The life of an immigrant in America is anything but conventional. There are countless things one comes to learn about this nation by way of pure exposure to culture. Having come from Bulgaria, I predicted that the passions of Americans would differ drastically from those most prevalent in the rest of the world. America has always presented itself as being divergent, but also as being a leader. The proverbial “city on a hill” has always set a political and economic example that other, less powerful nations use as a benchmark to evaluate their progress. The question is, can we say as much about America from a cultural perspective?
To evaluate this question, we can look to sports. There is nothing more global than a common passion that almost serves as a universal language. Throughout the world, football, or soccer (admittedly an American fabrication) serves this type of purpose. The majority of the world’s nations cite football as the dominant sport within their culture and some even go as far as comparing it to religion. If you think this claim is an exaggeration, I urge you to visit a nation such as Brazil, where the kick of a ball precedes the first roll of the tongue. The sport is entirely engrained in the culture and a single match has the power to unify or divide an entire nation.
Can this phenomenon be achieved in the United States? Basketball, football, and baseball all serve as national sports, but there are few people who harbor an equal amount of passion for all three. Football season always brings about feverish fanaticism, but it doesn’t ever seem as if the entire nation is unified over a single event, barring the heavily advertised colossus that is the Superbowl. Different regions of the country seem to swarm around distinct sports, so sectionalism is unavoidable.
Until recent times, “soccer” had been relegated to a lowly place on the ranking of sports in America. It was simply seen as a way in which kindergarteners, pre-schoolers, and elementary school students could get their exercise without any serious commitment. Starting in middle school, soccer was abandoned and most likely replaced by sports more in tune with American culture. The passion behind soccer has always seemed rather foreign to the American people. This is one of the first things I noticed when I initially set foot on an American playground as a ten-year-old immigrant. As late as the early 2000s, the majority of participants in soccer programs across the United States were likely to be of foreign descent. This begs the question, how has such a global phenomenon had such difficulty penetrating American culture? The question will likely remain unanswered.
An encouraging move was eventually made in 2007, when a footballing icon in the form of David Beckham made his move from Spanish giants Real Madrid to the Los Angeles Galaxy. America was buzzing. Youngsters were starstruck and, for the first time, felt passion for the beautiful game. Training facilities were expanded, the media increasingly began to integrate soccer into mainstream culture, and the nation’s attention turned to something it had been missing for years. There are bright times ahead for soccer in America and we can only hope its progress remains unimpeded.