust metaphor for European foreign policy. "