John Smallwood | Beckham a star, not a savior

Posted: July 13, 2007

I HATE TO BE the one to abruptly turn off the hot water, but Major League Soccer, the Los Angeles Galaxy, ESPN, VH1, "Entertainment Tonight" and anyone else trying to sell America on David Beckham's arrival as the biggest thing from England since the Beatles needs the slap to reality that only a cold shower can bring.

You want a rock 'n' roll comparison to Beck's official unveiling as a member of the Galaxy today, then forget the Beatles and think Duran Duran.

At the start of the 1980s, the "Fab Five from Birmingham" rode the crest of MTV's so-called "Second British Invasion" to a few years of prominence as a moneymaking band.

By while teenagers like me, mesmerized by a glitzy innovation called "music videos," helped push Duran Duran to the top of the charts, music critics scoffed at the idea of the band as a legitimate music talent.

The Beatles helped change the world. Duran Duran needed help changing makeup.

Along with the Beatles, the "British Invasion" brought over other such music-changing groups as the Rolling Stones, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and the Who.

Duran Duran's contemporaries were Adam Ant, Culture Club, Depeche Mode and Spandau Ballet.

Now, that's not to say that Beckham isn't a super-talented soccer player.

He's not one of the best in the world anymore, but he still has a lot of skill in that 32-year-old body. But as an impact athlete, Beckham's "Coming to America" is only the latest in a long line of overhyped events.

As a soccer fan, I wish it were different, but this is not a major sports story in America, because soccer is not a major sport in America.

This isn't Babe Ruth being sold to the New York Yankees or the Portland Trail Blazers drafting Sam Bowie instead of Michael Jordan.

In American sports, this is a hiccup, not even a belch.

Yes, there will be lots of media at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif. - the Galaxy's home field - but most won't be sports journalists.

This will be about Beckham the global marketing star and Victoria Beckham - the former "Posh Spice," whose reality television series kicks off on NBC on Monday.

Watch how many times former A-list actor and current Beckham hanger-on Tom Cruise is interviewed about Beckham's impending impact, and then tell me how much of a sports story this is.

Did we really need to keep seeing images of Cruise wearing sunglasses at night while watching Beckham play his final match for Real Madrid?

Most Americans find that kind of stuff annoying in sports they care about, so you can imagine how featuring Cruise as a "star in attendance" at Galaxy games will play.

Let's just say, it won't be Jack Nicholson sitting by the Lakers bench.

This week's Sports Illustrated cover features Beckham and the question: "Will He Change the Fate of American Soccer?"

As a fan who has waited three decades for the fate of soccer in America to swing upward, let me be one of the first to say, "No." At least not in any major way.

There will be an initial spike, and each time Beckham plays in a new city for the first time, interest will rise. But the real test for a Beckham-led MLS won't come until next season.

By then, the extra stuff will have died down, and Beckham will have to go about the actual task of selling soccer to a largely uninterested American sports public.

"I'm not coming [to the Galaxy] to be a superstar," Beckham said in January. "I'm coming to be a part of the team."

If that's true, than Beckham might as well take the next flight back to England or Spain or Italy. It would be OK for him to just be "part of the team" playing in one of the power leagues there.

In America, he will be asked to do nothing less for MLS than what Larry Bird and Magic Johnson started and Michael Jordan continued for the NBA.

He will have to do for the Los Angeles Galaxy what Wayne Gretkzy did for the Los Angeles Kings and the NHL when he moved from hockey-centric Edmonton to easily distracted Southern California.

Beckham is being asked to do nothing less than make soccer relevant to an extremely skeptical American sporting public, and neither being married to Posh nor being friends with Cruise will help him with that.

Considering how much American sports fans dislike entertainment intruding into their games, Beckham's ancillary interests could prove more of a burden than an asset.

Today, they will tell us that David Beckham will ultimately deliver "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band."

We're more likely to get "Seven and the Ragged Tiger."

*

Send e-mail to smallwj@phillynews.com. For recent columns, go to http://go.philly.com/smallwood.

comments powered by Disqus
|
|
|
|
|