Thank you, Mama, for loving what I love

by 24USATVMay 13, 2024, 11 a.m. 23
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If you’re a fan of soccer, or football as some may say, you know exactly what you were doing that day.

The final of the 2022 FIFA World Cup: France vs Argentina. Either Argentina’s Lionel Messi would seize his chance at becoming the undisputed greatest of all time, or France’s Kylian Mbappé would cement his claim as the sport’s next all-time great.

I know exactly where I was — in my living room, experiencing almost every emotion possible, from fear to anticipation to anxiety to, ultimately, joy, as I witnessed Argentina and Messi, who I’d idolized for much of my childhood, secure a nail-biting victory. I remember who I was with — my father, who introduced me to the sport when I was 10, and who had been following it since he himself was a teenager. And my mother, who wasn’t much of a sports fan, but sat there with my father and I, equally as enamored as we were. Her eyes were glued to the screen the entire game, as she yelled at the TV in unison with my father and I every time an anxiety-inducing play occurred. When the final whistle blew, she hugged us in celebration.

Yes, it was a fantastic game, but that’s not the real reason why my mother was so invested in it. Rather, it was for me. My mother, who, on her own, didn’t care much about sports, learned to care about them because I cared about them.

Our house was always a sports-loving one. My poor father’s tortured Jets fandom was a frequent topic of conversation, and as an immigrant from India, he brought over with him a love for cricket and soccer. As such, sports were always on our TV, even if my mother didn’t care too much about them.

For quite some time, she wasn’t alone.

I didn’t quite take to sports for much of my early life, despite its ever-looming presence in my house. Sure, I played a bit of recreational soccer, but my heart never really lied in it. Instead, my interests lay in geekdom, obsessing over superheroes and action figures and LEGOs rather than soccer or football.

My mother didn’t care what my interests were, as long as they made me happy. She learned the names of DC and Marvel heroes so she could play with me and my action figures. She rented and watched all the Harry Potter movies with me. She’d ask me about the lore behind various Star Wars characters and listen to me rattle on about people she probably had no clue about. My mother’s nourishment of my hobbies extended beyond simply buying me toys or renting movies — she actively took the time to learn about what I liked. When I was younger, I didn’t think much of it, but now, I understand how meaningful it was that my mother cared about what I enjoyed.

Over time, my interests changed. I never quite let go of my nerdy passions, but they ended up relinquishing the spotlight. What took that spotlight away was sports.

The 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, and all the drama that accompanied it — from Germany’s 7-1 demolition of Brazil to Luis Suárez’s bite to Costa Rica’s Cinderella run — fully captured my attention. From there, I segued into adopting my father’s dedicated love for the NFL, though I opted for the Giants over the Jets, and eventually I discovered basketball, baseball and hockey, though they never quite captivated me the way the two footballs had. Sports had completely stolen my heart, becoming the fulcrum of my personality and driving most of my social life. The only video games I played for years were FIFA and Madden, the only things I watched on TV were sports and I tried to make it the topic of nearly every conversation I had — something that I still do.

While my interests changed and evolved, my mother never did. I don’t think there was anyone happier that I’d fallen in love with sports than my mother. The men of my family, from my grandfathers to my uncle to my father, all had a passion for sports, so she took great joy in knowing that the tradition would continue.

She encouraged me to dive deeper into my sports love affair. That summer during the life-changing 2014 FIFA World Cup, she joined my father and I in our mutual emotional investment. She broke the sad news to me that Team USA’s run had ended at the hands of Belgium in the round of 16. She’d ask me about the exploits of Neymar and Messi and Ronaldo, and we both marveled in awe as Germany put seven past a hapless Brazil.

Unlike many Americans, the World Cup wasn’t where it ended for me. My love of the color blue and my appreciation for Messi and Neymar drove me to FC Barcelona — and soon, my mother knew not just Barcelona and its players, but the names of teams and players all across Europe in cities we had never previously heard of.

As my love for soccer intensified over the past few years, my mother’s interest also grew. She’ll tune into big games in the Champions League and randomly pick teams to cheer on, or ask me how players like Mbappé or Mohamed Salah are doing. The same has followed for my other sports fandom endeavors — in the fall of 2017, she encouraged me to tune into baseball, a sport I’d barely thought about until then, in the wake of her hearing about Aaron Judge’s historic rookie season for the Yankees. While I never became quite as baseball-obsessed as I am with soccer, I’ve still spent many off seasons getting my hopes up about the Yankees — only for them to come crashing back down in the postseason. And she’s found herself becoming an NFL fan too, bandwagoning boy genius Sean McVay and his Los Angeles Rams, then the so-close-yet-so-far Buffalo Bills, while empathizing with my father and I’s tortured existence as New York sports fans.

Over the years, I’ve realized this was more than just a curiosity for her, but rather, one of many ways she shows how much she loves me, by caring about the things that I love, even if she doesn’t love them.

I always imagined that my sports hobby would always be just that — a hobby. I sure wasn’t getting any calls to play in the big leagues. Hell, I didn’t even play in high school.

But then I got to college, and while wandering around Festifall looking for the business fraternities, I stumbled upon WCBN Sports, the official student voice of Michigan athletics. I spent a year talking about professional sports live on FM radio and doing color commentary for Michigan basketball, baseball and softball games — something that I imagined would only be possible in dreams just months prior.

When sophomore year rolled around, I realized that I wanted even more out of my Michigan athletics experience. So I emailed last year’s Managing Sports Editor Connor Earegood about joining The Michigan Daily Sports section, and, well, here we are. My mother has continued to be one of my biggest supporters along the way. She has responded with joy every time I tell her about a game I’ve been crewed for and continues to tune into my broadcasts to give me feedback. She has even encouraged me to consider the possibility that a career in sports media may be in my future.

My sports obsession has truly become all-encompassing; it’s the focus of nearly every conversation I end up having, the bedrock of my extracurricular life at Michigan and maybe what I want to pursue in a future career. If you don’t share that love, it might be tough to understand me. Even my mom doesn’t get it at times — she’s remarked that it’s “crazy” that my father and I can watch the NFL from 1 p.m to 11 p.m. all Sunday. But she’s grown to not just support me, but actively take an interest in my love of sports, even if she doesn’t understand it entirely.

And for that, Mama, I can’t thank you enough.

Statement Contributor Vihaan Easwar can be reached at [email protected].

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