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From the Pitch - Express Yourself

By Andrew Wheeler-Omiunu - Sacramento Republic FC, 02/25/21, 11:00AM EST

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Express Yourself


Author - Andrew Wheeler-Omiunu
Andrew Wheeler-Omiunu
Sacramento Republic FC
February 24, 2021

I was six years old, playing youth soccer in Bellingham, Massachusetts. My father was coaching, and I was on the bench. I HATED being on the bench.

My father instructed subs to sit and watch the game. But it killed me watching all the other kids running around kicking the ball. It was boring. I couldn’t handle it. So eventually I stood up and started kicking a ball around the sidelines. I remember my uncle jumped in. He kicked the ball at me really hard and I couldn’t control it. He laughed at me. Naturally, I was angered and wanted to show him how hard I too could kick the ball back. So, I took a 15-foot run-up, my six-year-old brain incorrectly equating a long run-up with a more powerful strike, and kicked the ball as hard as I could.

Uh-oh.

Instead of kicking it to my uncle, I kicked it straight onto the field. My stomach dropped. I remember the panic. My uncle thought it was funny, but I looked at my father and knew I was in trouble. Luckily, we only lived five minutes away from the field, so my father’s demonstration of his vocal range that ensued was mercifully short.

I would later in life come to greatly appreciate and value the high standards and expectations my father demanded of me. But needless to say, I thoroughly enjoyed sitting and watching as a sub after that.

I tell you that story about my father because I remember those days on the youth fields in Bellingham like they were yesterday.

I remember my mother, always animated in her excitement, yelling and cheering – despite at the time not really knowing too much about the particulars of the sport – excitedly gesticulating in support of me and whatever team I was playing on. That support would remain a constant. In juxtaposition, my father, more reserved, ceaselessly analyzing performances and offering advice. His demeanor would also remain a constant. But most importantly, from the beginning, I knew they loved watching me play. When I would make a good play and a wry smile would break through my father’s stoic façade, that was it, man. That was the good stuff.

My parents separated and ultimately divorced when I was 8. Divorce can be crappy for everyone involved, but I will always consider myself the luckiest person in the world to have two parents that were always present in my life, and that love me beyond measure.

My mother is a white woman of German and Irish descent who grew up in rural parts of New England. My father, a black man from Nigeria who also spent parts of his childhood growing up in a rural environment. Only difference is that his was in West Africa. Over the years, I have facetiously referred to my mother as being as white as a ghost, and my father as black as night.

My mother has told me stories about her taking my brother and I grocery shopping when we were young, and on occasions, someone would comment about how sweet it was of my mother to adopt two little brown boys. Then, she would gracefully explain that we were not adopted. That we were her biological children. It’s wild to think… This is only 20-years ago! Even into college, I would still get teammates who would see me hug my mother after games and then later ask me, who is that woman you were hugging?

I find it interesting those things never really happened when I was with my father. Brown and Black are close enough on the spectrum that it can be rationalized. In their minds they say, “oh ok, that makes sense, they’re both black.” But when a brown boy is with a white woman, he’s probably adopted. It’s like there’s no spectrum, just two polar opposites. As if the computer that is their brain is returning a “cannot compute” error. There’s white and there’s black. Anything else in between doesn’t register.

What does that say about us as a society?

Is defining others within a box that we deem appropriate, that is comfortable for us, worth bringing turmoil and conflict to the minds of those whom we are defining?

Personally, I’m more of a sphere person.

Express yourself!”

You hear that a lot in soccer, right?

But here’s the thing: To be successful, what you express on the field, has to exist off it.

Does that make sense?

It’s like any art form. You bring yourself – the good and the bad – to the medium and then you express yourself through it. For some people, that medium is painting, music, architecture, or photography. For me, to this point in my life, my forum for expression has been soccer. All the things that make me who I am: my parents, my childhood, my race, my education. When I step on the field, I just want to honestly express myself. Of all the things I’m proud of in my career, that’s what I’m most proud of. I believe that in my everyday life, and by association, in my play, I succeed in genuinely representing myself.

But I haven’t always been here, and it hasn’t always been easy getting here.

Quick story…

My first six months of being a professional was CRAZY.

I was still going to school at Harvard (shout-out the Crimson!), but had also been drafted by Atlanta United. Fortuitously, Atlanta graciously gave me an opportunity to achieve my soccer dreams. But I felt a strong urgency to complete my degree at Harvard to achieve my educational dreams. I ended up flying back and forth from Atlanta to Cambridge six times that Spring. Not everyone at Harvard knew I wasn’t there, and I had to give up my participation points in a class or two, but every day I tried to stay focused and convince myself it will be worth it in the end.

One day I’m sitting next to Alex in class, and the next day I’m at the Mercedes Benz Dome with 70,000 people and Waka Flakka is on the sidelines leading chants. CRAZY.

I remember being conscious of the surrealness of the moment. Thinking about how much my life had changed from those days on the soccer field in Bellingham. But through it all my parents kept me grounded. They gave me moral and ethical standards to which to hold myself. They gave me confidence to have conviction in my character and my beliefs. And they loved me endlessly. In short, they raised me well.

Don’t get me wrong, a little bit was me too. I put in the work, studied, got the grades, developed in soccer, and I graduated and became a pro. I’ll always be proud of my past efforts and accomplishments. But I am forever in debt to my parents.

And when I graduated, my parents celebrated the only way they knew how. Mom was excessively animated, hugs, and smiles. My dad just nodded approvingly, and cracked that wry smile.

The good stuff.

And today, as a 26-year-old professional, I’m still doing it. Still living my dream, with more blessings on the horizon.

I’m in Sacramento now, at a great club, surrounded by intelligent, positive people. I’m still finding joy and happiness in the game. I still get excited. I‘m focused and want to keep playing for as long as I can keep improving. And for as long as it continues to fulfill me.

And whenever it does come to an end, I’ll be ready. It’ll be okay. Which I haven’t always believed but I sincerely do now.

It’ll be okay because soccer is just the medium. It’s the canvas I choose to express myself on, and when this canvas is finished, I’m confident I’ll find a new one.

Express yourself.

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