Thursday, May 28, 2009

Is Beckham an Exception to American Exceptionalism? by Neil Basumallik

According to Nielsen Media Research, a combined total of 1.5 billion viewers watched the 2002 FIFA World Cup and in 2006 the France vs. Italy World Cup final match was the most watched televised sporting event of the year (Tatham, 2002). Soccer’s popularity is unparalleled by any other sport in most parts of the world yet in the U.S., a country where soccer is the most popular recreational sport for boys and girls, professional soccer’s popularity has not permeated into American culture. England’s celebrity “footballer” David Beckham’s arrival to the LA Galaxy has failed to catalyze the growth American professional soccer exposing soccer’s lack of popularity as a result of enduring American ideals.

Debuting for Manchester United F.C. at age seventeen, David Beckham has established himself as one of soccer’s modern stars transcending normal expectations and rising to the heights of soccer legend and international celebrity. After stints as England Team Captain and Real Madrid midfielder, Beckham tried his luck with a $250 million dollar five year contract with the MLS’ L.A. Galaxy. Upon the announcement of Beckham’s acquisition Galaxy president, Alexi Lalas, proclaimed that Beckham will, “revolutionize Major League Soccer economically and from the football point of view”(quoted in Wicks, 2007). After an optimistic start with record attendance and jersey sales recent MLS television ratings have shown that the MLS has averaged less viewers in 2008 on ESPN2 than it did before Beckham’s introduction in 2006 (Mickle, 2009). Despite the introduction of Beckham coupled with new MLS franchises less people are tuning in to watch MLS soccer when compared to the pre-Beckham era. Is the inability to revamp the MLS due to Beckham’s lack of appeal, skill or status, or is there an underlying factor woven into the fibers to American history preventing professional soccer’s growth?

One cannot place the blame for the state of professional U.S. soccer on any single organization or person; instead one must understand the role of American exceptionalism in the formation of American sporting culture. Rooted in the “notion that the U.S. was created differently, developed differently” and thus must be “understood differently,” American exceptionalism highlights America’s choice of “freedom over tyranny” compared to the rise of communism and monarchy in Europe (Schultz, 2009). Unlike soccer, an English invention, football, baseball, and basketball were all invented in America helping construct American sporting identity, an identity that has lasted centuries. Thus, with the abundance of original American sports supporting the young nation’s individualistic ideology, there was no need for integrating an English sport into American culture. “In short, all major American professional sports that defined the dominant sports culture in the United States in the course of the twentieth century exhibited a much more unimpeded capitalist style and ethic than their European counterparts, particularly in the world of soccer” (Markovits & Hellerman, 2001).

After decades of development America rose to become an international superpower yet, “long residuals,” ideas that outlast “time and contest,” even through periods of change, maintain the essence of American exceptionalism, reinforcing the past’s affect on the present (Schultz, 2009). From the “soccer mom” to travel team tryouts, soccer has maintained its popularity within the youth athletic culture but the same cannot be said for American professional soccer. After the youth leagues, soccer is often seen as sport played by “hyphenated Americans” often “identified as a multi-accentual ethnic and hence defensively non-American, urban pastime”(Andrews, 2006). The crux of this idea highlights the fact that soccer is a non-American entity and therefore not a unique American tradition separating the U.S. from the rest of the world, a key aspect of American exceptionalism.

From Beijiing to Berlin, David Beckham’s presence mystifies millions. Yet when Beckham arrives in LA “Becks and Posh” become a pop culture phenomenon while the MLS struggles to gain viewers. After bringing Pele to America and hosting the 1994 FIFA World Cup, America has tried various efforts to bring the “worlds game” to a level rivaling that of the NFL and NBA, but lasting sentiments of exceptionalism prevail. It hasn’t taken Beckham very long to realize that one person cannot change professional soccer in America and maybe he has given up, after all this past Friday he extended his loan to A.C. Milan.

Works Cited

(2007). [Image of photograph-David Beckham & Reggie Bush].
Seattle, Washington;Getty Images. Retrieved March 7, 2009, from

Andrews , D. L. (2006). Sport-Commerce-Culture: Essays on Sport in
Late Capitalist America
(Vol. 11, p. 82). New York: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc.

Markovits, A. S., & Hellerman, S. L. (2001). Offside (p. 48). Princeton:
Princeton University Press. Retrieved March 1, 2009, from Google Scholar.

Mickle, T. (2009). The Role of Consumption Culture in Children’s Moral
Development: The Case of David Beckham [Electronic version].
Street & Smith's Sports
Business Journal, 7. from Google Scholar.

Schultz, J. (2009). Sport in the “New World” Module II: The long residuals of history & Invention of sporting traditions.Lecture presented in KNES293. University of Maryland,
College Park, MD

Tatham, M. (2002). Nearly 1.5 Billion TV Viewers Watch 2002 World Cup [Electronic version]. Nielsen Media Research.

Wicks, P. G. (2007). The Role of Consumption Culture in Children’s Moral Development: The Case of David Beckham . Thesis, University of Exeter, Exeter. Retrieved March 1, 2009, from Google Scholar.

Scholarly Source Recommendations

Markovits, A. S., & Hellerman, S. L. (2001). Offside. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Wangerin, D. (n.d.). Soccer in a Football World: The Story of America's
Forgotten Game
. Temple University Press.

Popular Source Recommendations

Beckham's Away Win. (2007, January 12). The Economist. Retrieved
March 8, 2009, from CFID=44736513&CFTOKEN=29287424&source=login_payBarrier

No comments: