Have you ever been given the opportunity to join a cause or situation that you are so passionate about? If yes, were you worried that your experiences on the inside would ruin your love for that certain cause? Were you nervous that you would be unable to fit into an organizational culture that you admire so very much?
A lot of these very questions were running through my head as I turned left on World Cup Way and parked my car near the Toyota Stadium northwest entrance. Similar to the deep breath Mauro Diaz takes in the entrance video before walking out on the field (I miss "The Magician" very much), I exhaled and walked in to the front office for the first time. I spoke to the lovely smiling face at the front desk that I was here to see the Digital Content Coordinator and I was the Digital Content Intern for the Spring Semester. That moment was the beginning of one of the best prolonged experiences of my life.
Before I delve into some of the experiences I had with the team, I would like to talk a little bit about how I became an FC Dallas fan. I am a first-generation American, born to immigrant Palestinian parents. Soccer (or "futbol" as they call it in the Middle East) is the favorite sport of the Arab world. When my mother’s family moved here from Jerusalem in the late 1980’s, the world’s game had not yet began the avalanche of expansion in the United States of America as an effect of the 1994 World Cup bid efforts.
As a result, Major League Soccer was established in 1993 and began play in 1996. Interestingly enough, my uncle from my mother’s side was a huge soccer fan. He took advantage of the ’94 World Cup, watching Saudi Arabia play Sweden in the knockout rounds. Riding that soccer fever, my uncle was there from day one when the Dallas Burn began play in the Cotton Bowl.
His love for the Burn (Jason Kreis, Dante Washington, Ariel Graziani, Mark Dodd, Oscar Pareja, and shootouts!) paved the way for my love of the sport. He used to take us downtown to the majestic Cotton Bowl on the DART to watch the games when we were three or four years old.
When the Burn would win their matches, fireworks would go off that would scare the heck out of us as children, but we loved it. I have vivid memories of those matches to this day. His efforts and care for us as children, taking us to match after match while we were growing up into our youth years, were what paved the way for my FC Dallas fandom since I was a young man.
I witnessed the first season of (then) Pizza Hut Park opened along with many playoff matches and an MLS Cup by my family’s side. Nowadays, I try to return the favor whenever I can. Though I will never be able to repay him, if I have extra tickets, I know exactly who I am going to ask first. The man I owe for my love of this team is the most deserving of those tickets, for sure.
When he learned I was going to be interning for the team, he said, "That’s my nephew! I am so proud of you!" Thank you, uncle. You were instrumental into forming my dreams that eventually became a reality.
Now that I have caught you up on my backstory as an FC Dallas fan, it is time to talk about the organizational culture of the FC Dallas organization. As soon as the internship appeared to be a reality, I was guided step-by-step by the ever-friendly human resources department to make sure I was able to be registered as an intern. I walked into the office, my heart beating louder than the peoples’ voices who were greeting me for the very first time. As soon as I walked into the office and was given the tour, I felt the kindness of the organization. From day one, I felt welcomed by all from top to bottom. Nobody gave me dirty looks because I was an intern or was beneath them. I was treated like a legitimate employee (not like the inferior intern that I was expecting) even though I would only be in these individuals’ lives for a few months at maximum.
One of the first things I noticed as an intern was that the team was a reflection of the FC Dallas organization as a whole. The front office (led by the great Dan Hunt) was an extension of the culture of the FC Dallas players/coaches and vice-versa. I felt a close-knit culture and an overall sense of humility in the organization. The players were easily approachable along with the higher level executives in the company. I never once felt like an outsider. As soon as they knew who I was, I was always treated with the utmost respect. Being a Muslim in the American workplace is not really very easy because of a few rituals or beliefs I need to uphold. The front office accommodated my every religious request. They provided me with a space to pray during the day and understood when I was not able to stand next to the Beer Garden because of the (now defunct) beer showers. Also, I was never told no when I needed to be accommodated for my studies. My bosses were very supportive for final exams or project dates. They never insisted that I come in, but I always wanted to because I had so much fun with the team.
I also wanted to quickly touch upon the brilliance that is the marketing department of the FC Dallas Front Office. Since I worked in this department, I learned that this team is in such great hands. The creative minds behind the graphics and the videos, along with the ever-fascinating website content being churned out daily were just a joy to behold from an inside perspective.
As someone who claims to be an FC Dallas fan since he was a little boy, I walked out of the marketing area daily knowing in my heart that this team is in great shape. I have faith that these individuals all love this team as much (if not more) as I do and want what is best for the ever-growing DTID nation. I am a college student with many expenses and not come from a well-off family.
However, I felt an immediate connection with the marketing department and wanted to show my gratitude to them in the best way I could: Arabian hospitality. I tried my best to always grab something on my way to work because I loved those individuals like family. Any form of breakfast, sweets, etc. would do because it was the thought that counted for me. It was my way of showing how grateful I was to be in that situation. Thank you, team marketing for the wonderful memories.
A few things I did for the first time as an intern include: wearing a mascot suit, interviewing a professional soccer player, interviewing a professional soccer coach, take pictures for events, attending first team practices, watching matches from field level, attending post-game press conferences, visiting press boxes, writing match recaps, and covering Dallas Cup matches. Each of these moments was instrumental to my (perceived) success and integration with the front office. I tried my best to always have an upbeat "yes I can" attitude. I took on challenges and stepped out of my comfort zone for the sake of the team. I learned a lot under the tutelage of my managers who were always there for me and always made me feel appreciated for any amount of work I put in during a given work day.
One of my favorite moments had to be the time I was shaking like crazy while interviewing Coach Pareja for the first time. It was a surreal moment and I do not even want to delete the audio recording from my phone. Mr. Pareja was a great interview and an even better person, making me feel comfortable and answering any questions I had with kindness and a warm smile.
My favorite moment of the entire internship though was being able to play on the pitch at Toyota Stadium for the first (and probably last for the foreseeable future) time in my life. I was blessed to be given the opportunity to play in the front office tournament in late May. The team I was playing for ended up taking the title on penalty kicks and the medal is one of my most-cherished possessions already. I had to withdraw myself from the championship match in the beginning of the second half for a rough hamstring injury (it is still tight until this day), but it was so worth it. That moment standing there playing with the people who are the heart and soul of the team I love was enough for me to say that this entire adventure was a success.
From the very beginning, I feared that I would leave the facilities in Frisco with a sour taste in my mouth and that I would have to start cheering for New York City FC (kidding, I promise). Thankfully, the absolute opposite occurred. I walked out of the office for the last time limping with tears streaming down my face. It was like graduating high school but loving every single moment of it. It was like leaving your current job for one with lower pay, worse hours, and meaner management. I was truly heartbroken leaving Toyota Stadium for one last time as an employee of the greatest organization on Planet Earth. I may not have employee status anymore, but I know one thing for sure that will never change.
I am "Dallas Til’ I Die."