America: The Game


Americans, it’s well known, aren’t interested in soccer. Americans prefer the other football. We don’t like hockey either, which isn’t surprising, since it’s a lot like soccer played on skates. It’s hard to find definitive rankings of U.S. sports by popularity, but every source I’ve found lists the top three as:

  1. Football
  2. Baseball
  3. Basketball

Hockey is always fourth or fifth, or even lower, and soccer barely makes the list. UFC, NASCAR and WWE (which isn’t even a sport) are way more popular.

Soccer, of course, is the world’s most popular sport, so this yet another way the U.S. is an outlier on this earth. But why is it so?

Here’s a theory:

Soccer and hockey go for long stretches where there’s no clear winner. You see lots of players running (or skating) around in a beautiful exhibition of athleticism, but the scoreboard is the only thing that tells you what team is on top.

This is not the case with football, baseball and basketball.

Football is split up into four downs and ten yard spans. The team with the ball gets four chances to go ten yards. The game completely stops between each down. A down lasts for maybe five to ten seconds, and during those few seconds the team with the ball either moves forward or they get pushed back. If they don’t move at least ten yards forward in four tries (really, three), they have to give the ball to the other team.

So for every down – and every set of four downs – there’s a clear winner and loser. That’s a winner every five to ten seconds.

Baseball is even more atomic. Baseball is broken down into pitches, outs and innings. Every pitch results in a ball, strike, foul, hit or out. In other words, every pitch has a winner and a loser. Every inning too.

In basketball, it’s possessions. You get the idea.

Americans like things we can win, and the more opportunities there are to win, the more we like it. If a sporting event is a metaphor for life, then Americans don’t want to wait til the end to know whether they won or not. We want the opportunity to win over and over again; we want another shot after losing a down, or a pitch or a possession.

This is how we do everything in America. Look at our financial industry or our healthcare system. We seem to prefer a healthcare system with clear winners and losers, over one where everyone is protected. We prefer to an arguably corrupt financial system that we can game, over one that would guarantee prosperity for all. Not only do we like to win, we like there to be losers.

The chance to win once every few seconds  is more enticing than the idea of running around for 90 minutes having fun.

[image above via]

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