It’s no secret that, for all its appeal in other parts of the world, soccer lags behind other sports in popularity in the United States. This unfamiliarity with the beautiful game, especially in the Deep South where I grew up, has led to many of my countrymen (and women) being confused by the jerseys I wear once a week. This confusion, in turn, leads to questions.
The team that I most often represent on my torso is Italy’s current defending champion, Juventus, a club widely recognized outside of America by its iconic black and white vertical stripes. The Bianconeri (literally “white blacks”), as they’re affectionately known, have an estimated 180 million supporters worldwide. Very few of those fans, I’ve found, live in my country.
Compiled below are five of the questions I have gotten most regarding my soccer kits, ranked by least to most annoying:
5. Oh, so your favorite team is [insert sponsor here]?
Surprisingly, despite the capitalist fervor surrounding our own domestic sports, shirt sponsors have never really caught on here. Besides a few exceptions like NASCAR – the dull, redneck equivalent of Formula One in which America’s most beloved and mundane brands literally race against each other emblazoned on the hoods of cars – all of our major athletic competitions use jerseys containing nothing but the team’s crest and the player’s name and number.
One of the jerseys I wear most is a 2008-09 Del Piero shirt, which has the New Holland logo plastered across the front in bright yellow. It is because of this that countless people have attempted to strike up a conversation about my supposed neo-Dutch ball team, much to my distress. My newer 2014-15 jersey results in much of the same, with several commenters enquiring about my allegiance to Jeep.
4. Are you an escaped convict?
For better or worse, this one is always a joke.
A quick Google search of “prison clothes” confirms the stereotype of black and white striped uniforms for the incarcerated, though they were almost all horizontal before the look was discontinued in the early 20th century in favor for the orange scrubs you see today. I can see the usefulness of a name and number being printed on the back of each inmate for identification purposes, and there are prison soccer teams, but certainly I don’t look the type to have made it out of jail.
I usually counter this one with something along the lines of “Yes, and I know where you live.”
3. Are you a referee?
By far the most common response garnered by my black and white attire is referee related. Everyone knows that the officials for most American sports wear uniforms with black and white stripes (while everywhere else in the world they are clad in a single, solid fluorescent color), and I admit that they are not unlike the Juventus uniform, but how so many people have genuinely confused the two is beyond me.
According to Wikipedia, “[Referee] stripes were first introduced in the 1920s, before which plain white shirts were worn. College football referee Lloyd Olds is credited with the idea after a quarterback mistakenly handed the ball to him. The officials are colloquially called “zebras” due to their black-and-white striped shirts.”
Maybe I’m just biased, but considering Juventus adopted the look about 20 years earlier in 1903, it sounds like not only did America steal the Bianconeri fashion sense, but also one of their nicknames.
2. Can you watch my cart for me while I go out to my car?
I may have only gotten it once, but the sheer ridiculousness makes it important to list.
One day I was buying groceries in Ingles, a supermarket chain common in the southeast, when a middle-aged woman approached me. She put her hand on my shoulder and asked, “Can you watch my cart for me while I go out to my car?”
Confused, I replied, “I don’t work here…” to which she shot back, “Oh? I thought I saw a name tag.”
I looked down at myself and sighed. “No, this is a soccer jersey,” I informed the lady, and slowly backed away.
What makes this all the more absurd is the actual Ingles employee uniform itself: a solid green apron. Where is the connection? I still don’t understand.
1. Who is [insert mispronounced name here]?
It is an undeniable fact that most Americans are bad at pronouncing names, and foreign soccer players’ names are hardly an exception.
If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard my own relatively simple name, Pagano, butchered I could probably afford my own team. I’ve heard Marchisio’s name so poorly spoken that it sounded as if he were some bizarre cheese product, and I’ve even heard ESPN broadcasters call Di Natale “Natalie.”
But the reason this is number one on the list is because of a certain Del Piero. As I mentioned before, I wear the Juventus hero’s jersey the most, and it is with shocking frequency that people either ask who he is or call me his name but say it like “Del PIE-Roh.” This was so common back in grade school that it actually became my nickname, where the painful mispronunciation more evocative of a baked dessert rang through the halls at every turn.