It is often an emotional experience for me to look back at my childhood and to consider the ways in which it shaped my adulthood. It is also a tricky undertaking to play the game of human memory. The dynamics of what one’s brain decides it is to be remembered and what it is to be forgotten are surely fascinating. Human memory at a particular moment in one’s life reconstructs the past in ways that make that reconstructed past a sort of weird combination of two worlds. The present becomes entangled with the past in complex webs of meaning. As a result, how accurate my own memories of the past might not be the important question, since at the time that I reconstruct the past in my mind, my reflections on that past seem real to me and thus shape my behavior in conscious and unconscious ways.
What prompted the current blog post are the reactions of some of my friends and family members to my very passionate engagement with the great NFL season of the Seahawks and with Seattle’s memorable celebration of the Superbowl win. One person called my behavior immature; another described it as embarrassing, remarking along the way that I might be suffering from a nervous breakdown. I think that the reactions might partly stem from bafflement and confusion as to how a “respectable” man, who in the eyes of our society is supposed to act in a certain fashion, could behave like the “common” person. As someone told me, “sports are for Neanderthals.” The correct behavior for me, as an academic, is to be reserved and not succumb to emotional outbursts. I am supposed to care about the “important” issues. There is already a script on which to base the role that I play in society. Deviating from it is akin to heresy.
I certainly do not have to defend myself and quite frankly I do not care to do that. However, I decided to write these few words to highlight that, not infrequently, the roles that society assigns to us are oppressive; they deny us our individuality, our personal history, our complexities, and our contradictions. Starting from this premise, I would like to share my memory of a part of my childhood that has a bearing on my reaction to the Seahawks’ win. But before that, I must clearly state that the elitist tendency to put people in boxes within a hierarchy from the most sophisticated/most civilized to the least sophisticated/least civilized is simply bull****. I have met in my life countless numbers of people who are perceived as “commoners” and who are in my mind smarter, more nuanced, more sophisticated, more emotionally intelligent, and frankly more human than many of the people I met in academia or among the so-called “educated elites.” Often in life, what puts you ahead has very little to do with your personal qualities, intellectual abilities, and talents. Instead, it has much to do with your race, gender, sexual orientation, family social standing, and other socially constructed criteria.
To get back to my childhood, I wanted to share part of my story as a sports fan. I was born in a small town in Morocco, called Khouribga, about 90 miles south of Casablanca. I grew up cheering for the local soccer team that carried the name OCK (Olympic of Khouribga). One thing that you need to know about my hometown at the time is that it was looked at as one of the places in which resided the people coming from the countryside. By definition, for the people of the big cities, the residents of my hometown were the uneducated, unsophisticated, and backward people. It happened though that my town also played an important economic role in Morocco, given that its soil was rich in minerals. The wealthy nationalized company that extracted the minerals was the sponsor of the OCK. That the wealth was gained at the time on the backs of miners who suffered from poor working conditions is a story for another time. It remains that the OCK would ultimately have better sporting facilities, allowing it to develop a good team.
By the time I was a child that could understand sports, the team was very competitive within the Premier Moroccan national soccer league. And yet, nationally the team was never taken seriously, despite often finishing among the top teams in the league. The team was even often discriminated against as when it won the league championship but was robbed of it due to an irregularity that was in fact common throughout the league. Not only that, even when talented players from my hometown team made it into the national team, they were called names and were judged according to a different criteria than the players stemming from the big teams.
Despite my family not being originally from Khouribga, as a child, I became very sensitive to all that seemingly unjust treatment and that negative portrayal of my hometown and my team. This feeling became more acute when my family moved to the capital Rabat. I was often directly and in less direct ways teased about my background. My constant awareness of the negative image of my town and soccer team scarred me as a teenager. This was particularly difficult because, from a young age, my soccer team had been my escape from my severe family problems. As a child, I had very little control over the conflicts and difficulties that plagued my family. Thus, my soccer team was the route through which I escaped to maintain my sanity. When things around me seemed hopeless, my team and its remarkable play made me proud and allowed me to dream of victories, celebrations, and simply good times.
Every day of the week was just a bridge to Sunday when I finally got to sneak out of my house and meet my friends, so that we all head to the stadium and cheer for the OCK. Not all of us had the means to pay for the tickets, but we all managed to help each other get into the game, finding unguarded back doors to use or short walls to climb. When the OCK was playing an away game, we all gathered around a radio set to listen to the national Sunday soccer broadcast. More importantly, when the team was able to win some cup or championship, it was simply the best feeling ever. For a time, I felt that the world around me loved me and that I had a tight connection to a community which I perceived as being constantly vilified. It was ecstasy in the mind of a child who often felt unable to control the world around him.
Decades later, it was in Seattle, Washington that I was able to put another chapter of my life back on track. Being keenly sensitive to marginality and disrespect, I became aware of how the American Northwest was often an afterthought in the national discourse and how the national disregard of the achievements of the Seahawks was representative of that attitude of privileging a constructed center over constructed margins. In addition, my love for sports, especially my newfound appreciation of American football quickly morphed into a strong bond with Seattle’s team. The OCK of Khouribga of yesteryear had perhaps unconsciously merged in my head with the Seattle Seahawks of nowadays. The success of the Seahawks again became the symbol of my connection to a community that I cherish, to a stable identity that often seems out of reach, and to a love for the magical world that sports create in my mind,… once as child,… today as an adult; a magical world that allows me to briefly escape from a real world that I have little control over. Not that I do not try, but I can only do so much. So, is it an unhealthy form of escapism? Or is it a healthy need to keep one’s balance and sanity? Or maybe it is some of this and some of that.