This is not a soccer story. Well it is, but it’s more than that. It’s important to remember that tonight’s Metro Council meeting is about soccer, but building a stadium is about more than soccer. Pro-stadium/pro-soccer/pro-MLS voices need to remember (and I’m guilty of overlooking at times) that this isn’t a referendum on whether soccer is cool and good. It’s about approving a major municipal project that impacts much more than how a bunch of people are going to spend 17 afternoons/evenings in the Summer and Fall in the next few years.
That’s why this is a story about belonging.
I also encourage you to listen to stories from those who don’t want a stadium to be built. For the most part, it’s a story about belonging for them, too. Many of those involved are simply worried that they’re going to lose the racetrack that gives them a sense of belonging, the flea market that gives them not only a sense of belonging for for many a primary source of income, the State Fair that gives them a belonging not only in Nashville, but a belonging in their own personal stories and a connection to their past.
It’s important to listen and understand the fears of disenfranchisement that they’re threatened with. Yes, it’s absolutely fair to also point out to them “Shane Smiley and Rick Williams have lied to your face: the only way to Save Our Fairgrounds is to allow for this investment.” The Fairgrounds aren’t going anywhere (well, some portions will move to a different area of the same site, in brand new facilities), and the disingenuousness that has led the Average Joe in a red shirt – not those who traffic in untruth to sway them – to think otherwise is their enemy, not a soccer stadium.
Anyway, on to my story of belonging.
Growing up, I didn’t really play soccer. Like basically every kid born in the mid-80s, I kicked it around as a young child, but quit the AYSO version of the game when American football, basketball, etc. became my focus. That’s a pretty standard narrative for a kid of my era, and even though I had friends who continued playing through high school (and even some in college), it just wasn’t my thing.
I attended the University of Michigan, and quite honestly wasn’t big into college sports before that. Becoming a member of the university community was a life-changing experience for me. the sense of community and, yes, belonging became a massive part of who I am today. Without that simple experience, every part of my life and career is completely different. I’ve become a professional sports writer because of that experience, and it was more about the sense of belonging than about the sports themselves.
I got back interested in soccer during college (a crush on one of the players on the Michigan women’s team may or may not be involved), and have been highly invested in the game ever since. Other than the US Men’s National Team, though, I had a hard time finding that deep emotional connection to a team once I left college. I’ve cheered off and on for a Premier League team here, an MLS side there, but it’s just not the same.
When I moved to Nashville, I didn’t even know there was an NPSL team here (it began the same year I arrived), and quite honestly probably didn’t know a whole lot about the existence of the NPSL. I was aware of Detroit City FC, having moved here from Detroit, but couldn’t have told you what competition they played beyond “American minor leagues.” For the first three years I lived here, that didn’t really change. I attended one Nashville FC game in 2016, a couple Nashville SC U-23 games in 2017. I tried to find my emotional roots in the soccer wilderness, getting involved with the Nashville Hammers – but still having a hard time with serious emotional investment in a team 4,000 miles away, in a city I’d never been to, with no true connection.
Last Winter, I decided that Nashville SC would be my team. I decided that I’d do what I’ve always done when I find a sports topic I love: write. That’s led to this site – which I hope y’all enjoy – and it’s led to a sense of belonging. (It’s also led to zero U.S. Dollars retweet subscribe and contribute to my gofundme)*
*I’m joking. There is no GoFundMe.
That’s why, as much as tonight’s council meeting is about soccer, it’s really not. It’s about belonging. Do you want to belong to a city that is open, inclusive, exciting? Certainly there are some who don’t, and I can’t begrudge them that opinion. There are too many others whose sense of belonging is being threatened by false claims from political ideologues who are tricking them into thinking this stadium not only will threaten something they love, but is intended to do so as a personal insult.
Perhaps Nashville doesn’t need MLS, and certainly looking at the big picture as a pragmatic, transactional matter, it’s not a money-maker. But this isn’t about money (nor is it about enriching developers who have friends in government, among the many tales the aforementioned liars spin in order to drum up support on the basis of false premises). It’s about belonging. And soccer belongs here.
If it didn’t, I don’t know if I would.
If you haven’t yet (or even if you have!) contact your Metro Councilmember and the council at large to encourage them to vote in favor of tonight’s Bill, 2018-1290. Make it clear in the subject line that you’re writing to support the MLS stadium, as they’ll be inundated today and may not have time to read through every e-mail before the meeting.