US Soccer Teaches Us All a Lesson

By Bill Maher

Okay, I’ll admit it: America’s run in the World Cup was pretty exciting. Much like teenagers and sex, you didn’t even have to know what was happening to really get into it. It was also a nice change to see people chanting “USA! USA! USA!” …and not doing it ironically. 

One thing I wanted to know from people who do understand soccer was this: how come America, a country of 300 million people (301 if you count all of those Central American kids streaming across the border), can be outclassed by a country like Belgium, population Cleveland. The answer I got back made sense: we haven’t been playing the game as long as they have. We’ve only been taking it seriously for 25 years or so and they’ve been at it for 100. They have a generational advantage as well as a soccer infrastructure set up that’s designed to recognize talent at an early age and develop it. In places like Spain and Germany they start drilling and training kids at such an early age that even Venus and Serena’s dad is like, “Whoa, whoa. Take it easy. You’ll rob them of their childhoods.” 

American soccer has gotten better and more competitive with each passing World Cup. We’re setting up our own infrastructure, and the gap is closing. But you can’t expect America to compete at the level of the Brazils and Germanys and Argentinas just yet.

This reminded me of how we talk about race in America, specifically about affirmative action, or black achievement, or the recent discussions around Ta-Nehesi Coates’ Atlantic article on reparations. As Coates noted in his article and on the show, black America has only been playing the game for the last few decades. White America has been playing it for 300 years. You can’t expect all things to be equal yet, even if they’re equal under the law. The gap closes as the vestiges of racism and prejudice and discrimination get flushed out of the system – but the gap is surely still there.

And yet according to a recent Pew poll, nearly 90 percent of self-identified “steadfast conservatives” think that blacks who can’t get ahead are mostly responsible for their own condition. Only 5 percent thought discrimination might be holding them back.

In other words, no matter what America’s history, no matter how many generations of black Americans were subject to slavery, Jim Crow, segregation, the Drug War, Tyler Perry movies, apparently we’re all even now so quit your complaining. It’s on you. If Herman Cain can do it…

Why is this generational explanation so easy to understand when it’s about US Soccer and yet so purposefully ignored when it comes to black and white achievement gaps?