Write:Tan Morgül - Gürcan Öztürk
American Football is played in a totally amateur manner, in a geography where all sports pages are dominated by soccer. We wanted to witness this sport carried out by a group of young people, who carry on with determination and delight.
Firstly, we must indicate that this is not an informative article on ‘American Football.’ For those who are interested in ‘American Football,’ plenty of documentation exists. The enthusiasts follow it very closely, and those who may become interested can find those documents easily. If it is apt to say, this article is on having a look at the people who are trying to catch fish on the port of loneliness. This is a story on witnessing the progress of a group of young people, who enjoy proceeding adamantly in a geography where they cannot even have the opportunity of other sports like basketball, volleyball, wrestling, weight lifting, even Formula 1 races that just about have a chance to whisper in a media dominated by soccer.
First, a little history. American Football was first played in 1987 by the students of Boğaziçi (Bosphorus) University. Later, American Football teams were established in Hacettepe University, İTU, Marmara University, METU, Ankara University, Gazi University, Ege University and several other universities. When American Football was registered in 2005 as a division of the Turkish Baseball and Softball Federation (TBSF), the Turkish League gained official recognition. In the 2005-2006 season, a decision was made that sports club teams, not university teams, should participate in the league. The first team that became a club was the Boğaziçi Sultans. In 2006, TBSF became autonomous. On the other hand, in the 2006-2007 season, the number of teams competing in the Turkish American Football League (TAFL) rose to 18. (For detailed information on the Turkish American Football League: www.nfltr.com and/or www.tbsf.org.tr )
In order to observe the situation live, we rushed off to the field that belonged to the team who initiated the American Football League in Turkey, the Boğaziçi Sultans’ field and we watched their game against the Ankara Cats. First and foremost, we need to point out that for us, since we are used to watching sports teams in just t-shirts and shorts, watching a live game, that we would normally see in Hollywood movies, was rather “exhausting.” Playing a ball game with all this gear seems really difficult. The ball itself is rather funny; it’s almost impossible to hold it, let alone throw it. For these reasons, the players have kept themselves busy trying to carry that ellipsoid. I mean, it is not correct to say, ‘the ball is round’ for this game; we need to convey this information to spectators. The poses given by the players on the field with their exaggerated shoulder pads and helmets, which were old motorcycle helmets was like Hollywood’s macho version in Turkey. Because it was such a good game, the players managed to draw us away from that surreal feeling of watching a movie, and we were finally able to follow the game. Being ‘inexperienced’ is not easy.
American Football in Turkey is still dominated by university students, hence it is a sports activity carried out by well educated people. The spirit of these ‘well educated’ players is reflected on the field as well. As a person who is accustomed to watching and following team sports, I must confess that I have never watched any games or matches with such rough tackles, where the players never give up on their gentlemanly behavior. That feeling you get with each tackle that makes you cringe in hopes that no one is hurt is eased when you see the care and understanding shown by the players towards one another.
A TROUBLESOME SPORT
The biggest problem that people have in regards to this sport is a general lack of interest and prejudgment. For investors, investing in American Football is not very feasible. We watched the match with Boğaziçi University members. They have so many alumni and there are so many firms and institutions where their alumni work. Why don’t they look at this matter not as a PR project, but as a community project? They could then handle the matter in such a way that young people might be able to have some fun and get more involved in sports, while the equipment for the teams would be provided and traveling facilitated for the coaches?
Although the name of the league is professional, its spirit is completely amateur. They don’t have too much support other than that provided by their universities. The teams still try to get along by their own efforts. Of course, these difficulties also provide certain advantages, a spirit of mutual support and collaboration. It is not as though there is nothing good happening. At least they are still on the pitch and they don’t give up. When compared to the past, although some of the spectators are foreigners living in Turkey, there has recently been a considerable increase in their numbers. It is of course different to play in front of spectators. American Football in Turkey is like the story of Robinson Crusoe.