While around the New York Cosmos Copa tournament I spent the majority of my time huddled around NYC Senegal. This team represented a proud tradition of Senegalese soccer that began back home, and continues in New York. With the majority of their players being born in Senegal (19 out of 25 was what I was told) it is fair to say that this team really does represent Senegal, even though all of their home games will be played in America, and all of their players live in the Tri-State area. That fact matters little when you look at how this team continues to honour its traditions from back home, and what this team does to help build a community and support network for the players who are living in a place very foreign to their home. This community is essential to their personal development as it allows them innumerable ways to connect with good people who can support them.
The President of NYC Senegal is Sadibou Sylla. I wrote about his fiery brand of coaching briefly in my first post about the Cosmos Copa, and his intensity rarely dropped during the whole tournament. He is well aware of what discipline can do for a group of young men far from home. While success in soccer is a focus, Sadibuo has loftier goals for his players: a solid education, and helping his players attain legal immigration status. Education is something the players will have to truly pursue on their own with the lessons learned on the pitch, and from their coach, as encouragement. One player who has done well in this is Mamadou Doudou Diouf, he is currently playing soccer for the University of Connecticut where he is an imposing goal scoring forward with 13 goals in his 25 game sophomore season. Perhaps a better example, as he has completed his education, is Sadibuo himself. He came illegally to America at the age of 14 and attended a school now infamously known for its talented soccer teams: Martin Luther King Jr. High School in New York. After graduating there he attended St. Peters College in Jersey City, earning a degree in Mathematics that has him now working as a math teacher.
Here in America, on the Senegal sidelines, you can listen to the players speak to one another and it is likely you will not understand them. If you happen to speak Wolof, a language native to Senegal, chances are good you can follow along. Most of what they say will be Wolof, but other languages native to Senegal have words worked in here and there in a sort of mixed language that is richer for its variety. When the coaches speak to the players though I noticed that they always spoke in English. I found that the reason for this is because those few players who are not from Senegal do not speak the native languages, otherwise I’m willing to bet you would hear a sideline filled with words completely foreign to North American ears.
Sadibuo was back home in Senegal this past June setting up a soccer and basketball camp that the New York Cosmos have donated some of their equipment to. This included socks, shorts, and t-shirts. You could call it the spirit of Ubuntu through sport, or you could call it one man’s quest to make the world a better place in any way he can. Above all it shows how setting up communities here in America for those who have emigrated can benefit those back home. It is a cycle of acceptance and positivity that we should always encourage, and soccer can be a great vehicle for this growth between nations and people. If you doubt that, head out to East Harlem to watch an NYC Senegal practice session, and see young men becoming more than just immigrants. See them become successful Americans who still respect their homeland.