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The Beautiful Game: Finding Community Through Soccer

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The Beautiful Game: Finding Community Through Soccer

Amid cultural and language barriers, many find unity and friendship on the soccer field.

August 22, 2016

For Muhammad “Mo” Jmaileh, soccer is about more than just kicking a ball around. For him, soccer is the epitome of teamwork, diversity and unity.

Jmaileh, 27, grew up in the United States with his three younger siblings. He graduated from the University of Washington and spends his time developing and working on his craft as an aspiring cinematographer. Being Muslim-American, he feels proud of his passion for filmmaking, explaining that it is “extremely rare for an Arab to pursue the arts.”

Jmaileh also plays forward for his local soccer team, Chili Dogs FC, in the Hispanic Soccer League of Tacoma, Wash. He describes his team as possibly being the most diverse one in the league, with players from West Africa, South America and Asia.  

For most of the players on Chili Dogs FC — including Jmaileh — the team and the players' shared love for soccer is, in a way, a form of escape from current racially spurred political events. The team serves as a hub for all people to come together and focus only on the sport.

“I don’t let modern racism bother me,” says Jmaileh, who believes that the best way to counter racism and Islamophobia is to become the best that he can be and to “show, rather than say” to those who might be doubtful.

According to club head coach Begad Anwar, most of his players are international students, a majority of them hailing from the Middle East or Africa.

“It’s a game for everybody, that’s how people learn about each other, learn about different cultures, different languages …” he says when asked about the diversity of his team and of the sport itself. “[The players] don’t have much networking here in this country, that’s why this team exists.”

Center-half player Triomphe Mbala is one of those players who found a home through the soccer team. “When I wake up on Sundays, I know that I have a duty, I have a family that I need to respond to … and that family is [my team].”

Sports fans need not only look locally to witness the power of athletics to bring diverse people and cultures together. The 2016 Olympic Games have been a notable for minority representation in sports. The U.S. women’s gymnastics team — which dominated with a record-breaking nine medals — was, for the first time, a majority minority team. Simone Manuel became the first African-American female swimmer to win an individual gold medal and fencing Olympian Ibtihaj Muhammad became the first hijab-wearing American to represent the United States in the Olympics.  

It’s a game for everybody, that’s how people learn about each other, learn about different cultures, different languages…

As the world's top athletes reflect what Jmaileh sees on the soccer field, he remains hopeful and optimistic, expressing that by being kind and compassionate he’d like to change the opinions of those who might be fearful of his name or of his culture.

“It’s easy to be scared of a name like Muhammad,” he says. But it’s my name.”

He hopes that more people see him and his teammates on the soccer field and realize “how human [we] really are.”


Tim Han

Tim Han studied film and drama at the University of Washington and graduated with a B.A. in CineMedia. He has directed a total of four shorts. His professional experience includes working as a digital media producer for UW, a student video assistant for UW's School of Nursing, and an intern for KCTS 9. Tim has been working as a freelance filmmaker for the past five years and is a self-professed pug enthusiast. More stories by Tim Han