ESPOSITO: Soccer serves as much more than a sport

Nick Esposito

I have a serious confession to make. I am not a soccer fan. In fact, I honestly couldn’t name five teams in Major League Soccer. As it turns out, the Metrostars no longer count. I find that the games are dull to watch, and I do not understand why we play a 90-minute game just to end in a zero-zero tie. More often than not, the games, to me, are a mind-numbing bore played by guys with funny haircuts and cool accents. I understand why the announcer enthusiastically screams “GOOOOOOOAL!” when one team scores. It is because he is so utterly shocked and enthralled that there actually was a goal.

The sport of soccer, or “futbol,” is played in hundreds of countries around the world. In every country, the game is the same. There are always two goals, a ball, sidelines and two teams who begin playing, knowing there may not be a goal for the entire game. But maybe there is something to this game I was so quick to judge.

This week, my eyes were opened, and my prejudices were questioned in Mexico. I led a service break trip to Miguel Aleman, Mexico and discovered a change of heart towards this once-considered sissy sport. We arrived in Mexico on Sunday and were a little bit nervous. We emptied the vans, looked around and took in our surroundings.

Suddenly, as we were entering our living quarters, a young boy screamed at us in Spanish from the rooftop of his run-down house across the street. He then met us outside of our house with a soccer ball and a few of his friends.

They led us through the trash-covered streets and fly-infested grass to an abandoned soccer field. We split into teams and began to play. They ran through me, around me and over me scoring goal after goal. They broke my ankles time and time again, making me look foolish. I have never said that soccer was an easy sport to play, but these kids reaffirmed the fact that it is actually hard. Despite the atrocity of the score, we had a great time as they welcomed us to their community by playing the sport they loved.

We spent the rest of the week putting up walls and pouring the roofs while getting to know the people of the community. We tried to use our severely broken Spanish to communicate with the Mexicans, but no conversation starter was as effective as “What is your favorite team?” I could rely on soccer to relate to them and make connections that I will never forget. I then began to reflect on the value of soccer in our world.

Soccer has been the one universal tool for peace that humanity has been able to use for generations. Sometimes the meaning of “Mi casa es su casa” can be lost over tea and crumpets, just as “cheers” does not carry the same weight next to the Eiffel Tower as it does in the shadows of Big Ben. And a friendly phrase in Chinese could be butchered on the South Side of Chicago. But soccer is loved almost everywhere by almost everyone, except for soccer hating bigots like me.

Then where is all of this love coming from? The shared love of the game is an extremely powerful force. It is a force that does not need to be authorized by a free trade agreement or another Treaty of Versailles; it just is. Is it the nifty shin guards? The brotherhood we experienced in Mexico? What is it about soccer that unites everyone? Well, coming up with the answer has me more lost than a St. Joe’s student in a cardboard box.

I learned in Mexico that the greatest thing about soccer is that it can be used in moments of despair and also in celebration. When life is changing, either for the better or worse, soccer remains the same. Soccer is the safety net that is there to catch you with whatever life throws your way. It can be a conversation-starter, deal clincher or a friendly bet. The versatility of the sport is gratifying and that is something even I can understand.

In just one week we discovered that, in the world of soccer, it rarely matters if you are rich or poor, which religion you are or what occupation you hold. In the world of soccer, you will not be judged by the color of the your skin, but by the content of the team you support.

Over the course of fall break, I, like many others went to Central and South American countries and learned lessons about poverty and injustices. I tried to discover ways to achieve solidarity with those I was serving. Nothing was as effective as a simple game with two goals and a ball. We learned that we are all citizens of the world and futbol is its language.

With all of this said, I am still working on becoming a fan. I seriously doubt I will suddenly watch Monday Night Futbol or camp out to get expansion Philadelphia Union tickets, but I do know now that the game itself is not as important as playing the game. And I can finally see the beauty of a zero-zero tie.


Nick Esposito is a junior communication major from Skillman, N.J. He can be reached at [email protected].