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A sport that transcends borders and promotes diversity

By Jessie Himel
On February 14, 2017

From the ages of six to 15, I had the unique experience of playing on an incredibly diverse boys’ soccer team in NYC.  My teammates’ parents had arrived to NYC from Europe, South America, Central America, Africa and the Middle East.  There was a mix of Christians, Jews and Muslims.  We had the full spectrum of social status ranging from wealthy Wall Street families to those just arriving from conflict spots with very few possessions.  Their names spanned across the globe - Mohammad, Blendi, Naji, Paddy, Theo, Emilio, Dylan and Paulo.

They never treated me any differently being the only girl on the team, and it never occurred to anyone to treat anyone else differently because of their ethnicity.  We all loved soccer.  It was the great equalizer in all our lives.  The concepts of religion, gender, nationality, financial status or even green card status never played a factor in how we perceived each other since everyone’s goal was to contribute to the success and happiness of the team.

It is estimated that more than half of the entire population on Earth are soccer fans.  Soccer doesn’t require expensive equipment or a special rink to play, just a ball.  That level of easy accessibility, plus years of immigrant movement around the world, makes it such a unique “border-less” sport.

On the US Men’s National Soccer Team, 12 different nationalities were represented on the 2016 roster, according to Univision.com.  To me, this is the essence of soccer, as it is the most open and international sport.  As far as how this relates to the recent travel ban and on-going discussions, the soccer community has come out strong in response to the new directive.  

“Sports obviously involves international movement and free movement of players, of ideas,” U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati said.   

“I think it’s sad because one thing we do in our sport is that we are a global sport,” Bruce Arena, US Men’s National Team Coach, said. “We travel the world.  We meet all kinds of people.  And we conclude at the end that they are all beautiful people.”

Michael Bradley, US Men’s National Soccer Team captain, wrote on Instagram that he was “sad and embarrassed” by the travel ban.  Additionally, Alex Morgan, US Women’s National Team forward, tweeted, “I am in shock and disbelief.  Has history not taught us anything?”  

The collective outcry of the soccer community gives a relevant perspective on the effect of the travel ban.  Thankfully, this type of ban was not implemented during my time playing “international” soccer with the boys in NYC, and I hope it never will be. If it had been, I would have never understood that the true beauty of soccer lies in its ability to unite everyone together as a diversified community.  That is something everyone should be able to experience, in America and around the world.  

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