Organized Sports is a recurring sports column named for a seminal DC avant-hardcore song by the equally stupid and brilliant (to me, “equally stupid and brilliant” pretty much just means “brilliant”) band Void. Take from that what you will.
I get it. For a long time, as a diehard hockey fan, someone who went to games as far back as I can remember, who played the sport as a kid and a teenager, who even had a falling out with the sport and was successfully won back with the high quality of post-lockout play, I finally understand why no one watches hockey on television. What made me have this bold epiphany? What gave me this new insight into the viewing habits of sports fans in America?
I hate soccer.
Now, of course, you’re asking: so what does that have to do with anything? Hear me out. I’ll get there eventually. How, you may ask, could I hate soccer, the world’s favorite sport, the “beautiful game”? There are many reasons, but beyond the fact that America’s best athletes do not play soccer, and therefore the U.S. is not competitive, nor does it have the best professional league in the sport, the main one is this: nothing ever happens.
I know this is not true. I know things happen in soccer matches. But when I’m watching, I think to myself, when the fuck is something going to happen? It’s boring to me. It’s a low scoring sport, but beyond that, it seems to me a sport in which there are not only few goals, but few attempts to score goals, and when those attempts do come, often these professionals, the best players in the world, kick the ball so far wide or high or off the mark that it makes the worst NFL kicker look like a SEAL Team Six marksman. I’ve tried, many times, to get into soccer. I watch the World Cup. I have friends who love futbol (though with some of them, I think it’s more about the scarves and getting to brag about Europe’s superiority over America than the actual quality of the game). But watching it is like watching a World Series of Poker broadcast without being able to see the hole cards, or watching grass grow, or watching paint dry, or watching me type cliches about boredom. I understand the athleticism, the endurance, all of that. But I just can’t get interested, because it just seems like nothing. Ever. Happens.
When making these observations to anyone who wants to argue soccer’s superiority, I always am dismissed with something along these lines: “If you’d seen it live, you’d understand.” Something about being able to see the whole field, the formations of the players, every piece on the field mattering. The energy of the crowd, the diehard dedication of the fans. I haven’t seen it live, and I don’t understand.
“I can’t watch hockey,” some will say.
“You have to see it live,” I say in response.
So now it’s finally hit me. Watching hockey on TV is a far cry from seeing it live. You don’t get the passion of the fans, you don’t get to see the play develop. On television, you can’t appreciate how fast the players are going, how hard they smash into the boards and each other, how quickly the puck moves, how, when the play is going well, each of the five skaters on each team seems to share a brain with his teammates, shifting positions, covering for one another, criss-crossing and moving as one. Instead, you get, in the case of the Stanley Cup playoffs on NBC, camerawork focused on the puck and the puck only, soundtracked by too many announcers, all of whom, because Canada’s swept up all the good ones, are on the bottom tier.
On top of that, now that the referees have swallowed their whistles for playoff time, there’s no more scoring in a fast-paced hockey game than their is in a languidly run soccer match. I still love watching hockey, because I always have, but I really get it. There isn’t anything there for someone who’s not a fan, someone who’s never experienced the rush of the game live, who doesn’t have a home team to root for. But, soccer fans of the world, I’ll make you a deal. I won’t try to get you to watch hockey, and you don’t try to get me to watch soccer. I won’t tell you that tonight the Kings can once again try and win the Stanley Cup, or the Devils can tie the series on the way to an historic comeback, and you won’t tell me that ESPN has unlimited coverage of Euro 2012. Deal?