As we near the third anniversary of Outkick the Coverage, things are rolling here. One of my goals for the site has been to make Outkick self-sufficient, that is, to create a business model that would allow us to exist without having to do any advertising at all. To that end we started Outkick Gear last year. Go buy your shirts and pants today, they’ll look stellar at the bar this summer. This week we debuted Outkick’s own CLE site for our lawyer readers. Every year we have to get a continuing education course credit. Now you can get those online credits while watching me talk about Johnny Manziel, conference realignment, Donald Sterling, the Big 12 bylaws and the legality of sports gambling. These will be the most entertaining CLE courses in the country. So all the lawyers who are presently billing their clients while reading the mailbag, can now go get CLE credit while billing their clients for these courses. (FYI, lawyers bill their clients for everything they do, work or otherwise. I’m sorry, this is the truth). If you’re a lawyer and you like Outkick, we’ve got you covered at a more affordable price than you can find anywhere else.
Our beaver pelt trader of the week is American goalie Tim Howard, for obvious reasons.
On to the mailbag, which is abbreviated this week because the completed mailbag vanished into the Internet cosmos when I clicked save about two hours ago. So here we go.
“Tons of you on Twitter, Facebook, the radio, and email: How good would America be at the World Cup if our best athletes played soccer?”
Our issue in soccer isn’t lack of athletes, it’s lack of skill. Let me break it down for you in four simple steps that compares soccer with baseball, a sport that most Americans have played:
First, why do you assume that our best athletes would be good at soccer? LeBron James is pretty much the consensus best athlete in American team sports, right now, correct? Just about everyone who emails me says, “Imagine LeBron James playing soccer,” as if that would somehow guarantee us a World Cup win. Okay, let’s shift things a bit. If the United States was losing in baseball’s version of the World Cup, the WBC, and needed to be better, would you also assume that LeBron would be able to throw a baseball ninety miles an hour? No way, right? Because throwing a baseball ninety miles an hour is a unique skill set that doesn’t necessarily translate to great athleticism. That is, having a strong arm doesn’t mean you can run fast or jump high too. That could be true, but some baseball pitchers can barely run and they have insanely strong arms. What’s more, having a strong arm isn’t all it takes to be a great pitcher. You need control and mastery of multiple pitches. That’s a talent that comes from decades of practice. The same is true with soccer. Just like most people don’t have strong arms, most people don’t have strong legs. Otherwise we would all be punters and field goal kickers. Strong legs are like strong arms, randomized talents that are distributed unequally amongst our population. Sure, LeBron might be able to kick a soccer ball fifty miles an hour and bomb a kick across the length of the soccer field, but he might suck at it too. In fact, odds are he wouldn’t have a strong leg at all and wouldn’t be very good at soccer. And even if he was good at soccer, he’d have to spend decades developing the ability to drill a shot on goal and drop a feathery pass between two onrushing defenders. All with his feet.
Second, we don’t need better athletes, we need more skilled athletes. The reason we lose in soccer isn’t because other countries have better athletes than us, it’s because their athletes are more skilled than ours. They pass better, they run better sets, they possess the ball better, make cleaner and crisper ball traps on passes, they have better soccer skill. In just about every facet of the game against Belgium — save goalie where Tim Howard was the bald Jesus — the Belgians were better than us at soccer. The Belgians weren’t more athletic than us, they were just better than us. Again, imagine soccer as a baseball game, when was the last time you watched a baseball game and thought one team beat another one because they had better athletes? Or hockey? When your team loses in baseball or hockey you don’t immediately think, we need better athletes. You think, we need to get better players. Sure, athleticism is part of that equation, but skill is probably more important since you wouldn’t reach the professional level without being a pretty good athlete too.
Third, athleticism matters, but every country’s “best” athletes excel at sports that require the most basic athletic movements. Our “best athletes” don’t usually play team sports, they run track. Running and jumping are the most basic of athletic traits, right? If you’re a great runner or a great jumper, you probably do that. If you can translate those skills to another sport, then you may do that too, but does anyone think Lionel Messi would have a blazing forty time? What makes Messi unique isn’t his athleticism, it’s his incredible skill with the ball. Being great at running and jumping doesn’t mean you would be great at soccer. Soccer’s a talent just like baseball. Our best athletes don’t play baseball and if they did they might not be very good at it. Michael Jordan and Tracy McGrady, two incredible athletes, both played baseball. They weren’t very good at it. I mean, they had talent and athleticism, but they looked awkward playing baseball. They had huge strike zones, the sport didn’t fit their athleticism. The same would likely be true of soccer. Sure, some of our top athletes would be pretty good at soccer, but they’d still have to develop the skill to compete at high levels. If athleticism was all that mattered then Jamaica, land of the greatest sprinters in the world, would be incredible at soccer. Instead, they suck at soccer. Their players are athletic, but they lack the skill to compete with the top soccer players.
Fourth, stop with the other countries best athletes all play soccer while ours play other sports argument. The simple truth is, so what, our population is massive and we have wealth and free time to pursue mastery of sports, two attributes that China and India, for instance, don’t have. Belgium has 5.5 million men. We have nearly 160 million. We have more American boys playing soccer in our country today than Belgium has. So even if Belgium’s best athletes play soccer, we have more soccer players than they do. Their players just end up more skilled than ours. For the same reason that our baseball players end up better than most of the rest of the world, because we have generations of embedded skill training our players. That takes time.
Basically, in making the “best athlete” argument you’re overlooking the tremendous amount of talent required to be good in soccer. America’s issue going forward is not athleticism, we have the athletes, it’s skill. It’s fun to think about whether or not an athlete’s talents in one sport would translate into another sport, but the reason we’re losing is because our best players aren’t skilled enough at soccer, not because of athletic inferiority. If our “best athletes” played soccer, we’d still lose the World Cup.
Many of you on Twitter, Facebook and email:
“What do you think of LeBron, Bosh, and Wade opting out of their contracts?”
The big story here, to me, is that LeBron reportedly got his two buddies to opt out of their contracts so that he could make more money. Effectively, LeBron made Bosh and Wade give him millions of dollars that otherwise would have been their own. That’s worse than the Decision to me. In the Decision, at worst, you could say LeBron was uncouth in the way he chose to announce his new team. That’s more of a public relations flub than anything. But if you believe that LeBron and Bosh and Wade are actually buddies, what LeBron is doing here is making them give him their money. Now, we can argue about whether that’s justified on the court — LeBron’s clearly much better than they are right now — but they all still have existing contracts. There’s no way I would have ever agreed to opt out of out my deal if LeBron told me this was about him getting more money.
Now, if these reports are wrong and LeBron is also taking a pay cut, more power to the trio, they’re still acting in unison in an effort to win more games. But if the story here is that LeBron is demanding more money and the only way he can get it is by Bosh and Wade giving up their contractual guarantees, to hell with that. These guys aren’t free agents, they have contracts.
Put it this way, how pissed would you be if your friend came to you and said, “Hey, I’m taking 40% of your salary for myself.”
I mean, friends don’t do that, right?
If true, what a dick move.
How awkward was the Obama phone call with Clint Dempsey and Tim Howard?
Incredibly awkward. I wouldn’t have let that tape go public if I was Obama. People were like, “it’s great, President Obama called Howard and Dempsey.” But did you hear that call? He sounded like Mikey on Swingers.
He didn’t sound like a sports fan at all he sounded like I’d sound if I had to call the women who had just won the knitting competition.
“I really like,” awkward pause, “how you used those needles to,” awkward pause, “knit,” awkward pause, “those mittens.”
Knitters: They weren’t mittens, Mr. President! They were sweaters!
President: “I love,” awkward pause, “my sweater.”
“As we all know, there are some violently passionate and obsessive soccer fans out there — sometimes to the extreme of beheading and dismembering a referee (Brazil, last year). So what would happen if just before the World Cup final, a crazed fan rushes onto the field during warm-ups and beheads a star player? Or a sniper takes out Lionel Messi or some other superstar while he’s stretching out his hammies? Would they postpone the match and just reschedule at a future date? With billions of dollars in sponsorships tied up in the event, this would create a huge financial mess, obviously. I’m assuming FIFA has a plan in case this were to happen. This also got me thinking about it happening here in the U.S. before the biggest event of the year. How would the NFL handle Peyton Manning being murdered at midfield right before the Super Bowl by a machete-wielding Alabama fan, still upset about Manning’s beautiful 80 yard TD pass to Joey Kent on the first play of the game in 1995? Would the NFL proceed with the game at a future date? If so, what would be an appropriate amount of time for grieving before proceeding with the game?”
Well, back in 1989 the earthquake happened right in the middle of the World Series. Which is pretty crazy if you think about it. The biggest earthquake of most of our lives happened right in the middle of a World Series that featured teams from San Francisco and Oakland. And it happened during the game. What are the odds of that? Baseball took ten days off for this.
Then, of course, there was Munich in 1972. The problem with both of these stories is that they immediately turn sports stories into major national news stories. And most sports reporters are not equipped to handle actual news stories. I mean, CBS couldn’t even handle the lights going out at the Super Bowl a couple of years ago. It was a cluster—-.
The leagues must have a contingency plan, but is it impacted by who gets shot? If it’s a star then the game is canceled for sure. But what if it’s a special teams player? A back-up lineman? A trainer?
If Peyton Manning got shot would some people still blame him for losing the Super Bowl? “Tom Brady never got shot at the Super Bowl. I told you Manning’s lack of mobility was going to catch up with him. He should have dodged that bullet.”
What if Manning got shot in the arm — just a flesh wound — and still played?
NFL talking heads would all have simultaneous orgasms. “This is the toughest, most hard-nosed player ever. He got shot and still played. That’s what really matters in the National Football League.” (Why do NFL analysts insist on calling the NFL the national football league? Are we supposed to be impressed that they know what NFL stands for? No one says the National Basketball Association. This drives me crazy, because I always think people are doing it to try and look smarter. Put it this way, if I started saying, “This is for the National Collegiate Athletic Association championship,” how ridiculous would that be?)
“One of the best parts of being a fan of the USMNT is the battle cry “I believe that we will win.” ESPN’s commercials leading up to each game were bone chilling with the chant being the focus of each commercial. My question to you is what will our 2018 chant be? “Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can’t Lose” has to be on the top of the list. With your platform I say we push to make this happen.”
Fox has the World Cup starting in 2018.
I’ve forwarded your suggestion to my bosses, this needs to happen.