I’m sure some of you have already seen this article from the New York Times titled The Dark Side of American Soccer Culture. When I read through it the first time I was flabbergasted. How could such a reputable paper publish something so off the mark with so little evidence to back it up?
“For the stunted American male, frustrated with the changing demographics of the country and gripped by the belief that his days on top are coming to an end, there may be no form of pornography more satisfying than watching a bunch of hard-drinking, pub-singing soccer fans with thick brogues beat the hell out of one another.” This is the opening line and it seems so bizarre and at odds with any experience I've had at soccer. Nobody I know is excited about fan violence and most soccer fans I meet tend to be young, white, middle-class, males of a progressive mindset forming groups with planks about inclusion and anti-bigotry.
The article breaks down into two broad sections: middle-class Americans appropriating European working-class culture and some of its violent and racist tendencies and the divide between those same white middle-class suburban soccer supporters and the Latino community.
It seems a shocking logical leap to point to violent and racist acts perpetrated by hooligans (do those really still exist) in the current Euros or a Paris subway and say, "well these groups share some things so they must have these ideologies as well." Let’s be clear, the author saw or heard nothing at the one Sounders game that he went to that he could point to as overt racism, bigotry, or actual violence. He used as secondary evidence Bill Buford's Among the Thugs, a book describing hooliganism in the 80's that I believe has taken a fair amount of artistic liberty when recounting events.
I do think the part of the culture that fetishizes hooliganism and appropriates working class political violence is silly but, other than the odd fight, this isn't a huge problem that soccer is dealing with. (FYI covering your face with a bandana makes you look like a lost cattlerustler, not a fearsome aggro supporter. Have some self-respect.) Hooliganism in Europe seems to be more associated with people who saw soccer as a vehicle to act out in lawless behavior as opposed to something integral to it. In America it's something that looks cool.
The second part of the article talks about American soccer's issue with Latinos, an area with more real concerns. It's easy but amateur to conflate Latino with Mexican, but that kind of dogwhistle language Trump would use actually has real meaning in international soccer. The USMNT is literally playing Mexico. We want to beat the Mexicans. This is tough one to divide and I feel a bit of pause using the word Mexican due to the pejorative way it is often used. Nationalism tends to toe a fine line with racism and it is something that fans need to be vigilant about but we're nowhere near shoving people off of trains because of their race.
On the club side, for a sport that Don Garber claims has a 30-35% Hispanic fanbase, soccer does have a diversity problem. There tends to be a segregation between supporters groups with at least one per city specifically Hispanic, like La Turbina Amarilla in Columbus. The vast majority of front office staff and leadership in the supporters groups are lacking in diversity. In Cincinnati the issue is partially shown by the rather homogeneous crowd and that the club doesn't have any Spanish language outreach or communiques. While this is a new club and the Spanish-speaking community is smaller in Cincinnati, this seems a key demographic to miss. (Reminder that Hispanic Heritage month starts in September.)
On the whole soccer polices itself well. In Cincinnati racist or sexist chants are shut down, violence hasn't happened, and their are rules against all forms bigotry. I love this. These things are part of the reason why I was originally drawn to soccer. It doesn't have as much of the macho culture that pervades the NFL. It does tend to be a progressive environment with great people. The continuing struggle in this culture from front offices and SGs is with positive things like reaching out to the Spanish-speaking or LGBTQ community or women. That is the direction the sport needs to travel.
I would love to hear your thoughts about this, especially if you are a Spanish speaker or if you've had a different experience than mine.