During my time over in Kenya I undertook an internship at a refugee camp on the border of Sudan. It was probably one of the most intense experiences of my life.
I had been at the camp for a few weeks, and Thanksgiving was approaching. The days prior had been rough. Daily loss of electricity, a torrential rainstorm that triggered a flash flood through the camp, the oppressive oppressive heat, and just the day to day hardships that one hears as a camp aid worker had worn on me. I was feeling bummed in general—and being far from home on a holiday wasn’t helping.
I had scheduled a phone call home to my family which I knew was gathering at my aunt’s house for the holiday. I had been looking forward to the call for a long time. I thought for sure they would have a lot of questions for me about the camp and what I was doing, or at least about Africa in general but instead my conversation went like this:
Dad: “Hey, Happy Thanksgiving! What’s the time there right now? So, do they watch [American] football over there on this day too?”
Uncle: “Happy Thanksgiving! Don’t worry, I’ll eat your share of the turkey, ha ha, anyway, what time is it over there? Any big [American] football fans working with you? Are they watching the game?”
Aunt: “Happy Thanksgiving! We are watching the game… is it on over there too?? By the way, what time is it there?” etc, etc.
I was aching for some telephone bonding, but instead they wanted to talk about [American] football… which is a longwinded way of getting to my topic du jour—sports.
I think by now you have realized that my dad’s family is big into [American] football. He is a Buffalo Bills and Dallas Cowboys fan (I know, an odd combo, but hey, I guess it can happen). One of my sisters follows the Colts (she even named her dog Peyton!) I have uncles supporting the Bills, the Dolphins, and the Patriots; aunts who like the Bills, Patriots, and the Giants; before my grandfather passed away, he was a lifelong follower of the Green Bay Packers.
Holidays with my dad’s family are filled with lots of people, lots of food, and lots of [American] football. My cousins are into it, the in-laws are into it, probably even the dogs are into it (every family has their dog), and sometimes I don’t know where I came from… I just don’t care about the game. I’m one of those people who grudgingly watches the Superbowl for the commercials and food at the party. When my dad took us to the local college games as a kid, I’d watch the band and the cheerleaders. I apologize to [American] football fans out there, but I just don’t understand the game, I don’t care to understand the game, and I just find it boring. If it is any consolation, I’m not much of a sports fan in general.
D (the "Chelsea fan") and P (the "Man U fan") at a Barcelona game a few years ago. How is it possible that they can be friends?
Insert P. P is a wild and crazy football fan of a different nature. Football (minus the brackets), or as Americans like to call it… soccer. He played for the university when he was a student in Maine before he transferred to upstate New York and he has played intramural football as an undergrad, a masters and now a phd student. He is an adamant supporter of Manchester United in the British Premier League but also follows teams in Italy and Spain, as well as individual soccer stars like Argentinean Maradona (back in the day).
P, D and a friend from college at an Inter v. AC Milan game this past summer
One of his favorite procrastination tactics is watching goal highlights on FootyFilms and ESPN SoccerNet. He often watches games in Vietnamese or Chinese, and doesn’t care that he doesn’t understand the commentary, he just wants to watch the game. I have even seen him re-watch old goal highlights from games in the 70s, 80s and 90s just to “re-live the experience.” I think if he had the chance, he would abandon his phd and become a professional soccer commentator if the opportunity came along (“gooooooooaaaaaal!!!!!”)
The last time the World Cup was on he rented a DVR and ordered cable tv just for the month so that he could record and watch nearly all the games. Out of 64 I think we saw about 56. Now that’s a lot of football!
P in his Ireland jersey. When people travel, they now pick him up the "local" jersey.
I’m stuck between these two extremes. I have no interest in [American] football, but I’ve slowly grown fond of “the real football,” if anything, because it is always around. What really won me over was the 2006 World Cup. I watched some of the games in 2002, but it wasn’t until the DVR that I really got into the matches, and supported teams. I tend to root for the African teams (surprise surprise), and in 2006 I was excited about the underdogs Trinidad and Tobago (even though I knew they probably wouldn’t go too far). I am actually excited for the 2010 World Cup, and had really hoped to actually go to South Africa (I figured it was a great way to bring together our two interests… football and Africa) but alas poor planning, too much international travel last summer and not enough funds kiboshed that plan. Ah well, there is always a DVR to be rented.
I do appreciate my new found knowledge of football. It really helps when working with international students. Football can be a quick cross-cultural bonding tool. I could connect with Sudanese and Somali refugees at the camp (where big football games were organized), or the Bangladeshi and Jamaican students who I commiserated with last night at work (“I completely understand… I agree it makes more sense to call soccer ‘football’ when the ball is on your foot for 90 minutes of the game”). Although, I usually try to feel someone out before blurting that P loves Man U… its like saying you like the Yankees. Depending on their loyalties, people can go crazy!
For the time being, I’ll stick to the World Cup. I think it will be quite a while before I have a “team” in the British Premier League, so don’t get too excited ;)