Sunday, June 25, 2006
David Brooks and World Cup
On June 22 David Brooks had an op-ed column in the NY Times discussing the World Cup Soccer. He attributed the lack of success of the US team to their being more interested in education (several of them had attended Universities) while no player in any other team had college education. He also made certain points about the superiority of the American University systems as compared to Universities in the rest of the world. To me it seemed quite a bizarre article and I did not think of commenting on it until I saw the letters to the editor about it in today's (6-25-2006) NY Times. They were also off the mark.
The main (if not the only) reason that US teams do not do as well in soccer as teams from other parts of the world is that soccer is not very popular in the US. Athletically gifted young people are fare more likely to play baseball, football, or basketball rather than soccer. While numbers about young players may not be easy to come by attendance in major league sports is more readily available and there baseball, football, basketball (and ice hokey) are far ahead of soccer. In most of the rest of the work soccer (called everywhere else football) is the number one sport with basketball a distant second. (The few exceptions include Japan and some Latin American countries where baseball is popular and Canada where ice hokey dominates.) I grew up in Greece and I can attest to the phenomenon from first hand experience.
Why did Brooks (and the letter writers) missed the obvious?
I can add also a few words about the University systems of the US and other countries. The most striking difference in my view is the huge number of American institutions that call themselves Universities or colleges and the huge difference in quality amongst them. This huge range in quality does not exists in any other country that I am familiar with. There are over 2,000 institutions of higher education in the US and amongst those no more than a quarter (around 500) would be given that designation elsewhere and about 100 are certainly excellent with world standards. There is another unique feature amongst American Universities. In many of them there is a big range of quality amongst departments. And it is well known that athletes, even if they attend a respectable University, they go for the "easy stuff." (One of the subjects of Tom Wolfe's novel I am Charlotte Simons.) In short, the fact that some of the US soccer player attend college while soccer players of other countries do not is irrelevant.
I guess it is too much to ask columnists to look below the surface, especially after they have missed the obvious.