As you may know–or have sharply assumed–I am currently studying abroad in London! It’s cool, I love it, and it provides quite a contrast to my normal thoughts/assumptions, which I find quite intriguing.
So last week a few new friends and I went to a professional soccer game (my first ever), the FA Cup Round 3 rematch between Everton (my team for Tim Howard-esque reasons) and West Ham (the local team a few tube stops from our current institution, Queen Mary). It was a fantastically exciting game, with ties leading into overtime, penalty shots, and sudden death. West Ham pulled ahead in the final shot when Everton’s goalie was blocked–yes, our goalie took the shot–and West Ham’s goalie scored in the 5th round of sudden death. It is worth noting that Tim Howard, America’s Secretary of Defense from this past summer, was not playing in this game due to an injury and thus cannot be implicated in the loss.
Now, soccer is a sport that I only recently started following, though I’ve enjoyed playing and watching it since the age of six. I started playing in the kid’s leagues during elementary school, and only stopped when I got to high school and discovered water polo (at which I was much better; my soccer skills were never quite respectable). It was only during the world cup this summer that I really got into watching the games, but since then I’ve loosely followed America’s MLS and UK’s Barclay Premier League (which I heard a decent amount about from friends and people at work). Soccer has been known to be a bandwagon sport, one that nobody cares about until the world cup every four years, and which is soon forgotten as the MLB, NFL, and NHL games commence. It is because of this stigma that I have actually asked myself if I’m a genuine fan of the game or if I’m merely riding the wave of enthusiasm that will soon die off.
When I got back to my flat after the Everton/West Ham game, I excitedly relayed the entire match to my QMUL flatmates, who expressed their pleasure at my having so much fun (they’re really sweet). They did not, however, show any enthusiasm for the game itself. Apparently, footballers (as professional soccer players are known here) are overpaid for what they contribute to society and are part of the business of entertainment that doesn’t really do anything for anyone’s good. My flatmates explained to me that it was just hard for them to get into a sport they didn’t see the point of, and support people who were perhaps talented, but who didn’t necessarily deserve to be idolized.
Many of my friends have varying views of sports, from the guy who spent $800 to attend the Red Sox world series win of 2013 to the guy who created a Twitter filter to weed out anything that mentioned sports at all. I personally fail to enjoy American Football, and when I think about the culture of idolizing people–usually men–for their sporting abilities rather than their intellect, artistic talent, or morals, I do feel as though perhaps I shouldn’t support the institutions that contribute to it. But sports are not useless, and I don’t think they should be targeted for their lack of societal merit; entertainment is a positive aspect of human society, and I’m glad that we’re no longer feeding people to lions for that purpose. The author and Youtuber John Green has made the case numerous times that meaning is found in what we give meaning to, and that sports cease to be irrelevant when we care about them. Most aspects of humanity can be brought into meaning with the thoughts of the collective, and most of these arbitrary aspects can also disappear by the same method.
I wonder if I had grown up in a soccer-enthused culture if I would still love the sport, or if I would hold the opinions of my UK-bred flatmates. I wonder if I’d grown up watching American Football if I would enjoy it more, or resent it. Am I attached to my own personalized stigmas of the sports? Can I, can anyone, ever not be attached to these biases?
I think it’s important to think about bias both when forming opinions, and when thinking about the world as we know it. Much of what society values is arbitrary, yet much of it also has been determined by human nature and the principles that govern what we enjoy and what we strive for. Sports are just one example of how a seemingly meaningless thing became a multi-billion-dollar industry; enough people valued it, enough people convinced other people to value it, and a generation of sports-loving humans threw money at it. Imagine what we could do if charity became entertaining, or if the proceeds of businesses that did not directly add to the well-being of citizens began going towards reform? Perhaps instead of exploiting our natural tendency for liking sports to make money, we could manipulate our biases to improving the standard of living for fellow humans around the world. What a world that would be.
To sum it up, London is quite the learning experience, and I’m so glad to have the opportunity to spend five months engaged in a culture that is not my own. I’m still a soccer fan, and perhaps I’ll even start calling it football soon. #COYB