A Russian journalist sees American football for the first time

December 19, 2012

When 27-year-old Ivan Yurchenko left his offices at Komsomolskaya Pravda, a Moscow tabloid, to take a month-long internship at the Seattle Times, he probably expected many moments of culture clash. But a big one came this weekend when his Seattle editors brought him to see that most American of mass spectator events: a football game.

Yurchenko wrote up his experience for the Seattle Times and for Pravda. For an American reader, it's a charming moment of seeing yourself through someone else's eyes. And Yurchenko, as an outsider, catches some unusual details about American football that might not be apparent to those of us accustomed to its rhythms. He notes, for example, how odd it is that the players deploy such aggression against one another until the moment that the play ends, when suddenly everyone becomes quite casual as if nothing had happening. This, he notes, is not how soccer goes. But the peculiarities don't end there. Here's Yurchenko:

Then there is a support group called the Seagals. They had more clothes on than usual because of the cool weather, but their dancing was still incendiary. The climax was the Seahawks’ players running onto the field from a tunnel. First, they released a live hawk, and then came the players. Firecrackers, fireworks, smoke: the organizers spared no effort to create the desired effect, and the audience loved it. Then sailors carried a giant American flag while a woman sang the national anthem.

Finally, the game began. And this is where I started to feel cognitive dissonance. Twenty-two burly guys in helmets ran around together, slamming into each other in the struggle for a small ball. Running around, knock, stop! Then officials restarted the play, players repositioned themselves and the crush continued. All the time.

But then a Seahawk player wearing the number 24 (Marshawn Lynch), took the ball, rushed to the end zone and fell. The stadium was in ecstasy. Then I realized I had just watched my first touchdown! And Seattle earned six points in one fell swoop!

Later, there were more and more touchdowns, and we literally swept the discouraged visitors from Arizona. Halfway through the game, the score was already very shameful for the guests. The Hawks were ahead, 38-0!

In our football, this does not happen!

And Russia's sports world has its own quirks, some of which Yurchenko hints at when he expresses amazement at how little security he finds at the games. As Ishaan Tharoor documents in a recent Time article, Russian soccer culture has a large and growing problem with what one might gently call hooliganism, sometimes in the form of racism, homophobia and violence. Maybe Yurchenko will bring some of America's calmer sports culture back home with him.

Correction: This post originally indicated that Yurchenko works for Pravda, a Russian newspaper famous for serving as the Soviet Communist Party's official mouthpiece. In fact, he works for Komsomolskaya Pravda, a Moscow-based tabloid. His internship is for one month, not one year. We regret the error.

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