While some international students may not have grown up watching American football in their home countries, Super Bowl LII will still be a part of their weekend.
Though American football is most popular in the U.S., some international students at the University of Minnesota enjoy the game and have become bigger fans since joining the student body. Other students have compared football to the violence of ancient gladiator sports, citing its cruelty.
“After watching a couple plays, I was interested in the tactics,” said Pierre Abillama, a student who quickly became a fan of the sport after coming to the University from Lebanon in 2016. “I thought it was a very strategic game.”
Abillama followed the Minnesota Vikings throughout the 2017-18 NFL season and watched several games from other teams as well, including the match between the Patriots and the Steelers in December.
“At first, I definitely thought it was super violent,” Abillama said. “Back home we watch mostly soccer, where you use your foot most of the time.”
Tahmidul Islam, an apparel studies doctoral student who grew up in Bangladesh, said he plans to watch the game on Sunday.
“I didn’t realize that people are so crazy,” Islam said. “I didn't realize it was a big deal.”
To some, their first experience with football reminded them of extreme sports practiced over 2,000 years ago.
“To me I would say it’s like gladiators,” said Mahdi Ahmadi, an Iranian postdoctoral student at the University. “It reminds me of Spartans and the Greeks who would fight against each other to the death.”
To Ahmadi, football represents more than just a pastime. He said he sees the sport as “the projection of an empire,” a symbol of this country's competitive nature.
“The buildings are bigger. The flags are bigger,” Ahmadi said. “Maybe that’s a kind of attitude to win. This is a country of competition.”
Although many of the University’s international students will be watching the game, some students’ home countries rarely discussed American football, and others had vaguely heard about football through TV shows.
“Sometimes they talked about it in cartoons,” said Lingxi Tang, a University student from Singapore. “But I never knew what it was about.”
Abillama said his football knowledge before leaving Lebanon was nonexistent.
“Zero. Nothing. Not even the names of the teams,” he said.
Other international students don’t regularly watch football, but will watch the Super Bowl with friends and family.
“I have many good American friends who love the Super Bowl. It depends on them,” Ahmadi said. “If they invite me and I’m with them, then yes, I think I will enjoy it.”