Commentary: Soccer Remains a Niche Sport Among Urban Blacks

U.S. team needed to go farther in World Cup to grab the interest of inner-city youth.

Posted: 07/03/2014 10:51 AM EDT
US Soccer team

Two days removed from what surely was the grandest moment in U.S. soccer history, America remains abuzz over the performance it saw Tuesday from its National Team in the knockout round of the World Cup.

The game, which the United States lost 2-1, put soccer in the spotlight. The loss had sports columnists, radio hosts, Capitol Hill operatives, political pundits like the ultraconservative Ann Coulter and sports fans talking about a sport that has long been on the fringe.

The question is: Can a game like this loss change the profile of soccer among Americans?

Coulter says no. She is right if her comments spoke to the interest of Blacks.

For if people expect one dramatic performance to break the grip the “Big Two” – football and basketball – hold on Black sports fans, they put too much stock into what a once-in-every-four-years event can do.

They also overlook the social undercurrents that work against soccer finding an audience among Blacks.

While it’s nice to reference what the late Bobby Fischer did for chess in the ’70s when he won a world championship, the play of keeper Tim Howard, forward Julian Green and the U.S. National Team doesn’t rise to that level.

Their play did stoke America’s pride, but how much pride can anyone hold on to when the team he cheers for loses?

Whether Black, Latino or white, Americans take pride in winning, not in coming in second-best. Soon enough, the enthusiasm about that electric moment in Brazil will subside, and the reality of what soccer is in the United States will rush in.

No doubt interest in soccer has increased in the United States. You can point to the dedication of soccer moms from the suburbs and the influx of Latinos for the broadening appeal of the sport.

Yet where the sport hasn’t found traction is in the inner city. Black youth don’t see the game as anything more than kickball. They have no fields where they can play the game; they have no youth leagues; they can’t afford the cost of club teams; and many of their high schools don’t offer soccer as an extracurricular option.

So where are Black youth to learn the game?

They surely won’t fall in love with soccer after one mind-numbing loss in the World Cup.

Nor will they go out and buy the jerseys of soccer royalty like Pelé, David Beckham, Wayne Rooney, Lionel Messi, Ronaldo or Luis Suárez. Black youngsters in inner cities don’t connect with any of these international stars nor with American players like DaMarcus Beasley, Fabian Johnson, Jermaine Jones and Jozy Altidore.

Yet the growth of U.S. soccer won’t be built around attracting Black youth. It will be built on winning. Moral and symbolic victories don’t count for much, because symbolism gives ground willingly to the bitter reality of losing.

Black Americans don’t jump aboard a loser’s bandwagon, and anybody who thinks they do is as delusional as Fischer was when he thought his world championship made him bigger than chess itself.

He was wrong back the 1970s, and so are people today who see “the beautiful game” as more than what it is to Blacks in inner cities.

For them, soccer is a niche sport, and, despite the World Cup’s drama, soccer won’t soon be more than that.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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 (Photo: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

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