Why Soccer Is Not A “Man’s” Game

Like many Americans, my heart stopped in the last few seconds of the World Cup game against Portugal and was restarted after the finish of the games on Thursday. The US team survived the “Group of Death” by the skin of their heads.

Unfortunately, I felt more disheartened when I watched an interview with bald headed mid-fielder, Michael Bradley.

Michael Bradley “Fairly or unfairly some people criticized you after the draw against Portugal, how do you think you played today?” asked the interviewer. In the game against Portugal, Bradley missed a point-blank shot on goal with no goalie and turned over the ball at the end of the game which lead to a last second goal by Portugal to even the match.

Michael Bradley responded, “I’ve been around the game long enough to understand that it is a man’s game, and it is not for the guys who want to hide, and it’s not for the guys who aren’t strong enough to take it.”

A man’s game? Really? In America, I wouldn’t pigeon-hole soccer as a man’s game, especially since the US Women’s team holds two World Cups, while the men’s team has never sniffed at a championship.

But what really disturbs me is how manhood is being defined for all the world to see. Manhood equals guys who don’t hide and are strong enough to take it. Under attack, real men take the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune and toughen up—don’t feel a thing. They don’t hide behind soft emotions like hurt and disappointment.

Don’t get me wrong; I appreciate all Bradley has done to get the US team into the World Cup and out of the “Group of Death.” His stability and leadership in the mid-field grounded the US team in many tough situations. He is easy to spot with his bald head which makes him easy to blame when things go wrong.

I have nothing against Bradley’s performance on the pitch. My critique is of his pitch in front of the microphone.

When asked about Bradley’s performance in the World Cup, Landon Donovan stated, “Michael will tell you that he’s not played as well as he can play, but the one thing you get from Michael always, is you get a guy who competes, and so no matter how Michael plays technically…he always competes and he always battles.”

Actually, Landon, Michael won’t tell you that he’s not played well because we asked him and he said something about soccer being a man’s game.

I agree with Donovan that Bradley always competes, but why does a man need to compete when the game is over? Why can’t a man admit his mistakes and emotions?

Wouldn’t it have been great if Bradley replied to the question about the criticism with an honest response like “when people say things like that, it hurts. I know I haven’t played as well as I could, but I’m going to keep trying.”

In the men’s group I run, one of our ground rules is “no competing.” It is amazing at what happens with a group of men when we stop competing with each other. A number of older men have told me that they have never been in the company of men without competing.

When we stop competing, we are free to reveal our mistakes, our pains, and our tenderness. From what I’ve seen, this authenticity and vulnerability is more manly than hiding behind the tough guy façade.

I really hope that Bradley performs well in the elimination round. I would love to see the US advance and possibly play against Argentina. But if they lose, I hope they act like men and show the full range of their emotional spectrum.

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