What football taught me about myself and life: Part 1

  Not quite real football, but it'll do.

Not quite real football, but it'll do.

As you all probably know, the FIFA 2018 World Cup in Russia is less than a month away. Since I'm a huge fan of the beautiful game, I will be using the next two months or so as an opportunity to write more football-oriented content on the blog. That said, since I do still want to stay true to the essence of Cowboy Funk, I want the content that I write to be relatable and useful to the reader. That's why this series of football-posts that will be a part social, part philosophical take on a sport that has had such an impact on my life and personality.

In other words, I hope to not only give you an insight into the world's most popular sport, but to also show you the deeper emotional, philosophical, and social impact that 22 (wo)men kicking a ball around for 90 minutes can have on people. I especially want to shine a light on the extremely important sociocultural aspect of football in order to help you understand why people have such a profound, long-lasting emotional bond with the sport. Lastly, I want to communicate the impact it has had on my character, life skills, and perspective of life and how it has helped me get through life itself.

Part 1 will be a (lightly-edited) post I wrote a year ago on the other blog I write for, the Juventus SB Nation blog Black & White & Read All Over, or BWRAO for short. I've been a moderator, member, and writer of this blog for approximately 7 years now and in this post I look back at the (life) lessons I learned from being a part of this online community. Funny enough, this post was barely even about football.

Freedom of Speech

Being a moderator taught me just how tough it is to adequately interpret the issue of freedom of speech. Although we do have the SB Nation community guidelines about what is and is not tolerated in comments, the delicate nature of freedom of speech is extraordinarily difficult to implement consistently. If you’re too strict, it looks like you’re abusing your dictatorial censorship powers. If you’re too lenient, not only does it seem like you’re implicitly condoning malicious behavior, but you also risk letting the community atmosphere spiral into toxicity.

On the other hand, sometimes people do legitimately make an error of judgement and do admit and apologize afterwards for stepping out of line. It seems like a dismissal of their apologies if you were to delete/hide their comments or, in the most extreme case, ban them for their transgressions.

On that note, I remember that JohnCas [Editor's note: He was one of the previous moderators] had a relatively laissez-faire towards banning; at least, that’s how I interpreted it. He would generally only issue a public/private warning here and there, thus only dropping the 'banhammer' if a person was explicitly, repeatedly, and evidently racist, homophobic, or sexist. I admired his approach and broadly adopted it, meaning that I lean towards giving people another chance and/or just warning them in private if it seems like they’re threading a fine line.

I generally like to think about whether the comments were direct personal attacks and if a private warning would be more effective instead of a ban in terms of getting the message across. In reality though, I’m too lenient/nice to be a moderator because I probably let a bit too much slide…

Mastering the art of respectfully discussing a topic that is dear to your heart in a way that doesn’t push emotional buttons is deceptively difficult.

In a strange way, all of this reminded me of a discussion I once read about how difficult it is for Facebook (and I suppose Twitter as well) to moderate content on their platforms. It’s not an easy task when you have to monitor hundreds of millions of posts per week, but we can clearly see the damage that's being done on these platforms nowadays as the toxicity there has spiraled out of control. Obviously, the case of social media is a bit different from our situation here, but I think there is a similarity between the two in terms of the (political) correctness in what we say, setting and maintaining boundaries, and what we as a community/society accept as tolerable behavior.

Where do you draw the line?

Emotions and Rationality

I’m very grateful and honored to be part of a community that generally has the reputation of having intelligent discussions from insightful people from a range of professional backgrounds. That said, it’s not always rainbows and butterflies over here, since we’re all flawed human beings, right? With the rise of Juventus’s fortunes on the pitch came an expected, though significant spike in user traffic on the blog.

I obviously welcome each and every person that wants to be part of the community – as long as they respectfully follow the rules – but it was around the time of this uptick in website traffic that I learned another interesting lesson. Mastering the art of respectfully discussing a topic that is dear to your heart (Juventus!) in a way that doesn’t push emotional buttons is deceptively difficult. Ideally, you want to discuss a topic in a way that actually creates/stimulates thoughtful discussion instead of triggering a piss-fest of anger and name-calling.

A fool thinks himself to be wise, but a wise man knows himself to be a fool.
— William Shakespeare

It’s something that I was oddly blasé about in my younger years but now see so damn persistently in my daily life. From all these years of interacting with people from a wide variety of cultures here at BWRAO, I learned how to use the appropriate vocabulary that avoids emotional triggers (i.e. personal attacks) and stimulates the rational parts of our brains. It’s funny because once you negatively hit someone’s emotional chords, you can basically throw all rational discussion out of the window. The person isn’t going to respond to your rational argument anymore; all he sees, hears, and responds to is the personal ‘attack’ in order to defend himself. The intellectual discussion is over now, all that remains is a heated contest of never-ending name-calling.

Don’t bother. Your voice can no longer reach him where he is. His heart belongs again to darkness… In the end, every heart returns to the darkness whence it came. You see, darkness is the heart’s true essence.
— Ansem, Seeker of Darkness (from Kingdom Hearts 1)

Like I said, now I see it all the frickin’ time in my daily life (and politics?). So many intellectual discussions gone down the drain because people let their emotional impulses get the better of them. It really is remarkable though how, all of a sudden, your eyes are wide open to perceive something that was there all along but you somehow never noticed. Eyes wide open, right?

Argue like you’re right, listen like you’re wrong.
— Adam Grant

Writing

During my early academic years (i.e. pre-university) my writing skills were fair. Nothing to make the likes of Ernest Hemingway tremble in fear, but certainly enough to get an acceptable job done. Without a doubt, however, writing on BWRAO made me the writer that I am today. First, I became a reasonably respected commenter and, eventually, I gained the confidence to regularly contribute with articles. Honestly, I would never have had the confidence to write for a public audience if I had not gained it here. I obviously have to thank Danny (the boss at BWRAO) for giving me the opportunity to write for here for so long and letting me say basically whatever I want (a privilege that I could have easily abused). Without the slightest doubt in my mind, if I had not become a member of this online Juventus community, I would never ever have launched my own blog, Cowboy Funk.

Becoming a good writer didn’t only well, you know, make me a good writer, but it also had a profound effect on my personal life. Heck, I was actually able to say with full confidence “I actually have something that I’m genuinely good at!” It’s impossible to describe the stratospheric effect that having confidence in your abilities has on your personal life; I can truly say that this dramatically boosted the way I felt about and looked at myself.

Yet another benefit of this writing mastery was that it also added some creative flavor to my academic/professional writing. I was able to write my essays with a far more creative color than I would have been able to do otherwise, even though it sometimes may sound a bit weird/unprofessional to people that aren't used to it.

If it weren't for football, BWRAO, and Juventus, I would never have become a writer.

“I hate writing; I love having written”

When I first started writing regular articles for BWRAO, I was as excited as a kid that goes to Disneyland for the first time. I put a lot of emotional energy into it because I had never experienced anything like this before in my life (given that I’m only 25yrs old now) and I absolutely loved it. However, just like when you finally ‘win over’ that girl you’ve courted for so long, experience the romantic “honeymoon period” at the start of the relationship, but eventually find things to become a bit ordinary, my romance for writing for BWRAO also wore off after a while. It really is as they say: no matter how much passion you have for something, it all eventually becomes work (or a job) no matter what.

Despite this though, every time I look back at the content that I’ve written over the years, I’m so immensely proud of and happy with myself for all that I've produced. I cannot describe how grateful I am for the achievements that I'm able to claim from years and years of writing, because it's something that nobody can ever take away from me. I actually did all of this!

I developed my skills as a writer and can clearly trace the stratospheric improvement I made in this skill after writing dozens and dozens of blog posts over the years. Even though it became a bit of a grind after a while, the immense feeling of satisfaction and pride is, no matter how cheesy it sounds, absolutely worth the work. The satisfaction makes all of it so worth it.

All in all, it still is a paradoxical internal battle that I have between the romance of this opportunity to write about a topic so dear to my heart and having to put in the hours of labor to get it done. That said, it does remind me of something I’ve heard a few times now on a few podcasts and blogs I follow. Half the job of becoming “successful” with anything boils down to simply showing up day after day and doing the work/making the content.

I certainly don’t hate writing, but I sure as hell love having written.

The priceless value of community

No matter how introverted or socially-reclusive you are, we human beings undoubtedly are social creatures. When I first found this blog (back in 2010/2011 or so), I was going a very rough time in my personal life, such that any and every Juventus game was a welcome respite from my daily challenges. This feeling of comfort was made immeasurably better once I found this community to share all kinds of thoughts and feelings related to Juventus, and even the occasional mindless banter about funny experiences in life.

That said, I have to recognize that the BWRAO community has had its unsavory and negative moments where the mood doesn’t feel quite so bright and bubbly. As much as I enjoy and love to praise this community, it is unfortunately true that behind every light there is always a bit of darkness. It is no different for BWRAO.

It’s human nature to be weird but also to be lonely. This conflict between fitting in and standing out is at the core of who we are.
— Seth Godin (from Page 85 of his book "We are all weird")

Nevertheless, having a community, be it with people you’ve never met in person or with those in your physical proximity, really can bring a breath of fresh air and hope to your life. Because at the end of the day, we’re all just weird people trying to figure out this thing called life.

And we need each other to do it.

See you, Space Cowboy.