Wednesday, May 23, 2018
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Tom Walton


With soccer done, U.S. returns to real sports



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Well, soccer’s World Cup is finally over. We have a champion. Does anybody care? I don’t.

The United States was knocked out. Judging from the U.S. television ratings after the American team was ousted from the tournament, a lot of you lost interest too.

I expected to be vilified after my comments last time about soccer as the ultimate cure for insomnia. Any sport that celebrates a scoreless tie runs counter to my competitive nature. It’s un-American.

Indeed, I heard from detractors. Coming down hard on the old editor was a friend and former colleague, Blade op-ed columnist Marilou Johanek, a soccer mom in good standing. She complained in her column on Saturday that my passion for baseball means I “cling to an old field of dreams.”

But what hurt most of all — apart from being dissed along with conservative Ann Coulter of Fox News — was her assertion that “nobody in his or her right mind, except maybe former Blade editor Tom Walton, would dismiss soccer thusly.”

I appreciate the benefit of the doubt, but being in my right mind is a notion I have labored tirelessly to dispel in this column the past several years.

Marilou was hardly alone in her unhappiness with my knocks on soccer.

One reader who defended the game noted the difficulty in playing it well. “Back in ninth grade gym class, we had one session of soccer,” he said. “I learned that I was not a runner.”

Perhaps, he suggested, my disdain for the game stemmed from the fact that as a news media guy, I might not appreciate that a soccer match is 90 or more minutes of commercial-free television.

I have to say, sir, that after an hour of watching absolutely nothing happen, I would welcome a commercial, even one for some new medicine with a name I can’t pronounce. While they’re reciting all the potential side effects, including death, I could head off in search of refreshment. Maybe the missing remote is in the refrigerator.

I also heard from a former editor of mine who says he now has 20 grandchildren and all of them love soccer. But as for Grandpa? “This old geezer still finds it totally boring,” he said.

Another reader took exception to my argument that the World Cup’s popularity stemmed from the fact that not much else is going on during the monthlong tournament every four years.

Hockey has awarded its Stanley Cup, the National Basketball Association has crowned its champion, Major League Baseball is in the dog days of a 162-game schedule, and watching golf on television is only slightly more entertaining than listening to golf on radio, if there were such a thing.

“Tom,” he wrote, “what about Wimbledon tennis?”

OK, so I didn’t mention Wimbledon. But c’mon. All that back and forth and back and forth. And all the whining about the calls, not to mention the grunting and wheezing on every shot by many of the pros. Maria Sharapova is a great player, but does she have to scream on every stroke?

I’m sorry, but to me, tennis, although it is played on a much smaller lawn, is simply soccer with paddles.

I did have one supporter — I think. A reader suggested that while I foolishly overlooked several interesting pennant races in baseball, along with three no-hitters, I was spot-on with regard to soccer.

“If Americans are so engrossed in soccer,” he said, “I’d like to ask the first 20 people I see today, what is Sporting Kansas City? And how much soccer do all those little kids scampering around local fields ever play when they gain greater wisdom?”

Instead of watching a World Cup match, he added, “I am planning to get some true excitement this afternoon and watch my grass grow.”

Another correspondent, a guy I play baseball with, suggested that the World Cup had given him a new appreciation for watching the bumper rust on his neighbor’s 1936 Dodge.

For all you soccer moms out there — Marilou included — forget it. I’m not sharing these guys’ names.

Maybe the best indictment of soccer I can offer comes from the funniest man who ever lived, the late, great George Carlin. The same guy who once complained that water polo was extremely cruel to the horses also had a stinging rebuke for soccer.

“Soccer,” he observed, “is not a sport, because you can’t use your arms. Anything where you can’t use your arms can’t be a sport. Tap dancing isn’t a sport. I rest my case.”

So do I. May you rest in peace, sir. What the heck is Sporting Kansas City anyway?

Thomas Walton is the retired editor and vice president of The Blade. His column appears every other Monday. His commentary, “Life As We Know It,” airs each Monday at 5:44 p.m. on WGTE-FM 91.

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