Like many soccer supporters, I was left mystified when I read Jay Caspian Kang’s synopsis of American soccer culture for New York Times Magazine (We have chosen not to publish the link to the article, because they do not deserve the traffic – Ed).
The American soccer landscape is fast growing and ever changing due to the numbers of teams, leagues and supporters groups all on the rise and more and more fans become involved. For one person to attempt to paint a picture of such a landscape would be a very difficult task; however yesterday Jay Caspian Kang tried (and failed) to use an extremely broad brush to paint a picture of soccer supporters in (North) America.
In his article, Kang plays a dangerous game by drawing parallels between current American supporters groups and issues in Europe; suggesting that racism and violence are growing issues in today’s American Soccer culture. He references a book from the 1990’s and songs which date back half a century to draw a picture of racist, violent European supporters and the Americans who now sing their songs. Kang implies that American soccer fans are adopting this culture, this article hopes to set some things straight. His sample size consists of one match in one location on one day.
First and foremost, ALL the racism and violence that Kang discusses in his article takes place in Europe. The only place that this “dark side” of American soccer culture that Kang has drawn exists, is inside of his imagination. The examples he describes such as the clashes at Euro 2016, a select few Chelsea fans during a Champions League Game and Bill Buford’s book; all these incidents occurred outside of North America. The “red vs blue” analogy that is painted in the article is something that is seen in Europe, mostly in the casuals scene of the 80’s and 90’s, and is never replicated to that degree inside American soccer culture.
Apart from the song lyrics to “Take ‘Em All,” Kang appears to have had absolutely no experience with any “dark sides” of American soccer culture during his time in Seattle. There were no violent outbreaks, no threats, no militancy, and above all – no racism or sexism witnessed – yet the perception of the article directs the reader to believe that because the Emerald City Supporters sang one chant, they are hooligans hell bent on destruction and anarchy. This is obviously nowhere near the truth. However, this is not the first time that Kang has chosen to write about race and sports since his debut in April (We apologize for linking to this article, but it shows a pattern of subject matter, and perspective. We really wish we didn’t have to prove this point by giving them any more traffic, but it was unavoidable. – Ed)
Although the majority of American soccer fans may be white males, Kang seems to use his one experience in Seattle, a city that is 68% white, to judge the demographics of soccer fans across the continent. As someone who is an active member of a supporters group in North America, I can say that there is a high number of Black, Brown, Asian, Hispanic, Latino, Caribbean, African etc. supporters that play important roles in supporters culture right across this continent. And women! My god the women! The US Women’s National Team dominates international play while the NWSL is a fast growing league. There is a massive amount of phenomenal women involved in American soccer fan culture that work exceptionally hard to build the game through writing and podcasts. (You can find many of them writing for this website!). Yet there is no mention of this entire culture or the devoted followers who make it up, in the article. There are no references to violence within these ranks, not only because it doesn’t exist, but because it does not fit the narrative that Kang is trying to push. These different groups of people not only thrive inside American soccer culture, but compose such a significant part that overlooking them is more than willful ignorance, it is an attempt to marginalize their efforts in an ironically sexist fashion.
While drawing attention to the European culture that Americans are adopting, Kang later questions why Latinos are being left out. He writes that there are two cultures in America, “one white, the other Latino.” While I cannot speak first hand about all corners of American soccer culture, I do believe that the “Latino” culture that Kang discusses is actually a very large part of the overall American soccer cultural landscape and should not be so easily separated. Latino groups bring songs, instruments, rhythms and traditions from South America and incorporate them in to American soccer culture, just as the “white” groups do with European culture. I have stood in front of the New York Cosmos supporters section during a championship final and I can tell you, their groups (La Banda Del Cosmos) Hispanic/Latino inspired drums and rhythms drive the entire section. It is unique from anything seen or heard in Europe, but an integral part of American soccer culture none the less.
Most soccer supporters, the ones organized and marching to games, belong to supporters groups. In North America these groups do more than just drink in pubs and sing songs as Kang mentioned. The vast majority are very community oriented and work hard to include anyone from any walk of life into their game day traditions. Some supporters groups and American soccer fans raise money for charity, help out fellow fans and build a community of their own that is very unique inside of American soccer culture. These groups raise money when disasters hit, are inclusive of all members of their community and promote the growth of soccer in general. Ignoring this element of supporters culture is to invalidate all the efforts of philanthropy, volunteerism, and charity that many supporters groups pride themselves upon. Excellent examples of these activities exist in both MLS and the NASL. To say racism doesn’t exist among certain individuals would be naive, however to suggest that American soccer fans as a whole participate in organized racism or violence (or are adopting a culture that does) would be completely false.
To paraphrase Kang, there is nothing wrong with borrowing what you love, but it should be called what it is – a growing culture of dedicated, hard working American soccer fans from every walk of life. Americans who not only gather to watch the beautiful game, but get involved; not only add atmosphere to matches but also do work within their community and help grow this unique and beautiful culture that is developing in America. This is the Real American Soccer Culture. Immerse yourself in it and support local soccer.
(For the MLS reaction to Kang’s piece, please read Matt Pentz’s article in the Seattle Times – Ed)