A Proposal to Fix American Soccer’s Diversity Problem

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In 2013, Roger Bennett of Men in Blazers and Greg Kaplan, a University of Chicago economics professor, looked at the effects of the pay-to-play system on American soccer by looking at socio-economic data of pro basketball, football, and soccer players from 1993 to 2013. They found the soccer players came from communities that had higher incomes, education, and employment rankings than basketball and football players, and soccer players were whiter than the US average.

Doug Andreassen, the chairman of US Soccer’s diversity task force, says the pay-to-play system in suburban neighborhoods works against poor minority kids because it is so costly. Additionally, the over-coaching style in these wealthier leagues often crushes the creativity of players who learned to play in the street.

Latino kids often live in low income neighborhoods and lack access to recreation facilities and organized sports, thus are at increased risk for obesity and chronic disease. Not only do they miss out on the numerous health benefits of physical activity, but they miss out on  the scholastic opportunities of organized sports-developmental and financial-as well as a culturally-relevant sport that likely played a role in their family for generations. However, because there are hidden barriers and costs beyond initial registration, such as transportation to practice and games, scholarships are not the solution.

“Families are still paying thousands of dollars for soccer teams that travel to faraway tournaments, which are often the only places college coaches go to watch players because their recruiting budgets are small,” according to one source.

The Urban Soccer Leaderships Academy in San Antonio, Texas (63.8% Latino), for example, strives to ensure that any child with the desire, commitment, and ability to play be afforded the opportunity regardless of financial ability. The Sound of Gol Foundation, uses the game of soccer as a vehicle to empower social and personal growth to shape youth into well-rounded leaders in their communities, while recognizing that the chance of going to college on a soccer scholarship could be a path to class mobility.

Andreassen wants to solve issues like this; however, rather than look at coaches or teams, he is looking at the top of the system, at the top of a fractured network of nationwide leagues. Andreassen and his task force drafted a proposal to create a national leadership academy to help underground leagues make it to the same table as wealthier leagues by teaching them about fundraising, tax filings, and field rental. The proposal also aims to address creativity in the sport.

Learn more about Andreassen’s proposal here.

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