Broken bones, blood, and bruises. Torn ligaments, ripped muscles, and dislocated shoulders. Players line the sidelines in bandages, casts, and braces. I challenge anyone to argue that football isn't a dangerous and physical sport. Oh, I'm sorry. I forgot. The rest of the world calls it football - we call it soccer.
I have played soccer for twelve years, and I have had all the ridicule I can take. How can anyone say soccer isn't a physical sport? I have had a limp since I broke my leg in a soccer game. Before that I had just finished recovering from a torn quadriceps muscle. The list of injuries from my soccer teams read like an emergency room - a broken leg, a broken nose, dislocated shoulder, twisted ankles, and the list goes on. Not to mention the normal cuts, fat lips, bruised ribs, and cleat-scarred legs. Some of the injuries are the result of players breaking the rules, but the referees let many calls go, and as far as the coaches and players are concerned it is just good, hard-nosed soccer.
Wimps, soccer pansies, and other, much more derogatory names are bestowed on me and my teammates. I can only think that those who are ignorant enough to say these things have never played a serious game of soccer. It seems that anyone who plays a contact sport (like football or hockey) believes they are the only "tough" people in the world. Maybe not all football and hockey players have that loose a grip on reality, but it seems like the majority do.
My common retort to oh-so-clever witticisms such as "Soccer wimp!" is usually, "Oh? Then why are we the ones that don't wear pads?"
To which the hockey players commonly respond, "Well, you don't get checked into the boards." They have a point. Being checked into the hard, rock-covered ground hurts much less. Playing soccer can hurt quite a bit, too. Football players argue that soccer players are not always slamming into and tackling one another. But even that is not entirely true. While it may not happen as often as in football, it does happen. At least a few times each game I am yanked to the ground or kicked in the knee by someone who gets a little too frustrated. How many times do football players get punched or elbowed? How many football or hockey players have had a large leather ball blasted off their nose at thirty miles an hour?
This is usually the stage of the argument where they start to point to players in the NFL and NHL. Yes, I have seen countless players stretched out on the grass or ice after a hard hit which leaves them totally incoherent. What people fail to realize is that just because we do not hear about it does not mean that professional soccer players are never injured. I still remember the horror of U.S. midfielder Tab Ramos lying motionless after being elbowed by a Brazilian player in the 1994 World Cup. He was sidelined for months with a fractured skull. He was lucky, though.
Even off of the field life is dangerous for soccer players. A Colombian defender who accidentally tipped in the winning goal for the United States in a 1994 World Cup game was killed after he returned to Columbia. European and South American teams have even been pelted with bottles and rocks by fans after losing championship games.
I am in no way trying to call football or hockey players wimps. I respect the pain and agony that they go through every game. All I am trying to say is that just because a sport is labeled "non-contact" does not mean that the contact is not there. It just means that it is not a legal part of the game. Soccer is a rugged, physical sport and it is time that the people who play it get the credit that they are due. l
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.