Personal Statement: It's Football, Not Soccer

Tuesday, January 3, 2017 - 7:06pm

Claire Abdo

Claire Abdo Buy this photo
Katie Spak

Let’s set the record straight: The term “soccer” didn’t originate in the America. Rather, it first appeared in England, and by some records it pre-dates the word “football” by about 18 years. So why does the rest of the world hate Americans for calling football “soccer?”

Well, I, for one, was born and raised in Pakistan. Where — like most places around the world — football referred to the sport where only goalkeepers were allowed to use their hands. I mean, it makes sense to me and it makes sense to everyone else in the world. I’m sure it makes sense to most Americans, too. In fact, the more I think about it, I realize the word “soccer” by itself doesn’t annoy me as much. It’s the fact that the word “football” is reserved for another sport where barely anyone uses his feet to touch the ball, and my — and the world’s — beloved football has to settle with being called “soccer.”

Growing up, I never had much against the major sports in the United States. Hockey was always cool; I skipped classes at school to play basketball. It wasn’t cricket, but even when I didn’t know what was happening, I always appreciated baseball. Heck, I’ve probably been to more pro-baseball games than any other sport now.

But I had always harbored an unreasonable dislike for American football. I made fun of it, the Internet made fun of it too and thousands of memes were made over it. Couldn’t they have picked a different name? (Just Google “handegg” for me.)

I remember applying to University of Michigan for the sole reason that it was a top-20 school on the various university rankings I checked senior year of high school. I came in knowing close to nothing about the University, Ann Arbor or its culture. When I got here I found out it was an American football school, and apparently a great one at that.

Three seasons worth of sitting in the Big House later I can proudly say American football has grown on me. Somewhere between all the tailgates, chanting “The Victors” with a sore throat, a fumbled punt, the man with the khaki pants, watching it snow in the Big House and JT Barrett’s first down (he was short!), this sport found its way into my heart.

I never thought it would happen. Seventeen-year-old-me would probably be “bitterly disappointed” in me right now, but truth be told, I couldn’t help it. American football is actually pretty neat. One jam-packed with the star names, the fan following, the heartbreaks and all the ecstasy one can expect from a major sport.

In retrospect, I never really hated it for not making much sense to me, or for it not being as rough and physical as rugby. My only quarrel was with the name.

I guess that’s what my relationship with America has always been like though — a gripe with the smaller things and indifference for the more mundane.

Like, why can’t price tags just include tax value like they’re supposed to? Why does everything have to be sponsored by something? Why is everything so commercialized? Why do I always have to wear a seat belt? Why are speeding fines more than $2? OK, wait. The last two make a lot more sense than I want them too. Why do Americans pronounce France like ranch, and not like flan? Why do they say Porsche, and not Porsche-uh?

And oh yeah, and let’s not forget the big one. Why can’t they just call football “football?”

But there are certain aspects of American life I’ve come to grudgingly accept. I’ll drive on the right side of the road now, for example, or occasionally hit the wipers when I want to hit the indicator. It’s kind of convenient that I can spell “color” without the U now, and I guess it’s cool if everyone else shows up to class in sweatpants and a hoodie when I wear chinos and a cardigan.

I’ve been told I’m pretty stubborn, too. I still call football “football” — except when I have to change it to “soccer” when I cover the Michigan men and women’s soccer teams — and refer to the other one as American football. My phone gives me the temperature in Celsius; the wind speeds are in km/h. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Full disclaimer: I really don’t hate America. Truth be told, other than the things I’m just too stubborn to change — and the foreign policy — I’ve really fallen in love with the country, and even more so the people in it. But I fear if Donald Trump ever read this far he’d deport me.

Here are some things I like about America: My closest friends are American. They taught me how to throw an egg-shaped ball, how to get around Ann Arbor, how baseball works, and of course, how to play Euchre. They’ve made sure I’ve never felt too homesick, that I have something to do for Spring Break, and they’ve always offered to have me over for the holidays — even though I have grandparents who live about an hour away.

In America, I’ve learned I have the luxury to skip classes without consequence and still do well in school. That when I order something at a restaurant I’ll get more than I could hope for. That Wi-Fi and LTE are better here than at home. That I’ll find people from Russia, Norway, Poland and everywhere else around the world living here. And above all, American Netflix is better than Netflix anywhere else.

I can’t be anything less than grateful to have been able to live somewhere new. Not that I dislike Pakistan or anything — I love Pakistan, and you should all take a trip given the chance. But I did things I could never have at home: I’ve gone kayaking, played American football, received an education from one of the best universities in the world, and met some really cool people along the way.

But at the end of the day, I’ll still always prefer football to American football. I’ve skipped quite a few Michigan games to watch Barcelona play a La Liga match. As much as I love Michigan football, I would trade a win against Ohio State if it meant Barcelona would win the next El Clasico.

I still find it amusing how the United States stops for the Super Bowl, when a Manchester United vs. Chelsea game in the Premier League would get almost five times the viewership. Or how it’s called the World Series, when no team outside North America really plays.

Even though I enjoy going to watch the Tigers and the Red Wings (but Little Caesars Arena, really?), I’m still a lot more likely to go to Yankee Stadium for the New York City Football Club than the Yankees — for the record David Villa, Frank Lampard and Andrea Pirlo are more popular across the world than any baseball player can hope to be.

Football has been a big part of my life ever since I can remember. I would sneak into the TV room at 12:45 at night to watch Champions League games on a school night, praying to God my mom wouldn’t catch me. I hated the fact that there was another sport with the same name as this one, but never thought I would enjoy it too.

In the same way Islamabad, Pakistan, will always be my home, and will forever be a part of me. I go back about once a year to catch up on what I’ve missed. My parents, siblings, childhood friends; the food, the environment, the culture; the comfort of being home — I’ll cherish it all.

With each passing year America only grows more on me. For all its flaws — even the big ones — it’s still a great place, with great people.

I just wish they called it football and not soccer.