By Wes Harris
The beautiful game continues to grow in the United States, but it still has a long way to go before we can say it’s on the level of the NFL or MLB in terms of domestic support. One of the main issues that the sport faces is a tarnished image in the eyes of many would-be supporters. It is an image that footballers are ‘soft’ and will go down as soon as another player breathes on them. One of the chief drivers for viewers to hold this view is all of the diving we see in the sport today, which has played a big part in fueling the negative view that many hold for soccer.
For those that have played the game, you know that footballers are anything but ‘soft’ and that the game is a physical one. But unfortunately, there are some players, whose numbers are increasing it seems, who will go to ground at the slightest touch to try and gain a free kick advantage. True players know there is indeed a time to go to ground if true contact is made and it would be more advantageous to take the foul than to try and continue the run of play. Unfortunately diving has increasingly become a staple in professional football around the world and really becoming an issue for the sport.
This fact was really brought home in the ESPN commercial that aired during the Women’s World Cup this year with USWNT star striker Abby Wambach and ESPN anchor John Anderson. The two pass each other in the hallway at ESPN headquarters and without any contact Anderson drops to the ground clutching his leg and screams, “Oh my ankle!” While the commercial was rather funny, and brought about some recognition to the WWC, it also served to solidify the fact that diving is a part of the game now.
Barcelona, the world’s best Club, recently was under scrutiny for several of their players blatantly diving in matches. This is one of the saddest parts about the diving epidemic. A team that has to be the most enjoyable to watch stoops down to the level of lesser teams and players and joins in the diving. This team is one that young footballers all around the world look to and try to emulate when they play. What they see, they will bring to their games, and now diving will be one of their tactics unfortunately.
The NFL and MLB, along with other pro sports leagues, all have their negative connotations as well, to be sure. The NFL has players in and out of jail on gun charges, dog fighting, and drug possession, and the MLB had the steroid issues, which are still being sorted. But, if we want to become a premiere sport, particularly in this country, we need to eliminate the ‘ugly’ aspects of the truly beautiful game.