The Corner

Soccer and the Metric System

When I was coming of age, soccer was pushed on us, and so was the metric system — and for the same reason: The rest of the world did it; America was stubborn and behind, in its rejection of those things. America held on to this screwy imperial — imperialist! — system: feet and yards, pints and gallons. The rest of the world had this elegant and logical and non-imperialist — non-British! — system. America had its brutish sports: football, in particular. We needed to embrace the real football, soccer, played by thin, small, virtuous Third Worlders, who had no equipment save a ball, and maybe a few sticks for goals. Nets, too, if they were really lucky.

Soccer even had a slogan, kind of a campaign slogan: “Soccer, it’s a kick in the grass.”

In the Ann Arbor, Michigan, of my youth, soccer was somewhat ideological, like so much else. It was freighted with politics and attitude. Was this soccer’s fault? Heavens no. And neither was it the fault of the metric system. Those things, as things — as a sport, as a system of measures — are totally innocent. But I have these lingering associations . . . Soccer and the metric system were rebukes to American exceptionalism — American thickheadedness and backwardness.

Now, of course, everything’s cool, and we’d all walk kilometers to watch soccer. Wouldn’t we?

P.S. The best argument for soccer I know is the stellar Duncan Currie, my fellow NR-nik, my fellow editor and writer: soccer expert, soccer advocate, and soccer player. I’ve been much more respectful of the game since he came to work for us as an intern, some years ago. Sorry for the metric shtick, Duncan! (He’s heard it many times.)

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