Tiger Woods weighs in on the Beckham factor

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.

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7 comments on “Tiger Woods weighs in on the Beckham factor
  1. I pretty much agree, America always has and always will look to their ‘own’ as the prople to follow in a certain sport but until you have a bona-fide soccer star doing it for one of the top teams in one of the top leagues, be it england, spain or italy – you’re really gonna have to follow the likes of Beckham as the leading soccer player in your country(whos only there for the money)..and unfortunately, you get his lovely wife too!

  2. Does Woods’ ownsport golf have a large viewership? Individual participation rate? I wonder how that compares?
    I don’t believe that I saw icehockey mentioned in the article; in some places in the USA such as Maine, Massachussets, Minnesota, etcetera that constitutes being a popular sport.
    Perhaps, that may prove to be an accurate analogy with soccer’s popularity in the future.

  3. The notion that you can artificially popularize a sport in a particular culture with lots of money and with big name foreign players is absurd. A sport becomes popular organically, from the ground up, over many decades or even centuries. It becomes rooted in a culture when it reaches the lower classes. The fact that Donald Trump can get into a cab and talk with the driver (who may be black or hispanic and comes from a totally different cultural/social universe) about the latest Yankee game points to the universal reach of baseball in US culture. Soccer/football in the US is still a white, suburban, upper middle class sport. Poor kids can’t even afford to play it beyond a Sunday afternoon in the park. Beckham’s not going to change that. Soccer may one day jump that class barrier in the US but it will take a very long time for that to happen, and it will have to happen from WITHIN American culture itself. This upper class English game grew wildly in South America over a long time and the people there adapted it to their local reality. That’s the process that hasn’t yet occurred here.

  4. Sandrahn
    Absolutely concur. There is a great story of how apartheid was conquered in South Africa by the indigenous soccer clubs adopting local traditions and rituals in their games. They made soccer unique in their country apart and away from the English game. In some way for soccer in the US to flourish it has to find its own voice- e.g., a team that is purely immigrant and wins against all odds by beating the top European teams. Soccer has the potential to inject itself into the immigration debate and change it for the better.

  5. I agree as well in that heritage plays a big part in the popularity of a sport but I disagree to the idea that bringing over big names wouldn’t help the sport’s popularity. If you took all the top level athletes away from the NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL and replaced them with farm team what’s their names those sports would suffer and wane in popularity. The more pertinant question is could the MLS Develop a business model that sustains and grows the league and saves it from the graveyard that the NASL is buried in were it to import international superstars. Large football stadiums throughout Europe are almost empty on game days because ticket prices are too expensive for the average joe to afford but the clubs can survive paying their players ballooning salaries through big media and sponsorhsip contracts. Paying players contracts through ticket sales only is not realistic. In North America, how do you compete with advertising dollars going to not just one competing sport but four which all have a much more storied heritage than soccer will ever have? Beckham will make soccer in North America popular but for all the wrong reasons and only for a short period of time. What the sport has to do in North America is to grab the excitement of the masses with its own version of the slam dunk, grand slam, big hit/touchdown and garner enough respect and advertising dollars from the media and big business to grow its popularity and sustainability in a market where fans pay $5000 dollars for a Superbowl ticket. Not in my lifetime unfortunately. Please pass me another cold Budweiser…

  6. FC
    “Not in my lifetime unfortunately.”
    Thats right. This is not going to happen anytime soon. And maybe it never will. I think if the MLS can achieve the status of the NHL, it will have surpassed expectations. But there are differences too- the NHL has the advantage of attracting the best players in the world because the leagues in Europe unlike soccer are not as developed or as well paying. Talents like Jaromir Jagr, Viktor Kozlov and Pavel Bure have added thousands of fans for NHL games.

  7. I was under the impression that soccer, like baseball, basketball, football, is a team sport. Dave can’t win matches by himself. Beckham’s presence can only help the MLS even just from a publicity standpoint. As far as comparing leagues, well, it’s apples and oranges. As far as an American player leading the charge… talk to Bruce Arena about why the MLS MVP did not make the World Cup Squad. Landon Donovan is not the best player in the US. Freddie Adu got zero chance for World Cup exposure. For all we know, the best American soccer player plays in some park somewhere in LA or Miami and can’t speak English. Beckham may be coming to LA for money, though I doubt it… people talk as if he isn’t ridiculously wealthy already… but where the hell else is he going to go? Columbus? The guy is a bonafide star and that angers people for some reason. Honestly, Tiger Woods gets asked all kinds of silly questions by the media. This is just another. Nobody seems to care that 90 percent of the top tennis players in the world live and train in the US while keeping homes in Monaco where they pay no taxes. Let Beckham play, evaluate his impact at the end of the season, and if he is an integral part of LA’s return to the top of the MLS and his face puts revenue into soccer and butts in the seats then he is well worth the investment.

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