Friday, February 18, 2011

Grant Wahl Wants to Challenge Blatter at FIFA - Who Wants to Challenge Gulati at USSF?

In the tiny world of soccer journalism in the United States, there really aren't any journalists whose names elicit an instant, gut reaction from soccer fans. There is no Skip Bayless, Jay Mariotti, or Jason Whitlock, or even a Jerome Solomon, of US soccer journalism.

While a good number of US soccer fans dislike, possibly hate, Jamie Trecker, that reaction doesn't stem from a visceral gut response, no, it stems from the "circle the wagons" mentality of soccer fans, who, let's face it, are not used to the unvarnished, sometimes brutal, criticism that is a staple of sports columnists and sports talk radio hosts who populate mainstream sports media in the United States. Sadly, too often soccer fans remind me of new parents who are overly protective of their first born, trying to protect him or her from germs and the realistic unfairness of life. But let's face it folks, you need exposure to germs to develop a strong immune system and you need to know that life isn't fair so that you can try to stack the cards in your favor.

The worst part about this "circle the wagons" attitude of US soccer fans is that it enables US Soccer, aka USSF, aka Soccer House, to operate in a way that surely makes former Bush White House Press Office staffers green with envy. Soccer House doesn't take too kindly to run of the mill criticism from journalists, let alone criticism that questions how Soccer House operates at its core. If Soccer House isn't happy about a recent column or article, or even press conference questions, from a journalist, it's not shy about limiting said journalist's access and/or even yanking his or her press credentials. The end result is there is little incentive for US soccer journalists to rock the boat.

There is a small, but surprisingly vocal, segment of US soccer fans who aren't happy with Soccer House and have a tendency to accuse soccer journalists of collusion with Soccer House cause they don't ask the hard questions or hold Soccer House's feet to the fire. In defense of my colleagues, it's hard enough to convince most media outlets, especially mainstream media outlets, in the United States to devote any time, column inches, or bandwidth to the Beautiful Game, imagine what it would be like to get your boss to allow you to cover soccer and then you have to tell him that your access and credentials were yanked cause you pissed off the wrong person.

This week American soccer journalist Grant Wahl managed to capture the attention of non-soccer sports media, hard news media, and foreign media outlets when he announced his intention of running against Sepp Blatter for the position of FIFA President. While I applaud Grant for his efforts, I can't help but think that it's safer for Grant to challenge FIFA and how it operates, than it is for him to challenge Soccer House and how it operates.

On December 2, 2010, FIFA announced that Qatar, not the United States, would be hosting the 2022 World Cup finals. This announcement instantly angered Soccer House, which had spent a ton of time and money on the 2022 bid, and US soccer fans who were sure that the US had a bid that would result in the most profitable World Cup finals ever. Meanwhile, England had lost out to Russia for the 2018 World Cup finals, making England and the US unlikely allies in the world of International football.

Thanks to that fateful day in early December 2010, Grant is able to use his "candidacy" to highlight the sins and corruption of FIFA in a manner that doesn't offend Soccer House and gains allies among the influential English football media. I gotta admit, I'm kicking myself for not coming up with the idea first.

Earlier this evening, a discussion with a colleague, who wishes to remain nameless, inspired me to write this column. While I appreciate what Grant is doing, and while I recognize that FIFA is one of the most corrupt sports authorities in the world, the issue dear to my heart is the growth of soccer in the United States.

Where? Where pray tell is the Grant Wahl who will challenge Sunil Gulati for the presidency of US Soccer? Where is the candidate who will say: "I want Soccer House to be something better than a house of mediocrity!"

I wish I could toss my hat into that ring and run against Sunil, but I am not worthy. In fact, as Richard Pryor's character pointed out in Brewster's Millions, "I'll only make things worse . . . and that's a promise." Let's be honest here, once I misused my power at Soccer House to get Alex Morgan's cell phone number, I'd neglect all of the job's responsibilities and find myself the subject of a story at Deadspin.

So, I ask you good reader, who will be my Soccer House Grant Wahl? Will you be my Soccer House Grant Wahl?

(FYI - Grant Wahl will be a guest on The Orange Slice on 1560 The Game in Houston on Saturday February 19, 2011. The show airs between 9:00 and 10:00 am central time. To get the online stream, CLICK HERE. In full disclosure, I am still on suspension from the show because of the disparaging comments I made on-air about Romanians named Bogdan.)

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