“We live in the age of globalization, with the interconnection of markets, technology, and cultures making the world a smaller place.”
Sure. Tell that to the guys on my local sports radio show. For them, the world is bounded by the Big Ten and the North Division of the National Football Conference, the groupings to which our state’s college and pro football teams belong. Other teams? Other games? Conferences in other parts of the country? Those barely rate a mention. And different sports, in other parts of the world? They don’t even exist. Tune to your local sports radio station or open the sports page and you’ll find the same, whether you’re in America or Europe: the average fan remains intensely regional—maybe even tribal—in his sports interests.
But as Andrei Markovits argues, globalization is creeping into sports. At the University of Michigan, where Andy is an Arthur Thurnau Professor and Karl Deutsch Professor of Comparative Politics and German Studies, European students follow their countrymen in the NBA, Korean students talk Major League Baseball, and white Americans, dressed in Barcelona and AS Roma shirts, debate whether Arsène Wenger should be fired. The world of sports is getting smaller. However, just as economic globalization has met resistance, so does the interweaving of sports cultures spur opposition. In Europe, ordinary football fans protest the takeover of their clubs by American owners, while my local sports radio guys scoff at the suggestion that soccer could ever rival baseball and real football.
In his co-authored book Gaming the World: How Sports Are Shaping Global Politics and Culture (Princeton University Press, 2010) Andy looks the diffusion of sports cultures across the Atlantic, in both directions, and this hostility of fans to the changes brought by sports globalization. He takes the creative approach of viewing particular sports as languages. A native speaker of Hungarian, who was raised in Romania, schooled in Austria, and then came to the US, Andy is adept in several languages. Likewise, he is a speaker of many sports languages. But he acknowledges that sports polyglots are just as rare as the linguistic variety. Since learning even a few phrases of someone else’s language can be potentially embarrassing, we stick to the safety of our native tongue. It is the same in sports.
This is a wide-ranging and lively interview about contemporary sports in America and Europe, with someone who is both a scholar and a true fan. How are sports fans similar to nerds? Why were the crowds at last summer’s Women’s World Cup so polite? How is it that being a fan ruins our appreciation of the actual games? And why does the ultimate success of soccer in the US require the conversion of average fans—in other words, fans like my local sports radio guys? We cover it all in an interview that will be ideal listening for your Thanksgiving travels.