A “Listening Post” — the Universal Language of the Game

by AJ Barbosa

 

In my Multimedia Reporting class last Friday, a representative from KU’s Office of Multicultural Affairs gave a presentation on diversity and race. Almost every class I’ve taken has had something of this nature — a representative from some department comes and peddles their product, hands out pamphlets and leaves.

This was different.

Instead of the usual charade, we were treated to one of the most scintillating and naturally interesting lectures possible. This school continuously puffs its chest and boasts about its diversity, but let’s be honest: We’re still in the middle of Kansas. We’re still in the middle of a corn-fed state that’s predominantly white and, at times, is a little late when it comes to cultural progression (which is ironic when you consider the “free state” days).

The man who gave this lecture encouraged us to further develop ourselves as reporters by taking an evening to step out of our comfort zone — to spend an hour or two with people who we usually don’t, to do things that we usually don’t. My lab professor encouraged one of my classmates who’s covering politics to try going into a traditionally-black barber shop to ask them about politics. My classmate thought it was a good idea, and I think he actually did it.

Soccer, by nature, is an extremely diverse sport. It’s even dubbed “the world’s game” by many. Though the English Premier League and other European leagues have struggled with racism and have started campaigns against it, the game is still played by people of every creed, language, culture and color.

My job wasn’t as hard as I imagine others’ were. I’d seen tons of people playing pick-up soccer at the rec (though it’s worth noting that I haven’t been to work out in almost a year). Nine times out of 10, you could hear them calling out to each other in Spanish. I’d played around with a group of them once when I was a freshman, but I never really continued. Though soccer used to be my comfort zone when I played a lot, the actual physical playing of the game is a bit rusty for me now. Plus, I don’t speak Spanish well at all. If you’re counting, that makes two areas where I’m not as well-versed as I’d like to be, which could also be considered as “outside my comfort zone.”

So I went and played with them.

I wasn’t too nervous about it because I knew that they’d likely be friendly — pick-up soccer enthusiasts generally aren’t snobs. The only things that concerned me were my dusty soccer skills and my inability to communicate in languages other than English. Neither were an issue; after a few missed shots and intercepted passes, my feet gradually started to come back. Luckily all of the players knew a good amount of English, but they still predominantly spoke to each other on the court in Spanish. Luckily — once learned — soccer is a sport that can be played seamlessly by players of any languages. The natural flow and progression of the game is something that could be played effectively in complete silence. I was able to find them and play them through on runs, and they were able to do the same with me.

This experiment/assignment reiterated the fact that soccer is a truly universal game with a truly universal, uncanny language. No amount of cultural barriers can disturb or alter the “beautiful game” when it’s being played by players who truly appreciate and understand it.

One guy was wearing a Manchester City shirt, though, and that was hard to understand and accept. I gave him a little bit of ribbing, but he just laughed and reminded me how City clinched the title 30 seconds after my beloved Manchester United thought they had it.

I told him to wait until next year. He laughed. I laughed. We kept playing.

That’s the beautiful game.

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