Feb. 6, 2019, is a day Arch Bell ’98 will never forget. It’s when the soccer journalist delivered a CLP at Furman that turned out to be far more popular than anticipated.
Bell expected a handful of students to attend “What is the Future of Sports Media?” The scene that greeted him was far different.
“I see some people kind of milling around outside, and I thought, ‘Ha, ha, they must be here for my CLP,’” Bell said. “And sure enough, they were … It was one of those, ‘Oh my God, is this really happening? I’m not really giving a CLP at Furman into a room full of students. Are you kidding me?’ In the end, I think it actually went really well.”
Carey Shepard Crantford Professor of Modern Languages and Literatures and Department Chair Linda Bartlett had recruited Bell to discuss how a Spanish degree had enabled him to make a living covering the game he loves. Earning it, Bells said, created a foundation on which everything since has been built.
He recalled professor Librada Hernández asking what his plans were for the fall of third year at Furman, and his answer – serve as the rush chairman for his fraternity – was incorrect.
“‘No, you’re not,’” Bell remembered her saying. “’You’re going to Madrid. If you want to study Spanish, you need to go on foreign study.’”
Always a soccer fan, Bell was immersed in the game like never before in a culture that reveres it. And as a result, he was also immersed in the Spanish language like never before by talking about the matches and players with the locals. Countless Furman students have had similarly powerful study-away experiences, thanks to the Rinker Center for Study Away and International Education.
Bell came home with a skill few Americans possess, though it wasn’t until he decided to leave a career in software sales that he figured out how to use it professionally.
“I had started writing freelance for a couple of different soccer websites. I was just doing it for free, but I enjoyed it so much. I was making contacts and doing these interviews,” Bell said. “And then in 2011 I got my big break and had a chance to do some freelance stuff for ESPN.”
Bell pitched a story about Giuseppe Rossi, a U.S.-born player who had spurned his native country to play in Europe and represent Italy in international play. ESPN liked the idea and agreed to pay him for the piece – so long as Bell covered his own expenses.
Considering Rossi was competing for Villarreal CF in Spain, that wasn’t the best deal for Bell financially. But he had a bigger plan.
“There’s the old Texas mantra of always bet on yourself, and that’s kind of what I did,” said Bell, who grew up in Midland, Texas, of Friday Night Lights fame. “I decided to take this risk and do the best job I could to try to work my way into ESPN’s good graces.”
The story was published on July 19, 2011, and nine years later it’s clear Bell’s bet was a smart one. Today, he provides bilingual coverage of soccer to a global audience in work that appears on CONCACAF.com, Marca and ESPN.
CONCACAF (The Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football) is one of FIFA’s six continental governing bodies, while Marca is a daily sports newspaper based in Madrid that boasts the largest readership of any paper in Spain – about 2.5 million. Bell’s ability to speak and write effectively in English and Spanish combined with a deep knowledge of the sport has made him a prized commodity, though it hasn’t always been an easy road.
Being fluent in a second language is one thing. Being proficient on a professional level is another thing altogether, as Bell learned.
“When you produce content, you want to be grammatically correct. (If) it’s not, it’s going to take away from the reading experience,” he said. “I work on it every single day. It was really hard, especially in the beginning. I get a lot of help from the editorial desk in Madrid, which is really great, but there were times where there would be a mistake that maybe the editor doesn’t catch. And all of a sudden my Twitter lights up, and I get called an idiot or (told) I don’t know how to write.”
Players who speak Spanish don’t have trouble understanding him, but the unique cultural dialects they may have keep him constantly learning.
“The Spanish that a Spaniard speaks is different from what an Argentine speaks or different from what a Mexican might speak and certainly different from what Dominican or Cuban might speak,” Bell said. “Oh my gosh, that’s the hardest of all to understand: The Cuban Spanish … The writing can be a real challenge, so what I try to do to complement my writing is to just read as much as I can.”
And speaking of Argentina, Bell’s wife, Sylvia, is Argentinian, and he can thank his Spanish skills – at least in part – for her, too.
“She was basically ignoring me. I asked where her parents are from, and she said Argentina. So I started talking to her in Spanish, and I went from being discarded to actually being interesting to her,” Bell said with a laugh. “None of this would have happened without the support of my wife. She said, ‘Look, I’ve got a good, stable job. Why don’t you take a year and see if you can pull this off?’”
Bell lives in Austin, Texas, and the advice he gave students at the CLP was simple: It has never been easier to get your work seen. So do it.
“My message to them it was if this is something you really want to do, start creating content no matter what it is,” he said. “You hone your skills, and you can also present to a potential partner. It’s so easy to get that content distributed around if it’s good.”