Almost a month ago I attended a U.S. Open Cup match at Providence College’s Anderson Stadium between the MLS’ New England Revolution and the second-tier USL’s Rochester Raging Rhinos. Among the almost two thousand spectators cramming a college stadium on an early summer afternoon I could not help but realize that—in some small way—this match served as an allegory for wider U.S. society amidst its current polarization. It was a David Vs. Goliath match, with a much richer MLS side facing off against a second division opponent (realistically, the outcome was never in doubt). Since the result was so predictable, I turned my attention to the fans—the most sociological aspect of a soccer match.

 

IMG-20170615-WA0007.jpg

IMG-20170615-WA0005.jpg

Early Summer In Providence. Images Courtesy Of M.L.

 

The U.S. Open Cup is one of the most storied cup competitions in the world, even if it takes place in a country that does not value football. This year there have even been a few Cinderella stories, like the amateur side Christos FC. Given the history of this cup competition, one that is over one hundred years old, the fans had come out in full force for one of the few matches that the New England Revolution have ever played in Providence, Rhode Island.

The “hardcore” fans, on the other side of the field from where I stood, were vocal in their support while also advertising their increased politicization (a subject I have written about in the past). Some fans were waving a rainbow variation of the “Flag of New England”, an interesting meshing of Revolutionary War America and current LGBT movements, while on my side a priest (likely from the Catholic Providence College) was taking in the match. In that moment, I wondered if the LGBT activist/fans on the other side of the field—and the Catholic priest on my side—had ever had a conversation with one another. The likely answer is that they have not, and that the two should watch the match from opposite sidelines was an allegory for some of the issues we see these days in the polarized climate of the United States. If people holding opposing points of view do not even speak with one another, then how can they empathize with one another?

 

IMG-20170615-WA0000.jpg

IMG-20170615-WA0013.jpg

Soccer Brings All Walks Of Life Together. Images Courtesy Of M.L.

 

This lack of communication, of course, is not specific to the United States; it exists throughout the global “West”. We believe in the myth of globalization bringing us closer together by cutting down the cost and time of communication; in reality society is just as fragmented as ever—people at a dinner table prefer interacting with their phones to interacting with their fellow diners. In Europe—and to an extent in the United States—the idea is that “pluralism” will bring a more diverse society and thus bring us closer together. This myth has been debunked by the ghettoization of non-whites in the United States and Muslims in Europe; just because “different” people are made to live in separate areas does not make a society more “diverse”, it just means that the disparate parts of society are not actually talking to one another; they are in fact drifting apart, rather than coming together.

This kind of situation—where communication between different social groups is discouraged—fosters a society where individuals are not able to make the connection between personal troubles and societal issues that C. Wright Mills once explained. The only way to make such sociological connections is through communication, something that is sorely lacking in the technocratic world of the modern-day West. As I watched the sunset over Providence behind one of the goals I thought about something my dentist had told me, when I said I was studying Turkish soccer: she asked me if “I was afraid to go there because it is dangerous”…clearly, she had not communicated with anyone from outside of her bubble. It is not, of course, completely her fault. But it is a characteristic of the individualistic society that has taken root in Western cultures.

 

IMG-20170615-WA0016.jpg

Sunset Over Providence. Image Courtesy Of M.L.

 

In order to actually get to know others, we must—as I have argued before—first travel. Former U.S. goalkeeper Brad Friedel makes some great points along these lines in an article he wrote for The Players’ Tribune, when he describes playing for Galatasaray in Istanbul (I have bolded the pertinent parts):

 

For one thing, on the pitch it was just an incredible game. It was quick and intense and it pushed me as a keeper. We won the Turkish Cup that year and qualified for Champions League. Off the field, it was absolutely phenomenal. For a kid from Bay Village, Ohio, to go and live in a Muslim country was an eye-opening experience.

 Which brings me to the sheep.

 We were walking to a game right after Ramadan was over, and the fans were holding a sheep. On a list of things you don’t expect to see on the soccer grounds, I’m pretty sure a live sheep would be somewhere near the top, but there it was. I had no idea what was about to happen, while the rest of my teammates couldn’t have been less fazed. There was a lot of yelling and then the fans just slit the sheep’s throat — right there in front of us. Blood everywhere. They dipped their hands in it, and swiped it on their forehead as a sign of good luck. Then they asked us to do the same.

 This wasn’t something that most Americans would consider normal, but it was absolutely brilliant to be a part of. I had teammates who, during Ramadan, had to fast during daylight hours even as professional athletes. We’d be at training and a call to prayer would go off and certain players who were very religious would stop their training, go pray and come back to the pitch. Once you learn that that’s how things work, it’s not a big deal, but in the U.S. you can go through your whole life in a little bubble. But when you live in these places, you find out that these people are very good human beings. It was incredible. It was understanding other cultures. It was a phenomenal thing to see.

 

Friedel goes on to explain, “I had two choices: Learn Turkish or don’t understand a word that anybody was saying. So three days a week, I took Turkish lessons”. Mr. Friedel should be commended for his willingness to communicate with—and assimilate into—a culture that was so different than his own. It is a lesson that all of us—whether football fans or not—would do well to heed. There are a lot of perspectives out there, the only way we can begin to understand them is by communicating with those who we might—at first—not think we have anything in common with.

 

GettyImages-234077a.jpg

Brad Friedel Appearing for the United States National Team. Image Courtesy Of: https://www.theplayerstribune.com/2016-6-26-brad-friedel-soccer-copa-america/

 

s-7c97a1a9b11178324c081910f363f3660f544ac6.jpg

Brad Friedel (R) In Turkey (Please Note the Classic Adidas Shirt Designs). Image Courtesy Of: https://onedio.com/haber/galatasaraylilarin-duygulanarak-bakacagi-nostalji-goruntuler-512738
Advertisements