A powerful cultural critique of soccer’s public rhetoric
American sports agnostics might raise an eyebrow at the idea that soccer represents a staging ground for cultural, social, and political possibility. It is just another game, after all, in a society where mass-audience spectator sports largely avoid any political stance other than a generic, corporate-friendly patriotism. But John M. Sloop picks up on the work of Laurent Dubois and others to see in American soccer—a sport that has achieved immense participation and popularity despite its struggle to establish major league status—a game that permits surprisingly diverse modes of thinking about national identity because of its marginality.
As a rhetorician who draws on both critical theory and culture, Sloop seeks to read soccer as the game intersects with gender, race, sexuality, and class. The result of this engagement is a sense of both enormous possibility and real constraint. If American soccer offers more possibility because of its marginality, looking at how those possibilities are constrained can provide valuable insights into neoliberal logics of power, profit, politics, and selfhood.
In Soccer’s Neoliberal Pitch, Sloop analyzes a host of soccer-adjacent phenomena: the equal pay dispute between the US women’s national team and the US Soccer Federation, the significance of hooligan literature, the introduction of English soccer to American TV audiences, the strange invisibility of the Mexican soccer league despite its consistent high TV ratings, and the reading of US national teams as “underdogs” despite the nation’s quasi-imperial dominance of the Western hemisphere. An invaluable addition to a growing bookshelf on soccer titles, Soccer’s Neoliberal Pitch serves as a model for critical cultural work with sports, with appeal to not only sports studies, but cultural studies, communication, and even gender studies classrooms.
John M. Sloop is professor of communication studies at Vanderbilt University and author of Disciplining Gender: Rhetorics of Sex Identity in Contemporary U.S. Culture and The Cultural Prison: Discourse, Prisoners, and Punishment.
“Soccer’s Neoliberal Pitch will interest scholars in a number of fields, including communication, sport studies, American studies, and cultural studies. It offers an interesting and engaging account of how meanings of soccer’s past and present are subtly shaped by economic and cultural forces.” —Thomas Oates, author of Football and Manliness: An Unauthorized Feminist Account of the NFL