Albert Camus’ Lessons Learned from Playing Goalie: “What I Know Most Surely about Morality and Obligations, I Owe to Football”

Here’s a vin­tage foot­ball [aka soc­cer] post in cel­e­bra­tion of the World Cup…

Albert Camus once said, “After many years in which the world has afford­ed me many expe­ri­ences, what I know most sure­ly in the long run about moral­i­ty and oblig­a­tions, I owe to foot­ball.”

He was refer­ring to his col­lege days when he played goalie for the Rac­ing Uni­ver­si­taire d’Al­ger (RUA) junior team. Camus was a decent play­er, though not the great play­er that leg­end lat­er made him out to be.

For Jim White, author of A Mat­ter of Life and Death: A His­to­ry of Foot­ball in 100 Quo­ta­tions, soc­cer per­haps taught Camus a few things about self­less­ness, coop­er­a­tion, brav­ery and resilience. That’s a sun­ny way of look­ing at things. But per­haps The Tele­graph gets at the deep­er, dark­er life lessons Camus took away from soc­cer:

[T]here is some­thing appro­pri­ate about a philoso­pher like Camus sta­tion­ing him­self between the sticks [that is, in goal]. It is a lone­ly call­ing, an indi­vid­ual iso­lat­ed with­in a team eth­ic, one who plays to dif­fer­ent con­straints. If his team scores, the keep­er knows it is noth­ing to do with him. If the oppo­si­tion score, how­ev­er, it is all his fault. Stand­ing sen­tinel in goal, Camus had plen­ty of time to reflect on the absur­dist nature of his posi­tion.

And per­haps the absur­dist nature of life itself…

Camus — who appears in the pic­ture up top, wear­ing the dark col­or jer­sey in the front row — con­tract­ed tuber­cu­lo­sis when he was only 18 years old. His lungs too dam­aged to con­tin­ue play­ing sports, the young man turned to phi­los­o­phy. When Camus moved from Alge­ria to France, he learned that phi­los­o­phy was a rough and tum­ble game too — some­thing his soc­cer days pre­pared him for. He once quipped, “I learned … that a ball nev­er arrives from the direc­tion you expect­ed it. That helped me in lat­er life, espe­cial­ly in main­land France, where nobody plays straight.”

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Relat­ed Con­tent:

Why Jorge Luis Borges Hat­ed Soc­cer: “Soc­cer is Pop­u­lar Because Stu­pid­i­ty is Pop­u­lar”

What is Albert Camus’ The Plague About? An Intro­duc­tion

Video: The Day Bob Mar­ley Played a Big Soc­cer Match in Brazil, 1980

Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch Reads Albert Camus’ Touch­ing Thank You Let­ter to His Ele­men­tary School Teacher

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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.