Several weeks ago, I wrote an item for our Web site about the fact that many of our incoming freshmen student-athletes were enrolling in foreign language courses. The reason for that became clear to me on Monday.
Wendy Johnson of the UW-Madison Language Institute invited me over to “Sports and Languages,” a panel discussion at the Memorial Union featuring UW alumni and other guests who have used foreign languages as athletes and interpreters in the world of sports.
The panelists included former Badger offensive lineman Ben Johnson, former UW men’s soccer player Brian Doherty, recent UW graduate Matt Beyer and Eric Horne, an American-born former semi-pro basketball player and interpreter in Spain.
It was an interesting discussion about how each of them used a non-English language during their playing careers in Europe or, in the case of Beyer, to serve as interpreter for former Milwaukee Bucks’ center Yi Jianlian.
I was able to catch up with Ben afterward. Badger fans will recall that he played from 1998-2002, his final game being the Alamo Bowl victory over Colorado. He was selected by the Detroit Lions in the seventh round of the 2003 NFL Draft. Ben played a year in Detroit before injuring his knee. He rehabbed and was later picked up by the Chicago Bears, who sent him to NFL Europe where he eventually played in Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Hamburg.
“I sort of immersed myself in the (German) culture,” said Johnson, who took French in high school. “You learn the simple things you need to know like how to order food or ask where a restroom is.”
Johnson’s playing career in Europe ended in 2006. He’s back on campus now, finishing up his degree in sociology. He’s looking at possibly teaching or a career in the FBI.