The Outlier: An international student’s perspective on the Super Bowl

Lewin Schmitt
Staff Writer

The Super Bowl is probably as about as American as it can get. However, this did not stop some of Troy University’s international student community from turning on their televisions and jumping on the bandwagon Sunday.

For some, this was their first Super Bowl ever, while others know the hype from their home countries. The latter was the case for me. Sunday night, my Facebook newsfeed was loaded with comments, memes and articles dealing with the Super Bowl.

To my great surprise, most of those did not originate from my Trojan friends, but were actually posted by students back home in Germany.

According to numbers of Handelsblatt, a German newspaper, at least 1.31 million Germans watched the match on German televisions, and the actual number is likely to be much higher because many younger people stream the game online. Remarkably, most of the viewers probably didn’t even know the rules of the sport; even fewer have any affiliation with either Seattle or New England.

Considering the time difference and the marginal role that American football usually plays in Europe, one might be curious as to why so many Germans stay awake until the early morning, attend public-viewing parties and even go to the point of playing hooky because of this sport.

Sebastian Vollmer is a possible explanation. In 2009, the offensive tackle was the first German citizen ever to be selected in an NFL draft and, since Sunday, Vollmer is also the first German to win the Super Bowl.

On a broader scale, however, the Super Bowl remains as the only time of the year in which the world actually takes note of American football. The fact is that sports like soccer are still much more popular on a global range. The 2014 soccer World Cup final had a global audience of about 1 billion, compared to the 125 million for the 2014 Super Bowl. Approximately 90 percent of the Super Bowl audience lives within the U.S.

The president of Troy University’s soccer club, Yhlas Jorayev, a junior computer science major from Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, said he avoided the Super Bowl but understands the American enthusiasm for it.

Quoting Wayne Rooney, a famous soccer player from the United Kingdom, Jorayev said that the innumerable commercial breaks during football games make the games slow, “like watching paint dry.”

Jenny Carlson, a junior accounting major from Halmstad, Sweden, arrived in the U.S. at the beginning of this semester and said that she had never watched a football game before. She said she did not know what to expect, but, nevertheless, she joined some colleagues on Sunday afternoon to watch the match together, realizing that it is “a big deal” here.

She said that Katy Perry’s performance and the tension of the game’s last few minutes were the highlights for her.

Her friend Sofie Dalsgaard Rasmussen, a freshman anthropology major from Copenhagen, Denmark, said she struggled with a pragmatic issue. “Living in Alabama, where the focus is mainly on college football, it was difficult to choose a side,” she said.

José Carrete from Mexico City, who studied political science in Troy last semester and is now back in Mexico, made different observations. “A friend, who is a Pats fan (New England Patriots), celebrated as if he would have played for that team,” he said.

Mexico being a neighboring country, the spillover that comes with the Super Bowl leaves its marks and more people there are following the sport event. “Like many others, we organized a barbecue at noon with some beers and then were watching the game,” he said.

“Bread and circuses” was the strategy used for distracting the common people during the time of the Roman Empire, so they would not become aware of their miserable situations. Cultural pessimists regard the Super Bowl as a pretty accurate analogy, showing that this still holds true in the 21st century.

Whether one follows such a political stance or not, it is still striking that while cultural preferences and favorite sports differ amongst countries, all international students interviewed could think of similar obsessions about one sport event or another back home.

After all, we are of the same kind, and if watching the Super Bowl with international friends helps us to realize that fact, it is a wonderful argument for more positivism about the sport.

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