Sep 14, 2022 - Sports

Why sports are the great unifier

Illustration of a smiling earth wearing a sweatband
Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Sports have always been a unifying force around the globe, and as the world becomes increasingly interconnected, that unique ability to bring people together grows even more profound.

My experience: I spent my August sabbatical traveling around Europe, where I found sports to be a universal language.

  • In Paris, one of the best things I did was join a pickup basketball game. After days of speaking mostly (bad) French, I spent two hours speaking hoops. Turns out yelling, "Kobe!" on a fadeaway translates.
  • In Dublin, I talked NFL with a German man named Ben — a conversation our grandfathers wouldn't have been able to have. Now, the NFL has fans all over the world and Ben plans to attend the Seahawks-Buccaneers game in Munich this November.
  • In Barcelona, I toured Camp Nou (home of FC Barcelona), which had even more visitors than the world-famous Sagrada Familia (Roman Catholic church). In both places, I saw people overcome with emotion.
  • In Greece, my cab driver and I bonded over our shared love of Greek sensation Giannis Antetokounmpo, one of 109 international players on opening night NBA rosters last season. Three decades ago, there were just 24.
  • On one of my flights, I spent an hour talking about Formula 1 with an Italian woman seated next to me. A few years ago, I wouldn't have had much to say. Now, thanks to Netflix's "Drive to Survive," I'm one of the millions of Americans enthralled by the sport.
  • On another flight, I had a fun exchange with a guy wearing a Chelsea jersey. In the past, he may have laughed at a silly American trying to talk "football." Now, Chelsea is owned by a Yankee and employs Christian Pulisic, giving us plenty of common ground.
  • In rural Ireland, I got a glimpse of a hurling training session. Had I been born in a different era, I may have never discovered the "fastest game on grass." But thanks to YouTube, I watch highlights regularly and it made me feel more connected to a place I'd never been.

The big picture: Major events like the Olympics and World Cup have unified us for centuries. Now, with leagues becoming more international in talent and more global in reach, sports break down barriers with far more regularity. It's a beautiful thing.

The bottom line: Sports, man. Nothing better.

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