Saturday, March 16, 2013

Corporate Athleticism

At what point did we decide that arm movements and hand signals are not good enough, and our referees need to say out loud, damn it, what the penalty is that they are calling? "How about we just mic the sons-a-bitches?" someone probably said once.

In association football, which we call soccer, the referee never talks to the audience. His dialogue is to remain between himself, his assistants, and the players on the pitch (field). If he needs to stop play (something that happens a lot less in soccer than in American football or hockey), he has a range of signals and motions at his disposal to make the crowd aware (at the off chance they themselves have missed the infraction) of what has gone wrong. Some referees are stoic and some more flamboyant, just as some are strict and some seemingly prefer breaking up brawls to preventing them. Either way, the man whose voice you never hear over the stadium's PA system is very much a human being. This doesn't mean that some fine folks at a Lebanese lower-division match won't try to kill him, but these are rare and isolated incidents, of course.

My point in these observations is not to say that association football is absolutely superior to the sports preferred in the whiter portion of the Americas, but to highlight a difference that I find compelling. Soccer is, in essence, a very simple game. American football, in essence, should be the same, but simple doesn't afford enough commercial breaks. In fact, while American football has grown increasingly more complicated (in terms of rules and regulations), it's still not complex enough, and there are arbitrary television breaks imposed upon 80,000 fans at any given stadium because, ultimately, some fat fuck's wine was not fine enough, his jet not fast enough, and his underage prostitute not underage enough. Absolute power corrupts absolutely...and it turns a single Division 1 college football game into a 4.5-hour-long event that makes accomplishing anything else on Saturday out of the question.

Professional soccer is by no means innocent of commercial corruption, it just doesn't seem to be as utterly dominated by it as other sports. In some countries, players can resemble NASCAR vehicles with the amount of advertisements choking the free space on their uniforms. Many stadiums have super suave digital boards that run the length of the pitch and display a variety of different ads throughout the duration of a match. But in soccer there are two halves of play, each at least 45 minutes in length, and the day they are interrupted by anything other than imminent destruction by mother nature, or a player dropping dead, is the day that the sport itself has died.

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