Soccer fans in America lost a funny, insightful voice Friday as radio show World Soccer Daily permanently signed off after pressure, including death threats to friends and family, from a group of Liverpool FC fans. The threats began after co-creator Steven Cohen made a series of controversial and erroneous remarks concerning a 1989 stadium disaster in which 96 Liverpool fans were killed. Cohen issued an on-air apology and backed off his tendency to criticize Liverpool and its fans. That, apparently, was not enough.
While he remained vague on the details, Cohen alluded to the fact that his step-daughters had been contacted and/or directly threatened by people who wanted the show canceled. Likewise, threats were received by Steven's co-host Kenny Hassan, as well as several show sponsors. Much of the hate mail and mongering directed at Steven was also anti-Semitic. The announcement was made at the start of Friday's show and most of the call-in discussion centered on fans' expressions of gratitude, shock, and sorrow.
I know how they feel.
The daily show, which I listened to on podcast most times, had become an entrenched part of my life over the past four years or so. Hearing Steven and Kenny pack it in today was a gut check. After the 2006 World Cup, I realized how much I missed watching soccer, but I knew I was out of the loop. Fishing around for some help, I found WSD. The show brought me up to speed and kept me entertained. Over the past few years, it had gotten even better with the introductions of respected commentators and guests from all over the world. While they remained heavy on the English league, there was a real effort to make the show as all-inclusive as possible. I mean, they had a Turkish league correspondent, for Pete's sake!
What turned me on most about the show, though, was the pure love for the game. Everyone involved was nuts for soccer and they wanted to share that with other people. It didn't matter if you had been a fan for 50 years or five minutes, they would take your call. I can't even remember how many times they asked people for stories about how they became fans. At its core the show was about building up the beautiful game in America, and Steven, Kenny, and the rest did a lot to foster a passionate community, and they did it the right way. Even though they were satellite-based, they kept it family friendly (most of the time); some of their regular callers were from the U-14 set. They also didn't use their broadcast platform to return the hate being directed at them. They could have very easily gone on-air with specifics, called for violent reprisals, made things worse. They didn't. They tried to deflect as much as they could until it simply became too much.
It is one of the great freedoms of this country that we can disagree. It means you can voice your opinions, but it also means you have to listen to other people as well, especially when they're wrong. If something upsets you that much, don't listen. Tell everyone you know not to listen, but don't threaten people's children. There's never an excuse for that, ever. I find Rush Limbaugh offensive, so guess what? I don't listen to his show. I loved listening to World Soccer Daily, but that choice has been taken from me.
To Steven, Kenny, Howard, Rafa, Adam, and all the rest: Thank you. Thanks for giving me and thousands of other football fans two hours a day to think about and talk about the sport we love. You'll be missed and I hope you find a way back soon.