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Fútbol Trumps Football

For Violence

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Many U.S. fans of soccer are simply waiting for a big hit. Images by Torsten Colten and BrokenSpehere and used under the terms of a Creative Commons License.
American Football Might Trump Fútbol In On-The-Field Violence, But Isn’t Watching Men Beat On Each Other Better Than Drunken Riots?

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By Wayne Schutsky
Modern Times Magazine

March 5, 2012 —America occupies a singular position in the sports world. While all other major markets and countries go nuts for fútbol — or soccer — Americans love their football.

Sure, there is a tiny amount of crossover. Soccer is gaining more traction in America with European stars like David Beckham playing stints in the MLS, and the NFL has a few games in England every year. But those instances are really nothing more than novelties used to draw new, if only temporary, fans to the gate.

When it comes down to it, Americans love football and the rest of the world loves fútbol.

But what explains this phenomenon?

One common explanation argues that Americans are more prone to violence than their worldwide counterparts and this penchant for carnage makes them predisposed to enjoy football over the more nuanced game of soccer.

This argument makes sense on the surface. After all, football is a game filled with bone-crushing hits and brutality. Severe concussions are a weekly occurrence. The main focus of almost every player on the field is to destroy someone wearing the opposing jersey.

Soccer, on the other hand, has more running than hitting. There is the occasional mid-air collision and the slide tackle is a tried and true method to disrupt an opponent, but none of those things compares to the minute-by-minute violence that takes place in any football game.

So Americans are more violent and that is why they love football, right?

Wrong.

Sure, the game of football itself is much more violent than fútbol. But the fans are not.

When looking at how fútbol fans act during games and react afterwards, the group seems much more violent than American football fans.

English football has long been known for its firms, or gang-like groups of young men who support local football clubs. These firms go to games, vocally support their teams, and clash with opposing firms.

As mythologized in the film Green Street Hooligans, these soccer hooligans get in fights more often than they actually attend matches. They embed the pride they feel in their community into the club and the firm and this pride is generally expressed through violence against other firms.

And England is not the only country where violence co-exists with soccer.

The tragic riots earlier this year in Port Said in Egypt only prove this point. Over 70 people lost their lives when fans of the Port Said's Al-Masry team clashed with fans of Cairo's Al-Ahly, according to The Telegraph.

In recent days witnesses and activists in Egypt have blamed the acts of violence on supporters of the ousted regime of Hosni Mubarak. The Al-Ahly club was active and vocal during the revolution, and the attacks are being blamed on Al-Masry fans who had the support of Mubarak sympathizers.

While the violence may not be directly related to the game, the fact that a match could convincingly serve as cover for political attacks only proves that extreme violence is a part of soccer culture.

In Argentina last year, players for the San Lorenzo Almagro club received beatings at the hands of their own fans because of a few recent losses, according to The New York Times. The fans made it past security during a practice and yelled at, then attacked, Almagro players.

The Almagro incident is just one example of the growing fútbol violence problem in Argentina.

This is not to say that American football is completely devoid of fan violence.

During the 2011 preseason, two men were shot in the parking lot at Candlestick Park in San Francisco following a game between the hometown 49ers and the Oakland Raiders, according to ESPN.

However, acts like these are extremely rare in the NFL. They have as much to do with alcohol consumption as they do with a predisposition for violence.

Violence and fútbol are interconnected. The aggression exhibited by large swaths of soccer fans around the world and the relative timidity of American football fans is proof that Americans do not have a personal predisposition for violence that makes the NFL more appealing than MLS.

In fact, I would argue the opposite is true.

Americans, as exemplified by football fans, do not want to participate in violent actions. They want to watch them.

The act of watching football, much like Rome's gladiators, carries much of the adrenaline rush associated with violent action without any of the risk. American football fans can sit back and watch while 250-pound slabs of muscle run around on the field and smash in to each other.

Soccer, fútbol, and European football, on the other hand, is a much more intimate experience for the fans. As exemplified by the formation of firms and other club gangs, these fans feel more attached to their local teams than American football fans do.

Instead of simply buying jerseys and seasons tickets, soccer fans live and breathe the game.  

The violence they exhibit is a natural part of that.

The game itself is none too violent, but the lifestyle is something unto itself. Unlike American football fans, fútbol fans feel the need to get that adrenaline rush from direct action. They cannot simply sit back and absorb the energy of competition; they have to be a part of it.

This is not a morality argument. Who is to say whether it is better to get off on watching violence or to get your rush from actually fighting?

The only conclusion to be made is that the popularity of football over fútbol in America is not a result of Americans' overly-violent nature. In fact, it is the football fan's relatively un-violent nature that makes football a uniquely American sport.

Wayne Schutsky lives in Phoenix, Ariz. Follow him @ThemanofLetters.
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