My retirement from the soccer culture wars

The unexamined life is not worth living, Socrates is alleged to have said in Plato’s telling of the story. Shortly thereafter, Socrates said his last words: “I drank what?”

If you prefer more modern fare, picture Jules at the diner near the end of Pulp Fiction. “I had what alcoholics refer to as a moment of clarity.”

I had a couple of moments like that yesterday. It all started innocently enough — a well-intentioned but ill-advised campaign from a few soccer media types (not including me) to tweet roughly the same thing about the MLS playoffs fed the conspiracy theories in certain quarters of Twitter that all reporters who cover MLS are the soccer equivalent of pro wrestling broadcasters. We’re part of the “show,” in certain circles.

Of course, that conversation spread to well-trod pathways of discussion. And as I mentioned in my latest dispatches from the soccer culture wars, we’ve seen evolution at play among the culture warriors. We have reasonable strains and unreasonable strains.

Yesterday’s conversations brought out some reasonable people. It also brought out some of the most virulent people in the conversation. Like Ebola, they aren’t particularly contagious, but they’re intent on wreaking as much damage as possible.

So when I found myself patiently explaining to someone that the USA does indeed have a considerable number of journalists who cover MLS for outlets other then MLSSoccer.com, I asked myself: “I drank what?” I’m not sure what sort of conversation I can really have with someone who deals in such absolutes (insert “Sith lord” joke here) that all journalists who cover MLS are part of the league structure, and England has only “independent” media.

Oh … right. Those guys. Or those who pay for interviews.

Anyway, after talking offline with a couple of people yesterday, I no longer think such conversations are necessary.

Were they ever necessary, or at least productive? Years ago, perhaps. And recently, I had started to think we needed to talk about these things because the culture wars were seeping off Twitter and into the mainstream of sorts. The New York Times and the NASL have taken a few fringe elements seriously. The soccer mag Howler is doing a piece on He Who Shall Not Be Named (a well-known Twitter persona who asks journalists questions along the lines of “When did you stop kicking your dog?”). So these discussions are getting into the public forum. And a basic function of journalism, one that’s being forgotten these days, into keep inserting facts into the public forum and to challenge incorrect information. It’s why PolitiFact is such an important news outlet.

But so much of the discussion in the soccer culture wars has little to do with the actual issues at hand. We’ve discussed pro/rel to death. We all talk about single entity, but I’m not sure anyone understands it other than MLS executive Mark Abbott.

Much of it is just character assassination. It’s not fun to leave such things unchecked so that someone just joining the discussion on Twitter hears and, at least initially, believes that mainstream reporters are all puppets of Don Garber. But what’s the point in talking with someone who refuses to listen to things I know, first-hand, to be true?

Some people, often but not always young, have legitimate questions about how MLS came to be the way it is and why it’s staying that way for the foreseeable future. For them, conversations about promotion/relegation, single entity and other idiosyncrasies are new. Unfortunately, some of them find and fall under the influence of the fringe elements online. Some of them resist such lunacy, and they’re actually fun to talk to.

But Twitter, along with many open discussion forums, just isn’t a good venue for that conversation. As I’ve said a few times, the well has been poisoned.

I personally don’t need to be involved in it, for the following reasons:

1. I’ve said everything I know. It’s either in my book, Long-Range Goals, or on my blog.

2. I’m not even doing much on MLS these days. I spent much of 2013 working on a book about the Washington Spirit. I’ve written about various topics for OZY, a general-interest site I’d recommend checking out even if I didn’t write for them. And I’m working on a book on youth soccer.

3. For all the Twitter hoopla, we’re getting no closer to fundamental changes in how professional soccer operates in the USA and Canada.

If the NASL chooses to seek out the tinfoil fan base with a few encouraging words about pro/rel and some sort of MLS ankle-biting, that’s their decision. NASL’s gonna NASL. Those issues aside, the NASL has some terrific talent from the playing field to the club offices, and all I can do is wish them well. And maybe point out that the good crowds at Indy are probably there not because they’re making a grand statement about soccer business models but because (A) they like soccer and (B) Peter Wilt knows how to run a soccer team.

Within U.S. soccer circles, very little has changed. We’ve had umpteen new MLS owners in the past decade, and still Don Garber, speaking on behalf of the owners that hired him, says an absolute “no” to promotion/relegation. MLS is going to try to improve by investing in youth soccer to increasing degrees and trying to attract better and better players.

So if you’re looking for one legitimate issue of conversation that isn’t just idle talk, it would be the upcoming CBA talks. The salary cap will go up, but how much? Will players get more freedom, perhaps full-fledged free agency? Will the allocation system, already far removed from the days of centralized planning from the league office, drop out of existence? Those are interesting topics, and you may find me talking about them here or on Twitter.

But promotion/relegation, which I’ve already steered away from? The evils of MLS? Corporate manipulation of the now-sprawling and diverse U.S. soccer media?

Yeah. I’m done. I’ve had that moment of clarity or examined my life or whichever reference you prefer. And I’m not drinking the hemlock or the Kool-Aid or anything else.

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2 Responses to My retirement from the soccer culture wars

  1. Your third point is the one I keep coming back to, over and over again. For those who post about the need for open pyramids or any other magic structure, what is the plan? I understand (I think) the desire, but how does carping on it on Twitter help achieve it? Or is there some lobbying campaign going on behind the scenes that I’m missing?

    Given the reaction I’ve seen to the crowdfunding campaign for the USAFL – which I’d have thought would have been welcomed – it seems that there is no action step. Only a bright-line test for “the way things ought to be” that begins with an edict from on high.

    Meanwhile there is growth visible throughout the ecosystem of American soccer, from the NPSL and college ranks all the way up to MLS. Growth built on the backs of hard-working visionaries and employees, who are not content to post on Twitter.

  2. Beau Dure says:

    Thanks for weighing in, Matt! And yeah, you’re right. I don’t see much follow-through beyond Twitter.

    The mantra I often heard from the zealots was that change had to come from the federation, not from the league. I found this puzzling. I don’t know how much of a role the FA players in the Football League-Football Alliance merger that led to the creation of a Second Division. And I don’t recall USSF pushing USISL into its pro/rel baby steps. If the NASL or NPSL really wanted to do pro/rel, I wouldn’t see USSF getting involved one way or another. Tons of amateur leagues do pro/rel.

    There was once a movement to take over USSF somehow. When Gulati was re-elected unanimously, I think that movement was pronounced dead — or people denied that it ever existed.

    In the grand scheme of things, arguing with me about basic facts doesn’t push things along. So I’m probably helping them by refusing to engage — they can refocus and do something more productive!

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