This Op-Ed was first published in the Austin American-Statesman on Thursday June 21, 2018.
By Pete Reid – Special to the American-Statesman
Recently, many learned opinions have been offered in these pages about the economic impact that a Major League Soccer team might have on Austin.
As a sports attorney, and a soccer fan, I’m concerned that if the focus remains solely on how much money can be generated from the 24-acre plot of land known as McKalla Place, then we are forgetting about the other, more important benefits that a soccer team would bring to our city.
We already recognize the importance of parks and libraries in revitalizing communities and cities. I believe that soccer is deserving of the same recognition, and that many of our distinct communities could be united through soccer. I know it can happen because I’ve seen it happen again and again.
Just a few weeks ago, I visited Mexico City to attend a soccer match. Mexico were playing Scotland at the legendary Estadio Azteca in a World Cup warm-up match. Though I’d been to Mexico before, I had only really visited the tourist spots and the beaches, and so this was my first time in Mexico City.
In the days and weeks before my trip, I was given the same stereotypical warnings by friends and co-workers that you might have heard yourself: “Be careful”, “Don’t get kidnapped”, “Hold on to your wallet”. I was a little worried.
Before the match, I met up with a few hundred similarly kilted Scotland fans at the one Scottish bar in Mexico City. From there, we were given a police escort to the stadium and upon arrival we were met by hundreds more police in riot gear, who were clearly expecting trouble between the two sets of supporters.
After entering the stadium grounds, the opposing fans were able to mingle. At first, there was little interaction between the two groups, as the police watched closely, with batons and shields at the ready. But then a young couple approached my small group of friends and politely inquired if they could take a photo with us. Fearing the warnings about pickpockets, I made sure to hold onto my sporran tightly. I needn’t have worried. They weren’t after my wallet. They just wanted a photo and a hug.
Slowly, more and more people approached to ask for the same thing. We happily obliged. Old and young, male and female, more photos and more hugs. For almost an hour we posed for photos and made new friends.
Mexico won the game easily, but as we exited the stadium, thousands of the Mexican fans were waiting outside for us. Waiting to applaud us, to cheer for us, to sing songs to us, to commiserate with us, to shake our hands, and to wave goodbye until the next time.
We didn’t speak Spanish, and they didn’t speak much English, but the language of soccer united us. It was a genuinely moving experience, and one that I’ve seen many times at soccer stadia all over the world.
At times, Austin can seem like a divided city. But soccer can be a powerful catalyst for unification.
Central Austin, North Austin, South Austin, East Austin, West Austin, Greater Austin. Together we can cheer for our own soccer team. Together we can celebrate goals being scored. Together we can shout at terrible referee decisions. Together we can commiserate, together we can shake hands, and together we can wave goodbye until the next time. The point is that the people of Austin can do all this together.
The economics of a soccer team are important; I’m not suggesting they aren’t. I would just suggest that it’s not as important as the social and community benefits that a soccer team would bring.
Maybe there are other uses for McKalla Place that generate slightly more money for the city council, but nothing else has the potential to bind all of Austin together like our very own soccer team.
Originally from Scotland, Pete Reid first came to Austin as a student in 1995. He is now a sports lawyer in Austin, and the Chair of the Entertainment and Sports Law Section of the Austin Bar Association.