Is American Media “Getting It?”

Editor’s note: Max Rosenthal, a recent graduate from the University of Virginia, will be writing for regularly. For more on Max, see our about page.

The last few days have been a sort of high-water mark for coverage of American soccer fans, with writers both here and overseas pumping out profiles of U.S. fan groups. They make reassuring reading if you’re a member of one of those groups, talking about the passion and color of soccer support and distancing what’s going on here from hooliganism abroad.

Of course, most of them also read something like anthropology papers. American sports journalists turn into Jane Goodalls around dedicated soccer fans, standing overwhelmed among the flag-waving gorillas attempting to explain to everyone else where the noise has suddenly come from. Soccer supporters may, in the words of one article, finally be “getting it,” but they are still unexpected and possibly unexplainable.

The fans, of course, know there’s been nothing sudden about them. Hardcore supporters’ groups have a history in the country at least as old as the start of MLS (and probably before, though I know nothing about that timeframe). Groups that appear in articles to pop out of nowhere, like MLS’ current media darlings the Sons of Ben, are building on what is now over a decade’s worth of work by others such as La Barra Brava in DC and Tom’s Section 8 in Chicago.

Coverage, any coverage, is still great, but MLS has reached the point where the type of writing matters far more than just getting in the paper. Turning one-off articles into informed, sustained reporting is still a leap that most media, especially in America, can’t make.