I write a lot about Spanish football. Today I was thinking back on why that was.
Through no fault or decision of my own, the San Francisco Unified
School District assigned me to Spanish as a foreign language in middle school. From there I continued my studies at Lowell High School with a remarkable teacher who would guide me through Advanced Placement classes with singular care and ability. We would remain friends until I was in my 40s.
Reaching the UC Berkeley campus with 40 AP credits, I essentially had a year’s head start on graduation and was able to start upper division Spanish classes right away. The only flaw is that we had to read literature, which was unfailingly about life, a subject with which I had no familiarity.
At that point in my life I knew soccer was more important than anything else, including dumb classes. I was wrong but certain. I was not prospering on the Cal team for a variety of reasons: the coach was poor, he favored frat boy types, and I wasn’t very good. I was also undisciplined, with a penchant for doing things like dropping trou at practices. Practices where the coach’s wife was sitting in the stands. Right behind me.
I found the office of Education Abroad and learned I could take my junior year in Spain – where the soccer was sure to be better. And of course my major, Spanish Lit, would be better served. Whatever, they had me at soccer.
My year in Spain changed me forever. I learned about the history and culture, the Spanish Civil War. The Abraham Lincoln brigade. One of the first people I met was the father in my sponsor family in San Sebastián, Jesús. He was missing his thumb on his right hand, lost in a Civil War battle. I discovered that in Spain there were true political parties that were different from each other, there was a true left and right.
Culturally I found a collectivity and a consideration for others, qualities that have never left my mind. Which is not to say I always display them. I learned the simplest of gestures, like offering your lunch to fellow passengers in a train compartment. How a Spaniard never smokes without offering everyone a cigarette first, even his last one. Leaving without saying a proper goodbye to everyone is called “despedirse a la francesa” – a French goodbye. In Spain, you rarely saw a drunk or got stepped on at the disco because for the most part, Spanish people are raised to always consider others. A Spaniard cannot “forget himself” because he always lives in the social fabric. In fact, they have a word “quedirán” (Lit. “what will they say”) referring to the awareness that people watch your actions and will comment on them.
Today I’m thinking of all this because there is no Spanish football on television today. The reason is that the AFE, the Spanish Footballers Association has declared a strike. And what we are not hearing a lot about is the set of issues that underlie the disagreement. Unlike our NFL players who went through the lockout for a bigger share of revenues, the Spanish players
are striking to demand that all players receive their back wages. That’s all they are asking, to get what they are owed. And here’s the rub: the big stars, those who can make or break the strike, have nothing to gain. The big teams pay on time. They are going on strike to support the players in the little clubs. They are thinking of others.
The captain of Real Madrid and the Spanish national team, Iker Casillas supports the Spanish football strike. “I believe that you have to also support the people who are going through tough times, the numbers are there. Luis (the head of the union) speaks for us all and we are supporting him to the death. I can tell you and guarantee that we aren’t going to play. ( . . .) If Iker Casillas supports the strike it is because the players demand a more just contract. Currently many small clubs are in debt to their players and what is being proposed is to strengthen the coverage fund that would guarantee that the athletes never go unpaid. Iker Casillas supports the strike not because it because it has ever happened to him, not even close. Iker Casillas supports the strike in solidarity with his less fortunate companions.”
In the past year, Spanish football has seen Iniesta scoring the winning goal of the World Cup final and lifting his shirt to commemorate a deceased friend. Xavi pauses before lifting the Champions League Cup and instead gives it to teammate Eric Abidal, who had just beaten cancer. And now Iker Casillas and others like him are willing to strike so players on teams far, far from his world at Real Madrid may get their back wages.
That’s why Spain.
Here’s a footnote. Daughter #2 Allie asked me what the word “quixotic” meant, as she saw it in the Sunday comics.After I explained it, I looked up Don Quijote in wikipedia and found this:
Don Quixote and his first quest:
“He frees a young boy who is tied to a tree by his master, because the boy had the audacity to ask his master for the wages the boy had earned but had not yet been paid (who is promptly beaten as soon as Quixote leaves).”
I end with this video of the song “Momentos” that has a lyric that I can never shake:
“La vida se hace siempre de momentos
De cosas que no sueles valorar”
(Life is always made of moments, of things you don’t usually value.)
This is the essence of life in the Spanish-speaking world. Moments between people who consider each other’s situation and act to help them.