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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Major League Soccer's Growth in the United States and Role in Diplomacy


New York, NY
February 12, 2013




Date: 02/12/2013 Description: DARLINGTON NAGBE, MIDFIELDER FOR THE PORTLAND TIMBERS, AURELIAN COLLIN, DEFENDER FOR SPORTING KANSAS CITY, AND JAY DEMERIT, DEFENDER FOR THE VANCOUVER WHITECAPS BRIEF AT THE NEW YORK FOREIGN PRESS CENTER - State Dept Image

FOREIGN PRESS CENTER WITH DARLINGTON NAGBE, MIDFIELDER FOR THE PORTLAND TIMBERS, AURELIAN COLLIN, DEFENDER FOR SPORTING KANSAS CITY, AND JAY DEMERIT, DEFENDER FOR THE VANCOUVER WHITECAPS

TOPIC: MAJOR LEAGUE SOCCER’S GROWTH IN THE UNITED STATES AND ROLE IN DIPLOMACY

TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 12, 2:30 P.M. EST

NEW YORK FOREIGN PRESS CENTER, 799 UNITED NATIONS PLAZA, 10TH FLOOR

MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to the New York Foreign Press Center. Soccer is a continually growing sport in the United States, and we’re delighted to have three star players from Major League Soccer here to talk about their experiences, both in the U.S. and abroad.

Sports diplomacy is an important tool that the State Department uses to bring people together, it fosters greater understanding, and empowers youth worldwide. Drawing on the world’s most widely played sport, the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs’ SportsUnited office is spearheading a global initiative that fuses international exchanges and soccer.

Since 2003, SportsUnited has brought over a thousand athletes from 65 countries to the U.S. to participate in sport visitor programs. SportsUnited has also sent approximately 250 athletes to almost 60 countries since 2005. They engage on a host of issues, including balancing academics and athletics, creating opportunities for athletes with disabilities, and also empowering women and girls through sports. In fact, the Portland Timbers, who Darlington plays for, hosted soccer sports visitors from Indonesia and from Haiti.

So it’s a pleasure to have these athletes here today, all of whom have global experiences playing soccer, and if you’ll allow me to introduce them, here’s Darlington Nagbe, midfielder for the Portland Timbers; Jay DeMerit, Vancouver Whitecaps defender; and Aurelien Collin, a defender for Sporting Kansas City.

So, gentleman, thank you for being here.

MR. NAGBE: Thank you.

MODERATOR: Yeah, if you could speak about your experience.

MR. NAGBE: My name’s Darlington Nagbe, player for the Portland Timbers, and I was born in Liberia, West Africa, and grew up in Europe a little bit playing, grew up in France. My dad played for a French team. So I grew up in France until I was six and lived in Greece for a little bit and Switzerland, and was growing up around soccer. It was a dream to play professionally like my father and then I got the opportunity to. But growing up, it was a lot of fun playing before school, during recess, after school, and so it was a little different when I moved here and you come out here and you can’t find anywhere to get a game going. So it was just a little different culture-wise, but the sport’s definitely getting bigger here in the United States and more kids are starting to play this, so I’m happy with that and I’m happy to be here.

MR. DEMERIT: My name is Jay DeMerit. I play for the Vancouver Whitecaps. I grew in the States, here in the States, a multisport athlete. Decided – I played college soccer through the university system and then after my graduation from university, I moved myself with no real contacts to the United Kingdom and played, ended up trialing and playing a lot of different low, low, low divisions over there until I got a trial with a team called Watford, which was, at that time, the second division of the English Tier. And from there, the following season, we got promoted to the British Premier League, where I played and ended up playing for Watford for six more seasons after that, and then also playing for the United States national team for almost five years through the 2010 World Cup. And now – after the World Cup, I was a free agent and came back to Vancouver and now represent the MLS in my third season for the Whitecaps.

MR. COLLIN: Hello. I’m Aurelien Collin and I’m French. It’s my third season in Sporting Kansas City, and I played – I grew up in Paris, and so I grew up with soccer. I was playing on the streets and it was my dream to be a soccer player, and thank God I made it. And I played all around Europe – Scotland, Portugal, Greece, Spain, France, and then – because I was not tired of traveling, I came here, and I am – I’m very happy of what the MLS is offering, and I hope I’m going to stay all my life here in America.

MODERATOR: So we’ll open it up to questions. If – once you have something to ask, please state your name and organization, just introduce yourselves to the players.

Kahraman.

QUESTION: Thank you, Melissa. Kahraman Haliscelik. I’m a correspondent to New York for Turkey national broadcaster – public broadcaster. Now, how do you guys, from your experiences, see that soccer or football can contribute to people understanding each other or showing more compassion towards one another or – for tolerance? How do you achieve it through soccer? Can you tell us from your own experiences?

MR. NAGBE: Well, for me, I think it’s just an international language. In Portland, it’s my first experience actually playing with a teammate that spoke a different language. I have a couple teammates that speak different languages, so just – when you get out there, you just find a way to work together and try to get to know the person because you want to build a winning team, and you have to play for your teammate and play for whoever you’re playing next to. So it’s a good way of learning, learning about other people, different cultures, and it makes you want to learn a language that they speak so you can become friends with them, so this opens up your eyes to different cultures in that way.

MR. DEMERIT: I would agree. I would just expand on that, and the fact that throughout your career, you play with a lot of guys from a lot of different countries, and I think as far as the diplomacy is concerned, for others to look at – say for instance, even teams in the MLS or even bigger teams like Manchester United or Chelsea, when you see guys of a Ghanian – Ghana and Spain and Portugal and France and all those countries playing together on the same team and hugging each other after goal celebrations and things like that, to see that diplomacy on the field in the biggest spotlight in the planet is something that only soccer can create.

And again, I think as players, it’s important for us to embrace that, and also just to put ourselves into that spotlight so others that watch, which, I think for the – at least for the Premiership, is over 400 million people, 400 million viewers. So if you think about that reach and what that means on a diplomacy level, then soccer is definitely the sport to do it.

MR. COLLIN: He said everything. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: My name is Alf Ask. I work for a Norwegian newspaper, Aftenposten. Do you see, really, any space on television in this country for a new sport that can be – isn’t everything taken up by hockey, baseball, basket, and American football?

MR. DEMERIT: Personally, I don’t think so. I think there’s definitely room for soccer in this country. Soccer’s played by more kids than any other sport in America. It’s just a matter of transferring that viewing public into something where people want to tune in. We’re averaging more people in the stands now.

First and foremost, you got to get people to the stands to be fans, and I think in the MLS, that’s what’s happening now. We’re growing every year. We’re averaging over 18,000 people a game throughout the attendance of the league, which I believe is second only to NFL. Obviously, the NBA and NHL play more games than we do, but as far as the number of seats that are taken up in a stadium, we’re right up there at the top. So that means that we’re moving in the right direction, and now it’s just a matter of, again, creating that fan experience where, when they go home and they find a game on TV, then they’ll pay attention to it even more.

And I think it’s always going to be a process, but it’s something that is a process that’s moving in the right direction for U.S. soccer for sure.

QUESTION: Can I follow up?

MODERATOR: Yeah.

QUESTION: A lot of Americans find that soccer is boring. I mean, for Americans, it’s something like they can’t even imagine they can play in 90 minutes and (inaudible) draw. It’s totally against, kind of, the culture and the society. How do you do something to make soccer more exciting?

MR. COLLIN: Where are you from?

QUESTION: Norway.

MR. COLLIN: Norway. Yeah, people --

QUESTION: I know everything about soccer. (Laughter.)

MR. COLLIN: Yeah. (Laughter.) No, I don't know. People who are going to say that soccer is boring say it because – or they never watch, or they don’t know nothing about it. But I think the sport is one of the most intense with no break. Every minute is soccer, and a team can be winning, and 10 minutes after, they can be drawing or they can be losing. So, I don't know. For me personally, soccer is not boring, and so that’s why I think this sport can grow up anywhere in the world. They grow up everywhere in the world, and now, right now, in America, they’re growing. And so that’s why I believe a lot in this league and in the success of football/soccer in America.

QUESTION: So may I follow? Just – I’m Russian, and the Russian soccer is a part of life of the culture, so what’s the reason of the growth, soccer growth, in the United States?

MR. DEMERIT: Well, I think it comes from a couple different ways. One is you look at a lot of these European leagues that have a huge fan base or have a huge following or fans that understand the game, then you look at the MLS; it’s only been around for 15 years. You look at the British Premier League, for instance; that’s been around for over a hundred years. You look at – I’m sure in Russia, that’s a national pastime of what you’ve grown up watching probably since you were a kid.

That culture hasn’t started in America, and it’s starting now. So we’re only 15 years in, and we’ve gone from, say, 15 years ago to where we now, and you look at that progression. And now you go another 60 years down the line, and you get to the stadiums where then hopefully there’s 60,000 people.

Even in Seattle already, in 15 years Seattle averages 45,000 people a game. And that’s more than – if we can get that at least to half of our stadiums in another 10 years, then we’ll be where the rest of Europe or South America or Mexico or those types of stadiums are at, and mainly because they’re way ahead of us as far as not only what fans or the culture watches. Because in America, the culture isn’t just about soccer. It’s about football, it’s about baseball, it’s all these pastimes that, again, have been around for a hundred years. So we fast-forward soccer, hopefully, for another 65 years, and we’ll be right there with them.

QUESTION: My name is Masako Hara. I am Japanese just – I am working with Japanese newspaper. I’d like to know the difference between football in Europe and football in United States. You both all have experience both in Europe and also in United States.

MR. NAGBE: What’s the main difference?

QUESTION: Yeah, just like – I think that America (inaudible) team is – national team is very pride (inaudible) when you see the work outs are very pride and --

MR. COLLIN: I think it’s – well, like, growing up I think the – one of the biggest differences here, I’d say it’s more organized, whereas in Europe it’s more – you play whatever opportunity you get. So whether it’s on a concrete anywhere, you find a way to make a goal, find a ball to play with. So I feel like when you start up that young and you play with different circumstances, you get a different feel for the game, whereas here it’s basketball. You can go anywhere and play basketball because there’s guys playing, but you don’t find the same yet with soccer. So it’s just more organized here, so there’s more structure, so maybe the creativity isn’t as there as it is in the other leagues in Europe. But it’s definitely growing from what I’ve seen.

QUESTION: And soccer sport is not always positive things as prizes, championships, trips, people (inaudible). In Russia we have a big problem with fan. I mean, fan clubs are not always good guys. So do you have any secrets or any (inaudible) help to build a bridge with fan clubs just for better situation, for better behavior with fans? What you can offer? Maybe you have some ideas.

MR. DEMERIT: Well, I think a lot of it’s governing itself now because of modern technology. Like you said, the violence in sport or the violence in football isn’t really around as much because not only is it cracked down a lot harder on, where fans are losing season tickets, fans are getting in trouble with the law by breaking the law or getting in hooligan type activities, mainly because people are watching now. You can’t do anything on screen. Players – and that even filters down to the players on the field. Players aren’t as dirty as they used to be either, because you can’t get away with it.

And I think the fan culture and the violence culture in football, in soccer, is going away. And I think that’s a positive for the sport because everyone knows it’s all about the integrity of the game, and how we carry ourselves as players reflects on how fans carry themselves off the field, too. So I think we’re all in it together, and I think clubs should work more with their fans and fan groups. I think it’s important for clubs to have a good relationship with their fan groups.

I know even for the White Caps, the White Caps meet with the head – we have four different fan organizations in our club. And the club meets with them once every – at least once a year in the beginning of the year to go over certain regulations that the club would like to see. And they also go over – and the fans also tell the club, “This is what we would like to see from a fan perspective,” whether it’s interaction – more interaction with the players, or whether it’s controlled chants to create an environment in the stadium, all of those things are – I think are on the table during these meetings. But it’s a meeting, nonetheless, of what we are. And that’s hopefully a link which is the sport itself between fans, the club, and the players, which, again, is what we all want to create, is all three of those things being happy.

QUESTION: Thank you again. Now, in some of the countries, we see racism rising in the soccer. I think that’s a follow-up question. How do we deal with that? How do we get over it? And how do we push racism aside and have people understand each other? I think that was the question. And we’re wondering how, from your own experiences, like if you were French and you played in a place that wasn’t really good – on good terms with France, it would come on you. And how – in some countries, unfortunately, there is still this problem. How do you overcome that?

MR. NAGBE: Where there is this problem?

QUESTION: Russia, Israel, many countries.

MR. NAGBE: Yeah?

QUESTION: There is – the American media especially has been reporting on this soccer club in Israel.

QUESTION: Yeah. Beitar.

QUESTION: Right. And they don’t want any other player except Israelis. And they have been violent. And Israelis are tired of them too. But they don’t really – I’m not sure how we deal with those people.

MR. NAGBE: Yeah. But you don’t think it’s bigger than sports than what’s the conflict you see in the city or in the country come back into the soccer? And maybe it can be a fight that it can’t fight out of the stadiums and they fight it with the help of the team. I think it’s bigger than soccer, because of course there is people stupid everywhere. But soccer is beautiful, and people, they have passion. And after you have to determine the limits of the passion, sometimes it go a little farther, so they’re crazy and they violent. I don't know.

QUESTION: So you have not had that experience?

MR. NAGBE: No. Yeah. There is --

QUESTION: Good, good.

MR. NAGBE: In France, there is couple places where you go and if you black or whatever, like, they going to treat you different, bad. But very small places and I think it’s a very small part of people, so we don’t care about them. They’re stupid, and it’s – in life, there is exactly the same problem, so I think a lot of time what’s happening in the society you can see it in the stadium. But I don't think soccer has anything to do with it.

MODERATOR: Do you see soccer as an avenue to combat that?

MR. NAGBE: Yeah. Sports can overcome everything. A lot of movies, American movies, you saw that. So yeah, I agree.

QUESTION: I’m curious, Mr. DeMerit, you were born in United States. Basketball, football means football, not soccer, and also hockey and baseball. Why did you pick up soccer, because I know you like it or something that you’re –

MR. DEMERIT: Sure.

QUESTION: Yes. If you go to the high school you have a lot of sports, for instance.

MR. DEMERIT: Yeah. Well, growing up I think definitely in the American culture you’re encouraged to do all sports. Being a good athlete first is part of our American culture, I think. And I was just no different than most kids. But as I got older and I decided which sport I would choose, soccer just was something that I always enjoyed.

And now that I’m older, even older, I realize that I made the right choice, because soccer is a very unique sport in the fact that it can build the bridges that you want in your life. It allows you to live in as many countries as you’d want and the opportunities that are presented to you. I’ve been very fortunate to be able to live in different countries. And if I would have ended up playing basketball, I’m not sure that that opportunity would have been in front of me. So I’m very fortunate to be able to play the game. And again, it’s just – it’s something that I think all the players in soccer, and most of the people that are fans of soccer, appreciate about the game.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.) You say that soccer is the most popular sport among kids. But they get older, everybody gets football or basketball. Why?

MR. DEMERIT: Yeah. Well, I think it’s because of a couple of reasons. One is because if you’re – right now, again talking about the lucrative side of the business and how you’re a professional athlete, if you’re an NBA basketball player you might never have to work again after you play for three or four years. So if you – say you’re at a ripe age of 18, 19 years old and you have an opportunity to go play basketball or you have an opportunity to go play soccer, and you think that you’re going to have a good chance of going pro, right now, of course, it’s way more lucrative and way more in the spotlight to go and play for the Lakers than it would be to play for the Vancouver Whitecaps.

But I think that’s the number one reason why kids choose that. But I also think that, again, once football becomes a lucrative sport in America there will be more people choosing soccer. And again, going back to what I said earlier, I just think that it’s only a matter of time.

QUESTION: What’s the biggest difference for a player in Europe and in the United States?

MR. DEMERIT: A difference of what?

QUESTION: When it comes to salary, when it comes to the economy part of it. I mean, in Europe some of these players, they are – have been – had to work up the wall here.

MR. DEMERIT: Yeah.

QUESTION: If you look at some –

MR. DEMERIT: Well, a lot of it comes by --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) difference between (inaudible).

MR. DEMERIT: Well, for instance, in England or the Premier League, it’s all based on TV money. And it’s also the clubs – the clubs themselves govern themselves. So you see all the time the Russian owners come in or, for instance, the Man City sheikhs are coming in and they’re spending big money, but they control that so they can bring in who they want and they pay the players what they want, but that’s not how the MLS is run. The MLS is run on a very strict business model because it is in its growing phase. They’re not allowing people, big business people to come because it will – that’ll shut Columbus down, it’ll turn Kansas City or some of the smaller soccer markets in this country or in this league into nothing. And you can’t allow that as you try to grow a league.

And I think what – the MLS has done a good job in maintaining that because we’re still here 15 years later. And sometimes even in the women’s league, when the women’s league first came in, a couple markets were averaging 40,000 people a game, but then a couple markets that couldn’t afford the marketing or couldn’t afford the TV contracts or couldn’t afford to pay the players what they wanted to play – to pay them, they just disbanded because it just became a hierarchy thing where there was four teams up here and then there was five teams down here, and those teams can’t survive and the league can’t survive with five teams. So it’s a very, very tight business model that the MLS has been able to run, but they’ve also done a very good job because now there’s 19 teams, hopefully soon to be 20, and we’re a sustainable league.

I think, again, we’ll get to those lucrative contracts eventually. But until there’s TV money, until they give owners or more money people more freedom to pay the players, then that’s not going to happen yet.

QUESTION: I’m Daniel from a Barcelona-based newspaper, Avui. (Inaudible) but maybe you can ask a certain question. Is the soccer as popular as it used to be among girls or the female soccer as popular as it used to be? And how can soccer help to empower the girls?

MR. DEMERIT: Yeah, I think soccer is still just as popular for women as it always has been. I think, again, the collapsing of the women’s league hurt women’s soccer for a while, but to see the league back now and hopefully going to start to gain some traction, that’s going to be important for women’s soccer. But I think the main reason why soccer is so popular with America in the women’s game is because of our success of our national team. You look at the women; they win the World Cup or get to the finals of the – or win the gold medal at the Olympics. And all of these things is all based on the successes of our national team, and that’s when America, especially on a soccer realm, is in the spotlight.

We see it with the men’s team all the team. Every four years on that two-week stretch, soccer is the most important sport in America. But that’s only once every four years. But with the women, because they are successful in every major tournament they’re in, they are under the spotlight more so, it is popular. But now I think it’s just about making sure that their league becomes popular too, and then I think soccer will be even – become even more important for women.

And again, being in a spotlight and having success will always empower women to go and try to achieve that, and little girls can watch the Abby Wambachs of the world go and lift World Cup trophies and say, “I want to be her,” or see Alex Morgan in Times Square on a big billboard and say, “I want to be her.” All those types of things are always empowering for women and especially for little girls who want to go and be successful, which I think, again, nowadays is something that’s very normal.

QUESTION: Yes, I have questions for the players that come to the United States and play either from Europe or from Africa, that what kind of a challenging and that you are facing and what adjustment do you have to make to play here, just come here to play and win your match?

MR. COLLIN: I moved here when I was around 11 years old, so I grew up playing here. And the only challenge that I think was not – as a kid was not getting enough people to play the game with you. But now I think it’s growing. As you said, I think it’s growing and more kids are playing, so there is more opportunities now to go and play outside or play with your friends and then go to school, and more kids enjoying the game so you get to play in school and things like that. So that’s the end point of being a kid. It was good.

MR. NAGBE: I think when you play in Europe and you have the opportunity to come in America after, it’s very different but in a good way, I think. You don’t have as much pressure that you have in Europe, and here they – you have more liberty to be able to do whatever you want. And I think the level of profits from the leagues in America are huge, like even in university they have more facilities and more ability to train to do whatever the world they want, and we don’t have in Europe except maybe like small, very big club have. And I think it’s when you play in Europe and you arrive in America, it’s very, very, very easy to adapt because you’re in the best situation possible. American, they treat you as a king, so it’s not – I think it’s not a challenge. It’s almost a big present if you arrive in, like, as a big player, that’s what I’m talking about.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) players from outside of this country, after David Beckham, Thierry Henry, and all these big names, I mean, obviously when you play, people obviously have more expectations, I guess, because of that, right, from you guys?

MR. NAGBE: From us?

QUESTION: Yeah. They see you as somebody who comes from outside and maybe could –

MR. NAGBE: Ah, yeah, you’re right. Yeah, you’re right. Yeah, of course, because everybody thinks that Europe is perfect, is so much better in anywhere than America. And that’s what the reputation what people thinks, but sometimes it’s not true. But I know if America bring European players to make growing the league, and of course, if we’re not good we better go home than stay in America.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) How important have Beckham years in America (inaudible) been for the soccer?

MR. DEMERIT: I think they were huge. I think he was a fantastic ambassador for this league. You could tell his intentions were always genuine for the right reasons. He’s done that wherever he’s been. He’s been in – played on the biggest teams on the planet and he stays with the same integrity. He keeps to his word in whatever he says he’s going to do. He brought a spotlight to this league before the Henrys got here, before a lot of the big names that will come here. He set the standard. He talked well about the MLS. He talked well about its players and its standard.

And I think the MLS will miss him, but I also think that he put in his time here. It wasn’t like he came here for a year to live in Hollywood and go home. He came here, he put in work, he won championships, and he was done with what he set out to do. And that’s all you could ever ask of David Beckham. And I think the MLS will miss him, of course, and they’ll miss his character, but I think they want to try to get out of that shadow too, maybe, as a league. Everyone in Europe talks about, oh, that’s the league Beckham’s in. Now, hopefully, we have our own identity that he helped create. And I think he did that and he was ready to leave, and fair play to him.

QUESTION: Jay, I have a follow-up with what you said about the lucrative side of business that’s brought a lot of people eventually to play different sports, but we all know that not everybody can play basketball because it requires some height, not everybody can play football, you need to be quite heavy. So in a way, there must be other reasons besides that aspect of why that is not – it’s not going as fast as the other countries because we see Japan in a few years they have this pretty presentable Japanese soccer league.

MR. DEMERIT: Yeah.

QUESTION: So it comes down to it, what are the other fundamental reason, you think? Because you’re American; you probably know better.

MR. DEMERIT: Well, I think part of it is choice. You have the choice to play five different sports. I’m not sure in – I play with a South Korean right now, a very famous South Korean soccer player, and that’s their cultural sport. And I’m sure it’s like that in Japan. Besides baseball, there’s not a lot of Japanese playing basketball and hockey and having opportunities to do all those things. In America we have the opportunity to play five or six sports if you want. Now, yes, we have the numbers to make up all those – all of those different sports and those positions and all of that stuff, but I think at the end of it all it’s just not everyone chooses soccer right now, but it’s only because they have other choices. I think it’s also because of other contracts that they could maybe get if they are a good athlete. And other than that, I think it’s just, again, going back to just being a matter of time.

QUESTION: A lot of soccer players are ambassadors for the UN, different agencies like UNDP or UNICEF, and they represent development and they represent the future of children, childhood, et cetera. And I was wondering what values can an American soccer player or a soccer player that plays in America represent and promote?

MR. COLLIN: I think there’s a lot of values they can represent and help teach kids. First of all, there’s teamwork. It’s a team sport, which is a lot different from basketball and football. I feel like soccer you need the whole team and one guy can’t take over a game by himself, which he can in basketball. So just to make aware that it’s a team sport and you can build relationships and meet different kind of people, people from different cultures, different countries, and learn more about their backgrounds and just make you more aware, maybe help stop, as he said before, racism and things like that. So just more aware that you are about people’s lives and people’s cultures, and become a better person and help stop bad things from going on.

QUESTION: Jay, how does it feel to be an American playing abroad, because there are not many of American players playing abroad? And how people perceive you as an American?

MR. DEMERIT: Sure.

QUESTION: What was the impression you left on them and the impression they left on you?

MR. DEMERIT: Well, I think for me personally, England was a good fit for me. I think just in my style of play I was able to, I suppose, adapt to that football culture maybe a little bit easier than I could have, say, if I landed in Spain or if I went to Portugal and more of a technical side of soccer. Just being a decent athlete and physical as a person and as a player, that allowed me to fit into that English league maybe a little bit easier. So I suppose being an American helped me do that. And again, just having an athletic background allowed me to adapt athletically to that league and the physicality to that league maybe a little bit easier than maybe some other people that come into those leagues. So I think that was one of the reasons.

And again, I think a lot of it depends on your culture. In England, again, where my experience comes from, they love someone that works hard, they love someone that is loyal to their club, they love someone that puts the club before themselves or their pay packet or whatever. And if you come in with those kind of open ideas and just give yourself to the club and say I’m here for you guys, I’m here to work for you guys, then a lot of times, more times than not, they’ll cheer for you. And it was really cool the first time I heard England fans chant, “USA.” It’s one of those situations you never really find yourself in until it’s there, but it’s a pretty cool feeling nonetheless.

QUESTION: Did you play other sports when you were a kid, like with basketball or hockey or –

MR. DEMERIT: Mm-hmm. I played basketball, I ran track and field, and I played soccer. So those three sports all the way up till I was 19.

QUESTION: I have a question to ask three of you, if you don’t feel comfortable at this time, because I’m personally a Zidane fan, right, what happened that we all know the very famous head butt thing, right? And what I’d just like to know what your opinion on that, if you’re comfortable to talk about it.

MR. NAGBE: I don’t remember. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Because I think that different culture we are very different, so –

MR. DEMERIT: Do you want to answer that? (Laughter.)

MR. COLLIN: I mean, I don’t know what he said to Zidane or – he must have said something bad to get him to head butt him in the chest. But I feel like everyone’s different. Some people can take whatever someone says to them in the field, whether it’s about your family, racially, or whatever it is, and some people just have to react at that moment. But as I said, he must have said something real bad for him to head butt him during a World Cup final. But everyone’s different. Everyone has different emotions and carries themselves a little bit different.

MR. DEMERIT: I’d agree with that, yeah.

MR. NAGBE: Everybody is human.

QUESTION: But I notice in France they still, they love him, right? I mean –

MR. NAGBE: Yeah. Everybody was upset about this act, but he’s the only – maybe I think the only mistake he did in his whole career, so we can forgive.

QUESTION: Also (inaudible) that day.

MR. NAGBE: Yeah.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: But that happens a lot in the soccer field. A lot of things we don’t get, right? I’m just saying that obviously we don’t really know what’s going – a lot of things we don’t go – I mean, the TV is not going to show much of – a lot of times you don’t get the – it’s not – I guess it’s not, again, made for TV because you can’t see a lot of action.

MR. DEMERIT: It’s hard to get the full story. Put it that way.

QUESTION: Yes.

MR. COLLIN: No one knows what he told him. It may be easier to understand why he did it if everyone knew what he told him, but --

QUESTION: Okay.

MODERATOR: We have time for about two more questions.

QUESTION: You started playing in (inaudible) soccer team in England. There’s a documentary based on you, Rise and Shine. Do you see yourself as a role model for (inaudible)?

MR. DEMERIT: Yeah, very much so. This is something that hopefully I’ll continue to do when I’m done playing. Again, the film is kind of – it’s taken a life of its own, I suppose. It was funded by soccer fans so they kind of – they feel like it’s theirs. And in my opinion, it is theirs because it represents the millions of kids that were in my position or that will be in my position, and they’re going to have a decision to make as whether to go and try to achieve their dreams and try to achieve something that somebody told them they couldn’t do, or are they going to just say it doesn’t matter, I’m going to go and try to do it myself. And that’s the message that hopefully the film conveys to people that watch it, and I’m very proud to be the subject of that and hopefully I can now inspire kids to make the same decision that I did, and that’s just to go for it.

Because even in the end, if I never would have became a professional soccer player, I would have had a new life adventure I could have learned something from. And I think that’s a lesson that a lot of kids need to learn is that whenever they’re – when they’re faced with an opportunity or they’re faced with an impossible journey, it’s better to do that and try it rather than to just do what they’re supposed to do or do what somebody else told them to do. And it’s important that people see that and people see stories like myself and I’m sure millions of other guys that have stories about how they got there and went through certain adversities to get there. But it’s important for us to share those, and that’s why I ended up saying yes to doing the documentaries, because I want people to look at my story and maybe look to that in their own lives and how they apply that to their own life situations.

MODERATOR: Well, thank you so much for being here. It was a pleasure to have you. Thank you so much for coming. A transcript will be available later, and these guys will stick around for a few minutes if you wanted to chat, and then we’ll be on our way.

MR. DEMERIT: Thanks, guys.

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