I am on the hunt. As a lifelong sports fan I have focused my attention to baseball, basketball, football, tennis, and hockey. Now, with soccer becoming more popular I have an existential problem – how do I choose a soccer team to root for?
This is sort of existential for me. When I was nine I attended a Super bowl Party between the NY Giants and the Buffalo Bills. Having just moved from NYC I strongly adhered to the first rule of choosing a team to root for: geography – you root for the team in your city you or the closest team to your location. Since I was from NYC it seemed natural to root for the Giants. However, as I came to understand Upstate NY is firmly in the Buffalo camp. They drew a line down the middle of the room and made people choose sides. It was that serious. I chose the NY Giants that night and they won by a last second field goal. The Buffalo Bills went on to lose three straight Super Bowls.
Family and legacy are two other ways that people choose their teams. My father was a Yankees fan so I am a Yankees fan. My wife was born in Hyderabad but was raised outside Milwaukee, Wisconsin, her father adopted the Green Bay Packers and so has everyone else in her family. They are all Hydro-Cheese-Heads.
Feb 1, 2015; Glendale, AZ, USA; Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch (24) makes a catch while defended by New England Patriots outside linebacker Jamie Collins (91) during the fourth quarter in Super Bowl XLIX at University of Phoenix Stadium. Photo Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
Players and coaches are another way. Our choices of the players we like reflect who we are. Of course, kids like to root for star players. People love to root for folks that came from their country or went to the same school as them. For example, you may not be from New England or Seattle or have any familial connection to either place or team but this past weekend you made a choice: do I like Tom Brady (of the New England Patriots) or do I like Marshawn Lynch (of the Seattle Seahawks).
A lot of Muslims in the New York/New Jersey region this year shifted their allegiance from the NY Giants to the NY Jets – why? The Jets have a second-year offensive lineman named Uday Aboushi, a Brooklyn born Palestinian-American who also happens to be the first Arab-American professional football player!
The smart new fan might delve a bit deeper. They would recognize that sports are a business and therefore would follow the money.
Who are the owners of these teams? What do they stand for? Do you share values with them? To this point my wife stands by her Green Bay Packers as they are the only publicly owned team in professional sports. Do a little research on the owners of the teams you are considering. You might be shocked or delighted.
Finally, the intangible: love. You love your national team. When they compete your heart swells with pride. If you are a New Zealander you want the All Blacks to win the Rugby World Cup, if you are from Pakistan the world stops when Pakistan is playing their former colonizers in Cricket. I love the NY Knicks even though they are perennial losers. I lived in Oakland, CA for a time and now my heart skips when the Golden State Warriors play.
The ultimate test is to determine what about the team, their history, their players; their spirit reflects the values you want to exhibit yourself. And for that you might want to start by adopting your local high school teams.
PS – I am still looking for a soccer team to love.
Editor’s Note: Ibrahim Abdul-Matin has worked public, and private sectors and on several issues including sustainability, technology, community engagement, sports, and new media. He is the author of Green Deen: What Islam Teaches About Protecting the Planet and contributor to All-American: 45 American Men On Being Muslim. From 2009 to 2011 Ibrahim was the regular Sports Contributor for WNYC’s nationally syndicated show The Takeaway. Follow him on twitter @IbrahimSalih. The views expressed here are his own.