Dutch speedskating coach Jillert Anema went a bit rogue during a Thursday interview on NBC’s family of networks, taking a shot at tackle football in the U.S. of A.
So how did a speedskating coach come to talk about “America’s Game” during a telecast of the Sochi Games? Well, he used it as an example of why there aren’t as many elite American speedskaters as there could be.
“You have a lot of attention for foolish sport, like American football,” he said during an interview on CNBC. “You waste a lot of talent, athletic talent, in a sport where it’s meant to kill each other, to injure each other. And when you compete once every four years, with talent, with a few lone wolves, who are skating, you can’t beat the world, it’s no way.”
“(The United States) is so narrow-minded, and you waste a lot of good talent in a sport that (is generally displeasing).
Now them’s fightin’ words.
As a longtime soccer aficionado, I’ve always taken criticism of it in stride. I basically ignore people who refer to as “kickball,” or claim that it’s too low scoring, or too boring, or too whatever. And I make a point not to ridicule any other sport because that would make me just as “bad” as those who ridicule mine.
But Jillert’s criticism (hopefully he won’t mind if I call him Jillert) made me curious about how the Dutch really feel about American football.
I thought about calling someone in the Netherlands and asking them but, to be quite frank, I don’t know anyone in the Netherlands — at least not anymore.
Back in the day I played soccer with an exchange student from the Netherlands, but we never talked about football. Or speedskating.
We mostly just talked about soccer, girls who like soccer players, and beer.
But after a quick look at Wikipedia (which has lots of information that is occasionally correct) I discovered that American football gained a measure of popularity in the Netherlands in the 1980s.
The late, great NFL Europa (formerly NFL Europe and the World League of American Football) featured the Amsterdam Admirals, which averaged more than 12,000 fans per game during their 13-year existence.
They even won the World Bowl in 2005, beating the Berlin Thunder, 27-21.
I’ll go ahead and assume that most of their fans were at least mildly interested in watching the Admirals ply their trade and not just there to scream, “We hate American football! We love speedskating!” although I have no hard data to support either theory.
Back to Jillert’s point, though.
Football is a violent sport and can result in catastrophic injuries. There is no question about that.
But let’s look at speedskating.
Remember how your mama told you never to run with scissors?
Speedskaters are reaching speeds of more than 30 miles per hour and they’re doing in with sharp blades attached to the bottom of their shoes (or in Holland they might be attached to wooden clogs, I really have no way of knowing without consulting Wikipedia again).
Either way, it’s highly dangerous.
And while football players wear high tech helmets and shoulder pads and compete on natural grass or artificial turf, speedskaters wear helmets and spandex and compete on ice.
Unless you’re a member of the Fantastic Four, spandex will not protect you from crashing onto ice at excessive speeds.
I’ve even heard that some skaters actually wear Kevlar suits, which suggests to me they might be afraid of encountering gunfire at some point during an event.
The bottom line, if Jillert doesn’t like American tackle football, that’s fine and perfectly understandable.
The Amsterdam Admirals (and NFL Europa) folded after the 2007 season so he’s probably still bitter about it.
If he wants to play the “danger card,” however, he needs to realize he’s coaching a sport that involves sharp blades, hard ice and spandex.
Combine the three, and you have a recipe for disaster.