People are surprised to hear that I am an avid soccer fan. But I have to correct them: it’s not just the game of soccer that I enjoy watching. It’s team Barcelona that I’m crazy about, the team’s history, values and its key players that I think represent the best of what sports can offer. And by that I don’t just mean some good athletics, but notions of what teamwork can do, how amazing amounts of money could be directed, and what sports generally can offer in poor regions, and to those recovering from conflict. I think we in America look at sports in a very limited way (notwithstanding those who fought for Title 9!) and don’t often acknowledge the power and potential of the game.
Before the game with friend Rick Miller and my former professor, the amazing Tom Woodhouse, who not only teaches about Barca and is an avid fan, but who cemented my own obsession with this amazing team.
So now a few reasons why I love team Barca – and why you should too!
The most incredible fact is that when sponsors (Nike) first rushed to grace team Barca’s jerseys, the team turned them down, instead choosing to advertise Unicef to the world. Due to the economic crisis, the team most recently had to accept sponsorship for the Quatar Foundation, but still sports the Unicef logo on its jersey, and I think recently added Nike as well. This is not in name only. The team to this day gives more than 1.5 million Euros to Unicef every year! In fact each Barca player as part of his contract is required to give 1% of his earnings to the Barca Foundation, which not only gives money but also runs soccer camps for disadvantaged youth in places like Africa and China (oddly enough). Barca’s most amazing player — and currently the best in the world!! — is Lionel Messi, who was also the product of one of these soccer camps when he was growing up in Argentina. Messi is amazing not only for his out of this world skill with a ball, but also his humble nature (I’ve heard from Foundation reps that he attends functions in person and is gracious to all), but also his focus on his position within the team as opposed to always promoting himself (here we can offer a nod to rival Ranaldo from the Madrid team who I often think of as a strutting, self-absorbed rooster). If Messi is not scoring on the goal, he in undoubtedly creating the perfect setup for his teammates to score. Messi also appeals to Spaniards I’ve been told, because of his small size. In fact he needed medical care as a child because he wasn’t growing properly, and scouts who saw his potential offered to pay the costs.
Barca’s motto is “Mas que un Club,” (more than a club)which Spaniards say refers to the fact that they are Catalonian, and Barcelona eagerly wants independence from Spain. In fact at a point during a game I recently attended people started chanting “Independencia!” But I still think Mas que un Club means it is so much more than about sports. It is about a code of conduct on and off the field (which they adhere to somewhat strictly) and acknowledgement of how sports brings people together. The field of sports and reconciliation is currently exploding, and testimonials of kids who have been offered soccer after conflict are powerful: often noting that it was the first time they felt like children again, realized the war was over, etc.
Imagine if our sports teams had to offer 1% of their earnings to schools in America? To teaching young people the value of teamwork and cooperation? The value of sports to girls have been proven again and again – higher levels of confidence, better grades, longer education and lower chances of teen pregnancy. The list goes on. We’re pretty focused on individualism and competition in this country, but it’s a good time to remember the value of teams, of play and the joy of a good soccer game! Go Messi! Go Barca!
Here’s my man after a corner kick against Granada. Barca scored two goals!