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He's Got Game Show
Six months ago, if you'd asked the average American adult to name a male soccer player (eight-year-old sons excluded), you'd likely have gotten a blank stare and the 25-year-old answer, "Uh...Pelé?" Now this perpetually overlooked sport finally has a new hero in the States—but he's a champ of a game show, not the World Cup. Ethan Zohn, 28, the $1 million winner of Survivor Africa, is an assistant coach at Fairleigh Dickinson who spent four seasons playing low-level pro ball as a goalkeeper for the Hawaii Tsunami and the Cape Cod Crusaders. Thanks to the 27 million viewers who tuned in to Survivor Africa's Jan. 10 finale, however, he's more recognizable than Claudio Reyna and Kasey Keller combined. We caught up with him shortly after he hit it rich.
SPORTS ILLUSTRATED: What do you think about being the most famous soccer player in America, though you're not even playing?
Ethan Zohn: Frankly, it's great because I don't think the youths of America have anyone in the soccer world they can identify with. I'm just a normal guy who loves soccer and plays at a decent level, but now I can create opportunities to be an ambassador for the sport and popularize it.
SI: What if some teams started recruiting you for a little reflected Survivor glory
EZ: If I'm going to get taken on for publicity value, I'd rather do it as a spokesperson for a team, rather than, say, being fourth-string goalie on the New England Revolution, with people just getting to see me warm up with the team. The general manager of the MetroStars said I could practice with the team anytime. I want to play on my own merit. Obviously I've reached my potential. I gave myself five years to make it, and I'm not going to be the next superstar, but I would like to be involved in the soccer world.
SI: How do you think guys like Alexi Lalas feel about your suddenly becoming the crown prince of soccer?
EZ: I threw out a ceremonial first ball at a MetroStars benefit game, and some of them asked where I had played. To them, the Cape Cod Crusaders are like a rec league team, and here I am, being identified everywhere as a professional soccer player. I did get paid to play, so I'm not embarrassed to say I'm a professional player. But I don't know how these guys take it I'd like to think they're happy because this could help the sport.
SI: O.K., so you want to help soccer. Now's your chance. Let's hear your sales pitch.
EZ: It gets criticized because it's low-scoring. I say, Look at baseball. People say the best game you could see is a no-hitter. Nine innings, no hits, and people think that's not boring?