My experience with U.S. college sports began during my senior year of high school in Thailand, my home country and where I currently reside. The setting, of all places, was a biology class.
My biology teacher was a University of Iowa graduate and a massive Hawkeyes fan. Just before the start of a class, I saw him looking at recent Hawkeyes results and couldn’t help but give in to my interrogative urges.
“Why do you even care about college sports?” I asked. It didn’t quite make sense to me. College athletes are obviously not the best in their trade; professionals are. What is the point of following something if what you are following is not the best? Aren’t college sports merely stepping stones to the professional ranks?
My teacher was aghast. He explained to me that college sports in the United States composed a massive, multibillion dollar industry followed religiously nationwide.
In Thailand, most university students do not give two hoots about their athletics teams. Among the general public, the interest is as good as nil. The annual soccer match between Thailand’s two premier universities — Chulalongkorn University and Thammasat University — is the only event on the calendar that captures the public’s attention. But even then, its appeal is still fairly limited.
“Nonsense,” I thought to myself. It just didn’t seem possible to me that college sports could be anything big.
That is, until I came to the United States.
Americans may be unaware, but their college sports system is truly one of a kind. College sportsmanship in the United States is genuinely a phenomenon in and of itself. Nowhere else in the world are top college athletes such venerated front-page superstars. Nowhere else are college sports featured so prominently on all the major sports channels. Nowhere else do college teams manage to regularly fill up ginormous stadiums and generate millions of dollars in revenue for their universities.
Throughout my four eventful years at UC Berkeley, the world of college sports was always part and parcel of my time. The sheer passion in the all-standing student section was second to none, and to cheer on the Golden Bears with tens of thousands of other diehard fans was a genuinely incredible experience. And the fact that many of my classmates were world-class athletes and even Olympic Gold medalists was, and still is, hard to believe.
Now that I’m back in Thailand, I really do miss college sports, particularly football. Attending Cal football games and screaming my lungs out was an experience comparable only to supporting my own country in international soccer matches.
I still closely follow the Golden Bears, and I am delighted we started off so well this year. Perhaps Sonny Dykes is finally getting into his groove, and hopefully we will make a Bowl Game this year after such a long absence.
On a personal note, I sure hope I’ll be back in California Memorial Stadium sooner rather than later. But for now, I’ll be watching the Golden Bears on my laptop and will continue bleeding blue and gold here in Bangkok.