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Football for all

This past summer, I spent about two months in London. During my time there, I had an internship at Alliance magazine – the leading publication on the latest in philanthropy and social investment news – where I discussed, among other things, American football.

It is from my experience in London that I began to see that American football might have a place in Europe. At Alliance magazine, I usually worked and talked with two people from the office – David and Kai.

Their opinions on football were polar opposites. Kai took the perspective that I had assumed most of England held – a profanity laced admonishment describing a sport so many Americans love. To quote him, football is, “F***ing stupid.”

David’s perspective, however, was a nice surprise. Not only did he like football but he knew a lot about the sport. I was able to debate with him about the readiness of Tom Brady after his injuries or the change in coaching style of Bill Belichick. We both concluded that he has a far better strategy now than he did with the Cleveland Browns, where he was a controlling micromanager.

It was talking with David about football that let me feel a little closer to home. It was nice to talk about an element of America that was appreciated by someone who was foreign to the country.

Yesterday, more than 80,000 fans packed Wembley stadium in London for an NFL game, the New England Patriots against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. According to the announcers, tickets sold out in less than 10 minutes. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell talked with the CBS announcers during the game about the possibility of expanding the league’s presence in London with the potential of even putting a team there..

I was especially happy to hear about the NFL’s initiative. I think that American football could do very well overseas in places like England. The sport could be popular. All you have to do is look at their current fanatical love for soccer to see why.

European soccer games can be near riotous on ordinary days. Before a big game in London, I saw a huge crowd assembled outside one of the town’s numerous pubs, collectively throwing food at cars and people passing by. Certain bars are hangout spots for one team or another, and if a fan of the opposing side wants a drink, he or she won’t be allowed.

Football fans, like many fans of American sports, are utterly polarized and hang on to their team’s colors and accomplishments to the bitter, sometimes miserable, end. The brutality in football coincides nicely with the angry fans and mob mentality that surrounds soccer. The sports may be different, but the feel of football would be just right for such raucous London crowds.

The biggest gains, however, that the NFL and the United States could have from expanding professional football to other countries, are the diplomatic opportunities that would result from worldwide acceptance.

Right now, football is undisputedly an American tradition. It could not do any harm to have other countries think that one of our traditions was worth replicating. Internationally, America’s image is not particularly shiny. Two wars and a former president that many foreigners simply hated have soured America’s name abroad.

Believe it or not, football could be a bridge to better understanding. The expansion of football could act as a sort of secondary Peace Corps. On their website, their mission is outlined, “The Peace Corps has shared with the world America’s most precious resource – its people.” The expansion of football would share one of this country’s most popular sporting events to the world, creating positive dialogue between countries.

Most importantly, it would provide a reason for other countries to have an interest in a portion of American culture.

Right now, many Europeans I talk to don’t have the first clue about American football. This can and should change.

Goodell is taking a positive step not only for the financial security of the league, but also for the interests of the country.

I think places like England could have a positive experience with football. I am less sure about other European countries, although the idea of a French football team gives me a wide smile.  In a world where France, a country known for cheese, romance and wine can turn into fans of American football, the future is bright.

Sports are a worldwide institution. Let’s support the effort to expand America’s image and transform sports like football from an American to an international phenomenon.

Michael Phillis is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at mphillis@student.umass.edu.

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