For clarity’s sake, from here on out, when I refer to “football”, I’m talking about American football, not soccer. As an American sports fan, I simply cannot associate the word “football” with what I think of as “soccer”. So, please, no arguments on this point.
I’m an unabashed follower of the NFL, Major League Baseball, the NBA, and the NHL. I’ll pay casual attention to college football in the fall and college basketball when March rolls around. I can sit through watching football, baseball, basketball, and hockey at any level, professional or amateur, because the game makes sense to me. I was raised with those sports being the center of my sporting universe.
Every four years, the World Cup tournament comes around, and with each occurrence, awareness grows in my sphere of friends and contacts. Several influences here:
- Ever-increasing media coverage of soccer in the United States, especially through ESPN.
- Meeting and befriending more and more people from different countries and cultures, where soccer plays a large part of their national/cultural identity.
- Global conversations through social media, expanding who I hear from and who I talk to.
When it comes to international competition, I’m always going to root for the US teams, even if I couldn’t pick more than one US player out of a lineup (Landon Donovan). With an eagerly anticipated opening match against England on a Saturday, I decided to visit a local bar to watch the US play.
The bar wasn’t too crowded when I first arrived, about 10 minutes before the start of the match. I had no idea what to expect from a soccer crowd. When it was all said and done, this crowd at least wasn’t any different from other crowds I’ve seen at this same bar for hockey games, football games, etc.
But as I sat there watching the game, I was mulling over in my head… Why am I just not as into this sport as everyone around me? What is it about soccer that doesn’t click with me?
I ran through several possibilities, looking at the question from several different angles, and then something happened in the game that crystallized the issue for me.
The ball hit off of a US player’s forearm, stopping the play.*
You cannot use your hands in soccer.** That’s the problem for me, and I’ll explain why that irks me to my core.
Millions of years of evolution and natural selection have put human beings at the top of the food chain. We’re the dominant species on the planet for a number of reasons; one of the key reasons is the evolution of opposable thumbs.
The opposable thumb has helped the human species develop more accurate fine motor skills. It is also thought to have directly led to the development of tools, not just in humans or their evolutionary ancestors, but other primates as well. The opposable thumb ensured that important human functions such as writing were possible. The thumb, in conjunction with the other fingers, makes human hands and those of other species with similar hands some of the most dexterous in the world.
Simultaneous with the development of a larger brain, the opposable thumbs on our hands are what set us apart from the animals. Using our hands in conjunction with our brains allowed us to develop the civilized society we have today.
And soccer takes away one of our most fundamental advantages as a species!
Soccer players, especially at the World Cup level, can do some amazing thing with their feet, their knees, their chests, and even their heads. However, the foot is no substitute for the fine motor control of the hand. Compare this to the four sports that I do follow:
- Football, where the ball is thrown, carried, and caught with the hands. The foot does come into play, primarily to use the larger muscles of the hips and thighs to supply distance.
- Baseball and hockey, which are predicated on the use of tools that are only made possible due to opposable thumbs.
- Basketball, which is contingent on the hands’ fine motor skills – Shaquille O’Neal at the free throw line excepted.
Could be that with more exposure and more time, soccer would grow on me. Before you think that it’s merely an American bias, let me assure you that, for the life of me, I cannot fathom why NASCAR is so popular, either.
But my gut is telling me that soccer fails with me primarily because it forbids the use of human beings’ most important evolutionary advantage.
Am I wrong? Discuss.
*I’m not referring to the yellow card on Jay DeMerit. This was earlier in the match, wasn’t intentional, didn’t result in a yellow card. I didn’t see what the player’s name was and couldn’t hear the announcers. Doesn’t matter.
**Unless you’re the goalkeeper. Or throwing the ball in from out of bounds.