The following exchange took place on my NEWS page in April, 2003...

*********** Coach Wyatt: I discovered your website back in November after watching a team run a form of the double-wing and just run all over a more athletic football team in the West Virginia Class A playoffs. Since then, I have continued to read quite regularly.

I am a football and track coach (tried and true) and a semi-pro football player, but I am going to do something that many people would likely be upset about, but hear me out. I'm going to defend the sport of soccer.

When I was too young to be playing football, I played several years of soccer, and now that I have daughters in who are now at a competitive age, I have gotten involved, at least on a spectator level, and I have made some observations.

Soccer is not the enemy. Soccer has merely become the personification of a mindset that we can't stomach, a touchy-feely way of dealing with things and wanting to litigate success rather than making kids earn it. In my experience here in the states, soccer is played by the children of parents whose children won't participate in the barbaric sport of football with commoners. The SOCCER MOM is a symbol of affluence.

Go anywhere else in the world - Latin America, Europe - and soccer is the common man's game. Kids play it with great zeal on any spare field they can find and fans get excited about it. All kids, not just well-off kids. Grown men play soccer in parks rather than softball.

The game is also played with a physicality which, though it could never reach the excitement of Lambert growling, "That'll cool your ass," (2) is more physical than any basketball except that gorilla ball they play in the NBA. American soccer, and the attitude it seems to represent, is the enemy, not the game of soccer itself. Dan Polcyn, Gallipolis, Ohio

Dear Dan, Believe it or not, we are not that far apart.

I do think that in America, soccer represents a "Europeanizing" of our culture, with all the softness and lack of emphasis on competing that that implies. But I am well aware of soccer's importance elsewhere, and of the fact that at the right time and place (I'm not sure I know when and where that is) it can be very exciting. My son, who works for a sports network in Australia and worked for Fox Sports World before that, has been heavily involved in coverage of world soccer, and as a result I am not totally ignorant of the sport.

BUT... if soccer is to have any chance at all of succeeding in the United States, it has to attract the better athletes - not easy with football, baseball, basketball, and - in more and more places - lacrosse and ice hockey grabbing off their share.

I have maintained for some time that the soccer people have to drop their attack-football approach - trust me, they started it, because there was never any reason to notice them. And they have to attract tougher kids.

To accomplish this, I think they need to work out an athlete-sharing arrangement with football - we have them in the late summer and fall, they have them in the late winter and spring. It's the only possible way that the best athletes in America - let's be frank and say "black athletes" - are going to be attracted to a game that right now they see, rightfully, as elitist and white, for the kids who can't play anything else.

It's not going to happen, of course, because the soccer people have been very good at the money-raising and the political influence that builds their youth soccer empires, and they see football as the big, bad bogeyman every bit as much as we see them as a pain in the ass.

So I will support soccer elsewhere in the world, but I will do anything I can to run it out of the U.S.

*********** Coach, You and the reader from Ohio were both dead-on in your observations about soccer.

I happen to like the game itself and respect the athletic ability of the people who play the game on the highest level. I also had a great time at a World Cup game in 1994.

Like you, what I can't stand is what soccer has become in this country. As the reader pointed out, all over the world it's a poor kid's game. Kids play pickup games in the streets with balls made of rags.

Here, soccer is all about parents coughing up thousands of dollars so their kid could play on some select club team and they drive their kids all over the country year-round to play in hyper-organized tournaments every weekend in search of the college scholarship that they think is out there for their kids. I guess that fits into the liberal philosophy of throwing money at a problem.

The one thing I really appreciate more and more about football is that there is no AAU football or Olympic Development football. If a high school-aged kid wants to play football he has to play for his high school.

I realize the various camps are playing a bigger and bigger role in the recruiting process, but when was the last time you heard a football player say something like "I just play on the high school team to have fun and be with my friends. The camps are where the real competition is."

I hear things like that from kids in other sports all the time.

I once had a parent of a kid who plays Division I college soccer tell me how the coach handles letters from potential recruits: If the kid has only played for his high school team, the letter goes right in the trash. The kid could hold a state scoring record or some such thing and it wouldn't matter one bit.

If a college football coach did that, whom would he get to play for him?

Steve Tobey, Malden, Mass.

Added another reader, "someone has finally gotten it right."

Anyone who deplores, as I do, the feminizing effect of soccer on our culture has to enjoy reading the following essay (especially because, for once, it is not written by a football coach)...

The Secret of American Foreign Affairs

By Stanley K. Ridgley, Ph.D.

April 29, 2003

During his administration, Bill Clinton cut the United States Army from 18 active divisions to 10 and presided over an aimless "Blackhawk Down" foreign policy. How, then, could the U.S. military remain so formidable as to conquer Iraq, a nation of 24 million people, in three weeks?

A larger question is how does our military continue to outstrip the rest of the world in every category, from soldier training to leadership to the will to win? The answer to that question is one of the great secrets of American foreign affairs.

There is one primary reason for the rise of U.S. military power over the past century and its overwhelming capability to fight and win wars: American football.

Decried by some as a simple-minded sport that "glorifies" violence and appeals to the blue-collar, beer-bellied crowd, football is a phenomenon woven into America's social fabric and into the psyche of her people.

The United States is a football nation - football players and football fans - and this sociological factor sets Americans apart from every other nation on earth.

American football is a brutal collision sport in which every player's mettle is tested on every play. At its supreme level, the mutual human violence done in football is greater than that of any other sport in the world.

The only other sport that approaches football in bone-crunching controlled mayhem is rugby, another Anglo-Saxon game played almost exclusively by the British and Australians. Coincidentally, they were the two major powers providing ground troops for the war in Iraq.

Football is violent, but it is not aimless violence. Each individual collision is a tightly circumscribed competition that measures each man's heart, drive, intellect, skill and cunning.

On both sides of the ball, strategy and counterstrategy - the multiplicity of options on a single play - contrive to create an intricate and sophisticated contest. Football is as cerebral as it is violent.

The only people who cannot comprehend football's sophistication are snobs who would like nothing better than to believe that these slashing wide receivers and great gridiron behemoths smashing into each other are dumber than they are. What a devastating ego shock to realize that the average college professor would be incapable mentally, as well as physically, to play successfully the modern game of football.

Why incapable? Because a working intellect under intense psychological pressure and physical exhaustion is an entirely different quality than a working intellect languishing in the library.

Players must execute a sophisticated battle plan swiftly, decisively and flawlessly in extreme situations, while a similarly equipped and talented group of athletes is doing its best to stop them. Play after play, there is no room for error.

In football, there is no time for still more "resolutions." The threat must be perceived and evaluated and the correct decision made now or the consequences could be ignominious defeat. The ethos of football and its prerequisite talents, attitudes and qualities are inculcated in abundance in America's military leaders.

While the football ethos is reflected in America's national spirit and her military, the Europeans draw from a distinctly different sports tradition; one developed on the playing fields of Paris and Potsdam, Boulogne and Berlin.

The ethos of what Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld called "Old Europe" is exemplified in the game of soccer.

Soccer is a beautiful and well-powdered sport, much like "diplomacy," bringing to mind men in top hats and striped pants walking herky-jerky, as in black-and-white silent newsreels. Soccer is French jeu d'esprit , and it is the sport of the United Nations.

Soccer rules are easily understood, and the sport is imbued with a comradely egalitarian aspect. Players run about. They wave their arms. Sometimes, they fall down. Sometimes, they can even be tripped, and it is in these moments that Europeans first learn to be either bad actors or diplomats; tumbling on the turf, clutching a "bruised" shin, then bounding up unhurt to take a free kick (or a post-war oil concession.)

Soccer matches can and frequently do end in a tie. This abundance of scoreless ties leads one to suspect that for soccer players, as for U.N. diplomats, the goal is to stall until ultimately nothing is resolved, and no one can really be blamed. Tie-breaking "shootouts" in international play ought to be eliminated altogether, since an egalitarian draw of no winner, no loser, and no hurt feelings is a U.N. dream come true.

The activity, in the end, is pointless. But fans will neither despair nor rejoice at the outcome; aficionados in smoky salons, sipping espresso, can debate endlessly who played the better game.

Is it any wonder that the Old European nations shrink from decisive action, taking only tentative, mincing steps, hoping they'll never have to fight for anything and unable to decide firmly whether there is anything at all worth fighting for?

Consider also what American football is not . It is not about passing the buck, walking while others carry the load or debating until you are overcome by events. Nor is it about ennui, languor and the c'est la vie attitude.

Football is about character and courage, might and mettle, decisiveness, strength and stamina. It is about men who sacrifice, who dare great things and who are not afraid to win great victories.

Hundreds of thousands of American boys and young men play football each year, forging a distinctly American character in the fire of competition. This character is reflected in the American military and its successes.

I am not the first to claim more from sport than might be deserved. Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, supposedly credited his victory over Napoleon at Waterloo to his having been schooled on the "playing fields of Eton," his famous alma mater. So mightn't there be substance here?

Perhaps. American football might not be the great secret of American foreign affairs success of the past 100 years, but it does capture much that is true about the United States and her mettle. And surely, it is one small part of why she is great.

 Reprinted by permission of the author.

Stanley K. Ridgley is president of the Russian-American Institute. He served for eight years as executive director of the Collegiate Network, a national association of college newspapers, and for nine years as the editor of CAMPUS: America's Student Magazine. His articles have appeared in Heterodoxy , the University Bookman , the Charlotte Observer , the Raleigh News and Observer ,ORBIS foreign policy journal, and Charlotte Magazine , among others. In 1989, he founded the Duke Review , a conservative student newspaper at Duke University which still publishes. Dr. Ridgley holds a doctorate in political science from Duke University and a bachelor's in journalism from the University of North Carolina, and is a former military intelligence officer. He is the author of "Start the Presses - A Handbook for Student Journalists." He told me that actually he enjoys playing soccer, but, "Soccer's a 'jogging man's' sport and a sport for overprotective mothers who want to shield their young men from injury. I find soccer to be a robust metaphor for European foreign policy. "


A follow-up note from Dr. Stanley K. Ridgley, in response to my seeking permission for coaches and teachers to copy and circulate his article among friends and co-workers:

Coach Wyatt: Please tell your colleagues to reprint the article, copy it as they like, post it, and pass it around. Email it to their friends. I've always been more concerned with the influence of my writing than with niggling details. I'm glad your constituents are enjoying it. I wrote it for them. Best, Stan

(I'm sure that Dr. Ridgeley has been catching some heat for his theory, and it's important that he know that he has a grateful audience among football coaches. If you enjoyed the article, write and tell me so - coachwyatt@aol.com - and I'll pass your letter along to him.)

Hugh, I like the article by Dr. Ridgley so much I had it copied and e-mailed to all our faculty ( proper credit given of-course). It is probably the best thing I have read in a long while. Jack Tourtillotte, Principal, Boothbay Region HS, Boothbay Harbor, Maine

Coach, I thoroughly enjoyed Dr. Ridgley's article. I'm sending it to every football coach I know. Regards, Keith Babb, Northbrook, Illinois

Coach Wyatt, The words of Dr. Ridgely were fantastic. John Zeller, Sears, Michigan

Coach, I could do nothing but chuckle out loud while reading the article by Dr. Ridgley. He has, in one article, articulated perfectly our strength and how the lessons derived from football hone the leadership skills of some of America's youth. He has, also, described how soccer is a major culprit in the wimpification of the majority of American males..

The sad thing is, that the soccer mentality is a lot of times brought over to football. These moms, in their eternal quest to protect their boys' feelings, keep them from acquiring the self confidence, discipline, and teamwork skills that can be so profoundedly imbedded in a young man by the great sport of football.

No, football isn't a touchy-feely, lovey-dovey, let's all be happy game. It requires everything so eloquently said in Dr. Ridgley's article, and how sad for the majority of boys that they will never get the opportunity to develop these gifts.

How tragic that in their efforts to keep their young men from injury, these "soccer moms" cripple them, permanently.

Akis Kourtzidis Brea, CA

Coach, His article was awesome. There's a copy of it pinned up on the lunch room wall as we speak. Glade Hall, Seattle