Two Continents, Two Canons of Sport
Sports has a weird hold on human culture and thought. For many communities, from the ancients to our modern day, the athletic pursuits endeared by various peoples speak to what they hold most important. The Romans loved blood sports such as gladiatorial games and chariot racing. Greeks preferred feats of strength like foot races and throwing events. In our present day, NASCAR is emblematic of the American South, and is not ashamed of that, while Formula 1 draws a sharp contrast between the North American and European driving aesthetic. Similarly that distinction in locality is seen in the two canonical sports of the respective landmasses, association football and baseball.
Soccer and baseball hold very hallowed positions in their respective continents. If you ask me, both speak to what Americans and Europeans hold dear. In baseball, though it is a team game, the emphasis is on individual performance. Pitchers get credit for wins while a batters personal stats determine what type of player they were. Defensive plays rarely involve an offensive player making things difficult. It’s all on the fielder. In soccer the team takes precedence. Chemistry on the pitch, melding of playing styles, and working together for a common goal. But one thing that is held in common between the two is the importance each sport has in the culture of their origin.
When a patriotic holiday roles around, one can count on Major League Baseball to have flags waving, bunting hung, and Joe Buck ruining the experience. On War Remembrance Day, each EPL club has a special kit with poppies sewn in. These aren’t bad things, but they are very telling. When Europe or America want to identify themselves among the rest, these are the sports they turn to. That’s not to say that other sports aren’t as popular or important. The NFL is the undisputed king of America’s sporting airwaves, but baseball is the sports we exported to our neighbors and even as far afield as Japan and Korea.
I love both baseball and soccer. Both are seen as boring sports by those who don’t grow up with them, as well as being undervalued for their complexity. Both are integral to the cultures that developed them. And both are intoxicating in their own way. Don’t fall victim to dismissing the value of each because, in all honesty, they are what we are: certainly different, but more alike than we care to admit.