Reviews from Amazon.com for Offside: Soccer and American Exceptionalism
This is a very important book - which is the least you would expect. You don't get a year to research at the Wissenschaftskolleg in Berlin (Germany's equivalent of the best of Oxford and Cambridge rolled into one) and the opportunity to publish for a renowned academic publisher such as Princeton University Press, if you're not going to write an important book. More significantly, however, this is also a very good book, and one that should immediately appeal to a number of usually distinct interest groups. Markovits and Hellerman combine rigorous scholarly research - for which the former is righly acclaimed as a big hitter in the field of modern German political science - and the enthusiasm of the deeply knowledgable sports fan - the latter is a journalist in the field and the former, by all accounts, a sports channel addict - to produce a definitive account of the American sports scene. The key question they pose and answer is: why does the USA have a distinct sports space which allows the world's most popular sport, football (significantly known differently as soccer across the pond), only a minor role? In other words - how come North Americans much prefer to watch (and sometimes even play) American Football, Baseball, Basketball and even (some distance behind) Ice Hockey while the rest of us indulge our passion for the Beautiful Game?
The question is framed in terms of American exceptionalism: a central theme in political sociology since Werner Sombart's famous book: Why is There No Socialism in the United States? It is deftly answered with reference to Marx's theory of the 'stickiness' of cultural forms, which, boiled down to its essentials, states that once things get set up in a certain way, it takes a long time to change them. The authors understand sport as a cultural form and convincingly argue that national sports spaces across the world established themselves by the end of major industrial expansion around 1930. In this period, for various reasons, the Big Three and One Half sports froze out football from the North American sports scene. To understand why, we have to travel though the histories of Baseball and American Football (which both develop away from their English cognates and rivals, cricket and rugby), and Basketball (the only completely indiginous North American sport, as it was invented to be played in a confined or even indoor space for the working classes). It is a highly informative journey which takes us through the sports politics of the major Ivy League Colleges, the rise of professionalism and the desire of new immigrants to drop their native football as fast as their European accents in a attempt to blend in with their new homeland.
Football simply doesn't make it in time and the rest of the book takes us through its perennial struggles. It is an entertaining narrative of rise, decline and rise, which, as well as bringing back the heyday of NASL (which registered on the consciousness of European sports fans in the 1970s due to the import of world stars such as Pele, Beckenbauer and Best), highlights the failures of serial institutional mismanagement in making a difficult situation even worse. (The book should be required reading for the English FA!) The role of television as the make or break factor in the success or failure of the game is one of the most telling themes in the book: advertising as well as the cost and accessibility of primetime slots are of immense importance. (Perhaps someone at ITV should have read this before forking out a fortune to ruin its Saturday evening schedule.) The book ends with a detailed analysis of the successful new league, and the growing stature of the national side through the World Cups of 1994 (which the USA hosted) and 1998. It wades its way through a mountain of press coverage to outline the chances of the game making it into the big time over the next 30 years or so. There is some cause for optimism: the game is very popular as a recreational sport (especially amongst the younger generation - albeit in predominantly white areas) and as a woman's sport.
So: a compelling and convincing read for European sports fans with a desire either to know more about the history of the sports scene in the USA or to reflect on the impossible (a life without football); for social scientists interested in the wider phenomenon of American Exceptionalism. But also for sports administrators, for gender and race theorists, and anyone interested in the role of the print or electronic media in today's sports world.
Please also visit Andy Markovits' official
University of Michigan website