Tiger Woods regularly kids Roger Federer that he will break Jack Nicklaus record of 18 PGA titles before Federer breaks Pete Sampras record of 14 Grand Slam tennis champions. That well maybe and when it happens it will not raise an eyebrow because Woods is arguably the best golf player in history and its most internationally recognized exponent. He has in doing so, broken a racial barrier and notched many firsts in his game.
However even Tiger with all his accolades and achievements realizes that he does not have the onerous task of transforming a sport out of its moribund state and making it as visible and viable as American football and basketball. That distinction befalls David Beckham when he arrives at the LA Galaxy this summer and carries with him the hopes of many thousands soccer fans who have waited this long for the second coming of the global game in this country. Will he succeed where Pele and the NASL failed?
Surprisingly, it is Tiger Woods who gives the answer. In the wake of the LA Rams and LA Raiders abandoning So Cal, a void has been created with people looking for something else and they will turn to Beckham and soccer. Only problem with Woods' analysis is that the Raiders left for Oakland in 1995. Those Raiders fans, amongst the most fanatically loyal in the NFL simply followed their team there. Soccer did not see a rejuvenation in So Cal following their departure. Which leads us to the axiomatic" American football fans do not watch soccer." And they will not watch it if you imported all the Beckhams, Tottis, Van Nistelrooys, and Thierry Henrys into your team. Beckham is not going to generate interest in the demographic that came out to see the Rams and the Raiders.
So it was no surprise that Woods when he was asked whether he would follow MLS now that Beckham was moving to LA punted by saying,"I'm more of a basketball-baseball-football kind of guy." He might watch it on ESPN in between his games but don't expect him to become a fullthroated follower. What Woods harkens to is the likelihood that Beckham and the LA Galaxy might be reduced to a novelty act much like the Harlem Globetrotters. Unlike Mia Hamm and the 1999 World Cup winning squad, there is no indigenous role model that mens soccer can look upto, no story like that of the Texas Western Miners who broke the racial ceiling in basketball in winning the NCAA title in 1966 and paved the way for black athletes. Soccer is not yet part of that sports folklore that creates myths and heroes. To expect a player from another country, who has made his fame and fortune elsewhere, to usurp that story is a bit fallacious. We don't need Beckham, the great white hope. We need our own heroes.