Diving, soccer, and cultural differences about the morality of rulebreaking

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10 Responses

  1. Ken Rhodes says:

    >> In Anglo-American cultures, diving is wrong because it’s rule-breaking, and that is worthy of moral condemnation on its own terms…>>

    Goodness, thank heavens here in America we never have to see those morally reprehensible scoundrels falling to the ground in agony after punting in the NFL, or landing painfully on their backs after posting up in the lane in the ACC.

  2. David Fagundes says:

    Ha. Fair enough, Ken. But behind the sarcasm, I take the substantive point–that perhaps the empirical proposition on which my post is based is flawed, and there’s plenty of diving in US sports. This would be interesting, and would mean that those Americans who deride diving in soccer are major hypocrites, because they tolerate it in football and basketball but act as though it’s unacceptable in soccer.

    There is certainly some diving in US sports, as I indicated in my post (basketball, especially). I’ve seen many Laker games where Derek Fisher goes to the ground after a mild bump, draws the charge, and the announcers who see the ruse always laud him for “veteran wiles.” Football, not so sure–I recall last year when Cal faked injury after injury to slow down Oregon’s high-octane offense, they were widely critiqued even by fans who wanted the Ducks to lose, and I don’t recall any other team trying that tactic afterward (though it was really quite effective for Cal–they almost upset Oregon’s perfect season).

    So it’s a continuum, not a perfect binary, but I think it’s safe to say that faking injuries or fouls to gain advantage is much less prevalent in Anglo-American sports, and especially soccer, than in other countries. I see players from some countries simulating injury to drag out the clock almost every one of the numerous games I’ve watched in, say, the Argentine Primera Division.

    And regardless of the empirical reality, the real point of my post is why members of some soccer cultures react to (real or imagined) diving as utterly abominable (see the column by EPL ref Graeme Poll linked in the post above) while others regard it as a mild annoyance not worthy of comment.

  3. Justin says:

    Meanwhile, Canadians think the rest of the world is sissies. Have you ever seen diving in ice hockey or curling?

  4. Ken Rhodes says:

    David — Thank you for your quick and thoughtful reply. I think you have identified two aspects of your original thesis that have merit:

    (1) I think “diving” in popular American sports (most notably football and basketball) is focused almost entirely on fooling the officials into wrongly assigning a foul. The punter, after getting off his kick, falls to the ground if any defender gets anywhere near him. And the drawing of the charging foul is an artform in the ACC. I think Americans frequently appreciate the artistry of a con job, so the American sports fan appreciates the artistry in fooling the officials, and (perhaps rightly) blames the official for getting fooled, rather than the player who fools him.

    This appreciation would not accrue to a person who simply lies on the ground, crying “ouch, I’m hurt.” Little artistry in that.

    (2)In countries where soccer (the “real football”) reigns supreme, the fans probably resemble our own football fans–a cross-section of all economic and social strata. In the U.S., however, I think a higher percentage of soccer fans are from the higher economic and social strata, where “dishonest behavior” is frowned upon.

  5. Jake Linford says:

    Interesting post, Dave. For basketball fans, at least, there is a tendency to tie diving (which is labelled flopping in NBA circles) to the influx of European (and to a lesser extent, South American) basketball players. In that account, flopping crossed the Atlantic with Serbian center Vlade Divac, and has been perfected by Manu Ginobli of Argentina.

    Surprisingly, Canadian-born Steve Nash played soccer as a youth and is lauded for having court vision like a good soccer player’s field vision, but tends not to draw criticism for flopping. The perceived link between soccer and flopping may not be as strong as the perceived link between non-North American basketball players and flopping. Perhaps there is a nationalistic angle to the flopping question in basketball, where fans in the U.S. see in influx of risible behavior by foreigners corrupting the game.

    I see flopping as a behavior that, much like a foul or a travel, is easier to perceive among members of the opposing team than the members of one’s own team.

  6. David Fagundes says:

    Ken, there might be something to the point about artistry, though I think players from diving-friendly cultures have perfected it more than anyone else. I saw a video that praised Juergen Klinsmann of Germany as the “master of the penalty box dive” as though it were part of his skill set (and, I suppose in a way, it was–the penalty he drew to win the 1990 WC final against Argentina was really more of a “penalty”).

    Jake, I think Nash is easily explained as a product of a non-diving culture. From what I’ve seen of soccer in the US as well as Canada and Jamaica (national teams as well as players from those countries in MLS), all largely Anglophone cultures, the idea of diving just isn’t as tolerated and doesn’t happen as much. So Nash came from a soccer culture, but not a diving soccer culture, so he wouldn’t be inclined to get divey in the NBA like a “Euro” player like Divac.

    That said, I wonder if the national-origin thing is overblown in the NBA (I don’t watch enough to know). Sure, Ginobili has a rep for diving, but do other Argentine players (Luis Scola, for example?). Do the Italian or German players have that rep (Nowitski, for example)? And I wonder if there’s simply cultural bias afoot, such as where when we see a US player draw a ticky-tack foul, we praise him for intelligence and craftiness, but when we see a Euro do the same thing we attribute it to some national-origin pathology.

  7. Joey Fishkin says:

    Just thought I’d throw in a plug here in the comments for a couple of papers by my colleague Mitch Berman, who has a whole (side) research agenda built on viewing sports questions like these though a legal-philosophical lens. E.g.
    http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1667140
    http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1830403

    Another interesting one is deliberate fouling. Is a foul a tactic one can legitimately choose, and just “pay” the resultant penalty? (That seems to be the norm in basketball.) Or is it something more like a crime — bad sportsmanship — that one _ought_ not to commit even if the expected reward is greater than the expected punishment? The norm depends on the sport (and on the type of foul). But often I think people who are coming to a sport for the first time import norms from other sports, and those imported norms lead them to find things unsettling about the new sport (e.g. diving) that regular fans view as normal, legitimate aspects of the game.

  8. Anon says:

    I don’t watch soccer, but I do watch a lot of basketball. I think there is a lot of “diving” in the NBA, but I don’t think it is universally tolerated among fans. Indeed, over the past few years there has been a lot of talk about allowing officials to give technical fouls to players who flop. And, for what its worth, I do think there’s a widespread perception that European players flop way more than U.S.-born players. So, as a Rocket fan, I can confirm that Luis Scola (from Argentina) has to be one of the worst floppers in the NBA. I think a lot of U.S.-born players view it as being a sissy.

    Also, according to one player poll, the top three “floppers” in the NBA are foreign born: http://sports.yahoo.com/nba/blog/ball_dont_lie/post/Player-poll-rates-notorious-floppers-as-NBA-821?urn=nba-wp868. That article also includes the following:

    Some observers argue that an influx of foreign players steeped in the culture of soccer have made flopping a legitimate tactic in the NBA, but it’s interesting to note that, apart from the top three, this list isn’t exactly full of foreign players — in addition to No. 15 Sasha Vujacic(notes), six of the 15 players are foreign-born, and Barea may not count because he is from Puerto Rico and honed his craft over four years of NCAA ball at Northeastern. (Oh, and flopping is just as bemoaned by the foreign soccer press as it is in the NBA.) So, blame Europeans if you want, but it’s not as if Derek Fisher learned how to flop his way to charge calls just because he saw Varejao do it once in 2005.

  9. Pablo says:

    As an Argentine, and having had the pleasure of meeting many Americans that moved to Buenos Aires, it is amusing / strange / funny / sad (your pick), to notice that they tend to very quickly “adjust” their cultural thoughts about the law once they depart from their environment. Somehow, jaywalking, speeding and “minimizing tax exposure” are not as important as it seemed to be back home.

    I generally believe most people think and act the same anywhere. South Americans and Anglo Americans are not much different. It´s just a matter of what are the chances of actually getting caught and the harshness of the punishment. For example, in Argentina, in the event of insider trading, there are no criminal sanctions and the maximum fine that may be imposed by our local SEC is irrelevant. Tax evasion is rampant and socially accepted -on the questionable basis that if you pay taxes (i) the government will use the funds for purposes other than furthering the prosperity of the country, or (ii) your competitors, who do not pay taxes, will drive you out of the market-.

    Of course, same caveat as the original article, this is a limited conclusion from an also limited number of cases I have had access to.

  10. Jimmy says:

    Soccer is a sport that is intertwined in my DNA.