|Photo: Nikola Nedeljkovic|
The life of an import is like a two-sided coin. On one side you have the positives of traveling, experiencing new and great things, and forming special bonds and relationships.
On the other side, you have the grueling task of dealing with management, struggling with a low salary, and feeling lost in the world at times. In either side, it is important to know that you are not alone wherever you go as an import. You might think how did I get my self in this situation, or no one knows what you are going through. Well I have news for you, you’re wrong. There have been many other players that have come before you and gone through exactly what you are going through. We have all experienced the highest of highs, and the lowest of lows. Once you commit to a team and get your plane flight set, you are now stepping into a fraternity, a fraternity of brotherhood!
I have been fortunate enough to travel and play football professionally since I left college. I have played Arena in the States, for several teams in Europe, and an All-Star game that pit America vs. Europe. Through my travels and teams I have played for, I have met many great athletes and players that I call friends. We all stay in touch and relate stories to one another and give support when needed. Even if we have never met each other, somehow through people we know, our names have been brought up and a mutual respect is formed.
When I played in Serbia, I had the chance of meeting Charles McCrea through Mia Bajin via a Skype call. Charles commented, “I've been an import for 5 years now, and I've seen it all - both teams and imports messing up. Us imports do stick together - "veterans" are always there to help "rookie imports" adapt to the European lifestyle, as well as helping them learn from some of our mistakes. There is an import circle, and we share information. Most teams are not aware of the fact that imports who got screwed over can kill teams reputation in the import community in a matter of minutes, literally. Not everyone is perfect though, once there's an import who's trouble - others tend to move from that person.
At this point most of the imports are around TDEU, since that's our 'tool' where we can share our knowledge and experience - both good or bad. It also gave us a chance to highlight our legacy in Europe through the Hall of Fame.
The reason why I keep coming back to Europe is not just helping develop the game, but, also the feeling of not worrying about politics is priceless. Meeting great people along the way is a big bonus - I'll use my partner as an example, who you mentioned as well - Mia Bajin. We're not just business partners, but she's someone who became my best friend.”
This might be your first season as an import and you are wondering how am I going to make the transition from the States to Europe? As stated before, you are not alone and sometimes you will have teammates that have been in your shoes and are there to show you the ropes.
“One import I encountered that I still talk to this day is Chris Blanton. He was my teammate in 2013 with the Novi Sad GAT Dukes in Serbia. He helped me transition into an import a lot because he had played overseas before. I am very thankful for him” Wayne Johnson.
Johnson goes on to comment, “I believe it is a fraternity because a lot of the imports all across Europe seem to know each other or about each other. It's like a small community of us who try and keep up and follow one another. I have many great memories from playing in Novi Sad, Serbia and Rothenburg, Germany. I met many great people from both places and I got to travel across Europe which is the best memories you could have.”
The best part about meeting other imports is the experiences you get to share with someone. Players are able to plan trips together or give advice on where to go, or where not to go. Orlando Webb shared, “Well the encounter amongst imports is usually good. We get to share stories and travel experiences. We learn where to go and where not to go. Most are cool dudes, and it's always a pleasure to travel and club with them, because you know they got your back and you’re from the same place.”
I was fortunate enough to meet Lance Burns. Lance was an import that had already played in Poland and Italy. Lance was playing for his third team when we played together for the Allgäu Comets. Lance shared experiences on where he had traveled and highlights from his trips. It was a wealth of knowledge that I used as I started planning my travels.
An import is also not just considered a player from the States. Teams will take imports from all over the world, and especially a neighboring country. In 2013 when I played in the EAC All-Star game, I came into contact with James Perrineau, a defensive lineman from the United Kingdom.
James played on the D-Line with me, and I am now proud to call him my brother. Perrineau stated, “I've been lucky enough on my seasons abroad to have been put with groups of imports that I can call brothers for life!! I am still very much in contact with the imports from my first season in Europe in 2009. We were there for the same goal, and our expectations to be better than average and game changers is what made our bond stronger. You will push each other with workouts, game plan together, and generally be in each other’s company pretty much every day for an entire season. I’ve been blessed to be placed with some outrageous personalities and all around good guys that I now see as my brothers!!”
Experiences are not only shared with other imports, but with people outside of your team as well. Players become apart of the city and will converse with fans and friends of teammates during their time with their team. “My experience goes beyond the football field as I have met many great fans around Europe who follow the game and their team. Football is growing more and more in Europe and I'm glad to be apart of it” stated Talib Wise.
Local restaurants and businesses get to know you outside of football, and contacts are formed. People are interested in someone new and are automatically gravitated to this new player. In the best cases, you will enjoy your town, teammates, fans, and the people so much that you will feel like it is a second home. When you go home, you can’t wait for the next season to play for that same team and town or go somewhere else and hope to have the same experience as before.
Wise continued “I never imagined the lifestyle over here but it was a great surprise and Europe is now a second home for me.”
Rests assure once you become an import, you are welcomed into a brotherhood. You will form connections and hopefully continue these connections and friendships throughout your life. Wise commented, “My experience here in Europe for the past 5 years has been nothing short of the best. I've had some great teammates over the years as I’ve played in Germany and Austria. Yes I do stay in contact with the other guys. I have formed a life long bond with the guys because only we know exactly what goes on. We have to stick together as a group to make it grow more and get treated even better.”
As an import new or old, embrace your new country and take it for what it is worth. Get to know the town and the people that live in it. If your experience ends up bad, or you are not given what you were promised, know that there are others there for you. Enjoy your time in Europe or whatever continent you might play on. Each team I played for I always carried this mentality with me, turn a negative into a positive. Bad situations may occur, but it is what you do with these obstacles that will make your experience for the better. In the end you will always remember the good over the bad. Good luck and welcome!
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