New Blog Post: “…let’s at least fix the process so it makes sense.”
(May 23, 2012) These are the closing words of a recent column by Jacob Jaffe in The Stanford Daily. The column originally caught my eye because it began with a reference to the International Football Hall of Fame (which, incidentally, is actually titled the International Football Hall of Champions) and whether Chelsea Football Club’s Didier Drogba, off his performance against Bayern Munich in the recent UEFA Champions League Final, was a Hall of Famer.
Jaffe went on to research the history and development of halls of fame and to reach some conclusions, mostly summarized by the title of this column. But I’d like to share with you a different tack and my thoughts on why halls of fame are primarily, though no longer uniquely, a North American phenomenon and it is related to my thoughts on soccer/football as a game.
First proposition: Soccer is the most collective game on the popular sports landscape. While individuals in the game can reach personal heights of glory, it is the achievement of the team that is most often emphasized because the accomplishment of individual acclaim is so tied to the team’s success. Let me begin to make a comparison to baseball and football here to illustrate my point: Drogba was on the ball less than 10% of the time in the match, yet he scored the key goal for Chelsea and the winning penalty following extra time. But he does not arrive at either point without teammates providing their share of work. The goal, a magnificent and powerful header, does not happen without the exquisite corner kick provided by Juan Mata, who doesn’t get to take a corner kick without the gritty effort to force the ball off a Bayern defender by Fernando Torres, who is not in that position to… - well, you get the point – an interconnected web of events that led to a stunning goal. “Take that!” msnbc host and Chelsea fan Martin Brashir emphatically shouted on a Monday morning appearance on msnbc’s Morning Joe Show with ESPN columnist and Men in Blazers host Roger Bennett as Drogba’s headed goal was replayed.
Second proposition: The collectivism of soccer fits neatly with the cummunitariansociety of Europe, which is traditionally more urban and has more of a history of cooperative endeavor to solve problems. This manifests itself by the observation that more often European governments take an active role in providing society-wide solutions to the challenges that the society faces.
Third proposition: The North America culture is one of the “rugged individual.” From Horace Greely’s “Go west young man” to the Marboro Man and our traditional sports halls of fame, our society has looked to the individual as the exemplar of accomplishment rather than the team. It’s just our attitudinal heritage!
Contrast the above discussion of Drogba’s time on the ball with the amount of time sport icons like LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Eli Manning or Tom Brady have the ball in their respective hands. Every offensive play! They are always involved. The pitcher and batter in baseball are always the focal point, with much less involvement with the remaining eight players that make up the team on the field or at bat. In each of these games it is easy to see the value and consequent glorification of an individual.
Consequently, as Jacob Jaffe found out as he researched his column, there is not much of an International Football Hall of Fame. That is not to say there are no glorious museums that celebrate club and country in soccer/football, because there are. Visit almost any club’s stadium in Europe and you will find a trophy room that celebrates the team, its great wins, and the key players who were the backbone of the team through the ages. The museums just are not what the North American sensibility defines as a hall of fame.
Why all this? Because, in my opinion, in this distinction the hall of fame concept identifies important philosophical, societal, cultural, and governing differences between North America and Europe in stark and simple terms. Perhaps recognizing this difference could help us all to understand each other better.
Jack Huckel, Founder & Principal of J.R. Huckel & Associates, offers election and induction consulting services to Halls of Fame. Jack served the National Soccer Hall of Fame and Museum as Director of Museum and Archives for 9-1/2 years after more than 10 years as a volunteer and longer still as a soccer historian. More information is available at the firm’s web site. He can be reached at email@example.com or 518/852-3033.
Jack is a member of the International Sports Heritage Association, who’s 2012 Annual Conference will take place at the International Tennis Hall of Fame & Museum in Newport, RI from October 24 to 26. He is also a member of the National Soccer Coaches Association of America Board of Directors’ Executive Committee. He will become president of the NSCAA in January of 2013.