Friday, June 6, 2008

On Adrian Mutu, cocaine and the gloablization of sport

For all the talk about how futbol will never catch on in the United States, I’d like to add another counter-argument to the pile: Witness exhibit A, to the left, which shows that today the fourth most accessed story on was an AP report that Adrian Mutu was fined $18.6 million by FIFA over his suspension and eventual sacking in 2004 for cocaine use. As you might recall, Mutu was signed by Chelsea for around 10 million euros but barely lasted a season due to a failed drug test. Hence, FIFA's proposed fine comes out to roughly the amount that Chelsea spent on the transfer fee. (To Mutu’s credit, he seems to have made good on his dalliance, keeping his proverbial nose clean in the Serie A, and is about to lead Romania at the Euros.)

Now, back to the story, because as shocking as a $18.6 million fine might be, when you actually read the article you see that the matter was referred by the Court of Arbitration for Sport so that FIFA could calculate damages. The case will be appealed to a civil court, who could overturn the ruling or reduce the damages. So, a $18.6 million fine sounds like a fairly salacious news story, and it might be, but this leads to my point....

How the hell did this wind up being the fourth most read story on if no one in the United States cares about football?

The answer to this admittedly strawman argument is that people in the United States do care about football because football is capable of producing just as much, if not more, interesting news than any other sport. For all the idealistic talk about the purity of sports, the truth is that sport is very much a soap opera. If you doubt this, than you have never listened to sports talk radio or read a sports blog. And I don’t mean “soap opera” in the pejorative sense, but rather that there is an inherent drama that goes into the game and, as Ronaldo’s tranny hookers have shown us, what happens off the field is often just as amusing as what happens on the field.

By sheer economy of scale, football has so many more players, teams, managers, owners and Special Ones, meaning that there are that many more opportunities for wacky news fodder. Hence, Mutu’s $18.6 million fine making it on to’s hit page. All it takes are a certain number of bored office workers to click onto a salacious-sounding headline and voila.

This is why tWWL’s move to cover the English Premier League makes so much sense, and why growing football in the U.S. by covering Europe rather than boring MLS makes sense too. Footballers are, as a group, just as fucking insane and classy and flawed and amazingly gifted as any athletes in the NFL, MLB and NBA (and maybe NHL, but other than the occasional fight or slashed jugular vein, hockey players are fairly dull). With all the Friedmans talking about the global economy, why not give more coverage to the World’s Most Popular Sport? It is more exotic and -- the crucial point -- you don't give up anything by following football. You can follow the NFL, MLB and NBA and football too!

And here poor Adrian Mutu thought that he had only done a few lines of blow. No, I say that he has brought a revolution to these very shores!


Mike Georger said...

a lot of it probably is people bored at work clicking on every news article they can, and something with a huge fine and drugs in the title is going to draw attention

sucks for him though

Goat said...

Although I hate to see Tom Friedman used to make a point I agree with, I've long thought that American sports fans are quite capable of following yet another sport. I and all my friends who like soccer haven't had to declare our fanhood in other sports null and void. On a somewhat unrelated note, it never ceases to amaze me what prudes Americans are. If the Ronaldo tranny hooker scandal or the the various ManU hooker parties had happened here, we'd still be trying to overcome our collective case of the vapors. Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got to go find out about that $6,000 melon. Seriously, that's got to be one awesome melon.