By Phoebe Jane Johnson
The prompt was simple. “Write a profile on why you love soccer.”
My original plan was to write the profile. First, I went to the WUFC page to see what the other profiles were like to make sure I provided what was requested. Then I went on Twitter to figure out what was going on in the social media world.
There my heart fell to my stomach.
The headline read: plane with Brazilian soccer club crashed.
I saw a photo with an entire soccer team sitting in seats with the green and white crest of their club so proudly displayed. Then I saw pictures of that same crest burned in a pile of rubble. How could an entire club be gone?
Tweet after tweet, story after story and I knew that I was no longer in a place to write about my love for this magnificent sport. There were reports of 6, 10, then 13 possible survivors. I went to bed with a heavy heart whispering prayers for survivors, families, fans and all of us.
In the morning, I returned to social media hoping to see news of more victims rescued. Instead, I found confirmation of the 70+ casualties along with an outpouring of support from journalists, players, fans of the team and mostly fans of the game. News outlets reported on the accident and quickly returned to other news but those of us so enriched in the soccer community, we could not just file this story away and go about our lives. Timelines were flooded with pictures of the players, the Chapecoense crest, and memories of the “cinderella” soccer story that would not have a fairy tale ending. Friends and I traded every nugget of information we learned via text and other means of communication. We leaned on each other for support as we remembered just how fleeting life can be and to treasure those we love the most.
It was in this moment that I realized what I found difficult to encapsulate the night before.
I love soccer because this sport is more than a game. It is a community that touches fans no matter their age, race, gender, religion or sexual orientation. I love that soccer allows people from all walks of life to join under the banner of their chosen crest but when necessary we pull down those crests and come together as family.
I am reminded of the USA v Mexico team and how the players opted to take a combined pre-game photo emphasizing their unity during a week of racial and political tensions. How teams throughout the MLS work black armbands in support the LA Galaxy’s DeLaGarza family when their young son passed away after his valiant battle with heart disease. Even when the ugly side of humanity rears its head in soccer, the community is not ashamed to fight back. Players throughout the world rallied together when a banana was thrown at Dani Alves in a blatant display of racism and admiration for the likes of Mario Balotelli who had to suffer through racist taunts throughout his career. There were protests after film was released of Chelsea fans making racist chants and refusing to allow a man on the train because of the color of his skin.
No, the soccer community is not perfect. It is made of the same individuals who make up the rest of the world. However, that is part of its beauty. These imperfect people come together through their love of the sport and yet we are not ashamed to shine a light on our imperfections just as we are not ashamed to hold each other up in solidarity.
In the face of this heartbreaking tragedy, the soccer community has come together to remember the Chapecoense club, journalists, fight crew and their families. We hold all of you in our hearts and we hold each other a little tighter. We are fans, we are a community, we are soccer.