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What soccer can teach us about freedom | Marc Bamuthi Joseph

What soccer can teach us about freedom | Marc Bamuthi Joseph


The two places where I feel most free aren’t actually places. They’re moments. The first is inside of dance. Somewhere between
rising up against gravity and the feeling that the air beneath me is falling in love with my body’s weight. I’m dancing and the air is carrying me like I might never come down. The second place that I feel free is after scoring a goal
on the soccer pitch. My body floods with the chemical that they put inside of EpiPens
to revive the dead, and I am weightless, raceless. My story is this: I’m a curator
at a contemporary arts center, but I don’t really believe in art
that doesn’t bleed or sweat or cry. I imagine that my kids
are going to live in a time when the most valuable commodities
are fresh water and empathy. I love pretty dances
and majestic sculpture as much as the next guy, but give me something else to go with it. Lift me up with the aesthetic sublime and give me a practice or some tools
to turn that inspiration into understanding and action. For instance, I’m a theater maker
who loves sports. When I was making
my latest piece /peh-LO-tah/ I thought a lot about how soccer
was a means for my own immigrant family to foster a sense of continuity
and normality and community within the new context of the US. In this heightened moment of xenophobia
and assault on immigrant identity, I wanted to think through how the game could serve
as an affirmational tool for first-generation Americans
and immigrant kids, to ask them to consider
movement patterns on the field as kin to migratory patterns
across social and political borders. Whether footballers or not, immigrants in the US
play on endangered ground. I wanted to help the kids understand that the same muscle
that they use to plan the next goal can also be used
to navigate the next block. For me, freedom exists in the body. We talk about it abstractly
and even divisively, like “protect our freedom,”
“build this wall,” “they hate us because of our freedom.” We have all these systems
that are beautifully designed to incarcerate us or deport us, but how do we design freedom? For these kids, I wanted to track the idea
back to something that exists inside that no one could take away, so I developed this curriculum that’s part poli-sci class,
part soccer tournament, inside of an arts festival. It accesses /peh-LO-tah/’s
field of inquiry to create a sports-based
political action for young people. The project is called
“Moving and Passing.” It intersects curriculum development,
site-specific performance and the politics of joy, while using soccer as a metaphor
for the urgent question of enfranchisement among immigrant youth. Imagine that you are
a 15-year-old kid from Honduras now living in Harlem, or you’re a 13-year-old girl born in DC
to two Nigerian immigrants. You love the game. You’re on the field with your folks. You’ve just been practicing
dribbling through cones for, like, 15 minutes, and then, all of a sudden,
a marching band comes down the field. I want to associate the joy of the game
with the exuberance of culture, to locate the site of joy in the game at the same physical coordinate as being politically informed by art, a grass-laden theater for liberation. We spend a week looking at how the midfielder
would explain Black Lives Matter, or how the goalkeeper
would explain gun control, or how a defender’s style
is the perfect metaphor for the limits of American exceptionalism. As we study positions on the field, we also name and imagine our own freedoms. I don’t know, man, soccer is, like, the only thing on this planet
that we can all agree to do together. You know? It’s like the official sport
of this spinning ball. I want to be able
to connect the joy of the game to the ever-moving footballer, to connect that moving footballer to immigrants who also moved
in sight of a better position. Among these kids, I want
to connect their families’ histories to the bliss of a goal-scorer’s run, family like that feeling
after the ball beats the goalie, the closest thing going to freedom. Thank you. (Applause)

61 thoughts on “What soccer can teach us about freedom | Marc Bamuthi Joseph”

  1. Soccer? Lol yeah your free to flop, roll on the ground and cry like a little baby every time the opponent simply touches you!! Futbol does take A LOT of skill no denying that but my god the "dives" every 5 minutes gets ridiculous.

  2. This is why TED is out of touch and American centric. It's FOOTBALL not soccer. The whole world recognise it as FOOTBALL except the americans.

  3. Why is it allways freemdoms of imagraint to the ethnic European nations. How bout the freedoms of imagaint, white farmrs in South Africa. Let's talk about thier freedoms & dreams to remain living.

  4. Now please dont start comments like:
    Hit like if u r a TRUE CR7 FANS
    or
    All the MESSI fans give a thumbs up

    and what not

  5. Don't mention that it was invented in England , or exactly how it was spread to so many counties along with loads of other sports and games from the UK,all of which we could agree to do together if we chose, like any team sport.I like football, but the premise of this talk is nonsense.

  6. reminds me of camus, who saw the absurdity of one's task as the opportunity to be free. camus was also a dedicated football player.

  7. Metaphorical soccer is a cool idea. I want to think about this a bit more. Like how you could draw a picture of people playing soccer and also make it kinda metaphorical of the relationships between the players. Maybe?

  8. No… FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association not FISA) aknowledges that earlier/primitive forms started in China and Rome. Contemporary football started in England. There are mentions of indigenous peoples playing kicking and catching games in America and Australia but this was after.
    http://www.fifa.com/about-fifa/who-we-are/the-game/index.html

    IT'S FOOTBALL. Continue calling it soccer > this doesnt help bring the game into the mainstream of American sport! IDGAF about American Rugby or Baseball either.

  9. Aah these hipster Americans, trying to hold on to the name “Soccer” harder than they hold on to their bogus imperial system of measurement.

  10. A big “yo” to all the folk that can understand and use both words soccer and football without getting upset. We must be some kind of geniuses lol.

  11. I detest football. In my country its a symbol of dictatorship and opression. All the politicians waste billions on it. Building stadions, but neglecting hospitals and roads and other sports. They pay massive wages to football players even if they dont really show any proof achivement. I HATE IT ! Most of the fans are extreme agressive assholes and narrow sighted skinheads.

  12. Native Americans made the first rubber balls and have been playing soccer since 1600BC.
    It was played in Maine before first contact with Europeans and know as pasuckquakkohowog.
    We now call it soccer.
    Please, do keep up!

  13. Would've been an interesting topic but I couldn't even start it because you're calling it soccer. What an insult that was.

  14. Soccer, football does not matter, what really matters is: football is the most popular game in the world and although we have shamefully lost the last world cup, we are still the great champions of the world. We are the only who won five times The FIFA World Cup. Pleasure, I'm Eduardo from Brasil

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