Black Athletes and American Soccer

A reader, John, has nailed me on a recent soccer post, where I echoed Kissinger’s statement that U.S. soccer needs “minorities.”

Not sure if you’re agreeing fully with Kissinger here — I hope not, because his comment is effectively racist. K’s saying “minorities,” i.e., the dark people, are better at sports, regardless of if a hardscrabble life makes you hungry for the game. And this, if I can be mean, is what Kissinger likely believes those minorities can be proud of in life.

The irony is that soccer’s great teams belie this view. Aside from Brazil, who are the powerhouse teams today and historically? Germany, for sure — not many minorities there. Argentina, which has largely been a team of European ancestry. And Italy, a homogenous white team if there ever was one. The Netherlands and England are also perennially near the top — and very, well, white.

Maybe the problem in the U.S. is entitlement, I don’t know — but the racist “minority” argument has the virtue of being an easy explanation, and the vice of being factually wrong, and bigoted.

Wow. Smart readers.

My response: O.K. Yes; I was agreeing with Kissinger. Obviously, I’m wrong, in some large measure. Culture is a significant factor in soccer performance. Saying “minorities” is pretty offensive. And I call myself an internationalist…

But to rally to my side for a second: There is a widespread equation in mainstream American culture of athleticism and blackness. C.f., Jayson “White Chocolate” Williams on the Heat, the movie, White Men Can’t Jump, and Larry Summers’s fatal, and scientistic, musings about innate abilities of a year ago (“the data will, I am confident, reveal that… white men are very substantially underrepresented in the National Basketball Association.”). Isn’t it true that, right now in America, basketball and football are dominated by black athletes, in part because they are faster and jump higher? And that if we want to perform in soccer, we have to get some of those guys on the team? What say you, John?