16 Tháng Tư, 2024

Ken Sema: Watford midfielder on being a role model for people who stutter

Monday evening February 20 was an ordinary day in the office of Ken Sema of Watford.

The midfielder had just scored two goals in his man of the match performance as the Hornets beat West Brom 3-2 at Vicarage Road and, as he had done many times before, was about to go on camera.

Sky Bet Championship highlights between Watford and West Bromwich Albion.

However, this time was different as Sema, who has stuttered since the age of six, went viral after being praised by the football world and beyond for his daring post-match interview.

“It felt a bit weird, I’m not going to lie,” he said Sky Sports News in an exclusive interview. “Of course I played a good game, I was man of the match, I scored two goals and the team won. Everything was fine and those were happy days.

“All of a sudden I was doing an interview, which was a normal thing because I’ve been here for five years and I’ve done 10 to 15 interviews in front of cameras and everything, but it was different and it just blew up.”

Sema, who joined Watford from Ostersunds in July 2018, certainly felt the love of football and the world around him when he was praised for having the courage to speak in a post-match interview which has now been viewed a staggering 40 million times.

He said: “At first I thought, how is this possible? After winning the match, I did a normal interview and now I hear things like guy, role model, inspirational and hero.

“I didn’t see it because I didn’t feel like it. It was a normal thing for me.”

He added: “There was so much love. There was so much happiness and joy. I was emotionally moved because I didn’t force anything. I didn’t say anything because of it, it was just normal.

“But I’m happy about it and thank you for all the nice messages.”

Sema’s stutter developed while he was at school in Sweden. Growing up, he received professional help in the form of speech therapy, but unbelievably, it did not prove to be of much help to him, as he always spoke perfectly when he was there.

“I started stuttering when I was six years old. He just appeared out of nowhere. I didn’t know how and I didn’t know how it happened. I just came home from school one day and started talking a little differently.

“At first, was it just a fun thing I tried as a six-year-old. I don’t know, but it just stuck in my mind. When I was a little older, 10 or 11, I just felt like this was me now and I speak a little differently.

“My family always said it was no problem. I tried talking to a speech therapist, but whenever I went there, I never stuttered. They thought “why am I there and do I really need this?” They thought I was perfect.”

From those early days in Sweden, Sema has enjoyed a successful football career that has taken him to England where he made over 100 appearances for Watford.

The 29-year-old also played at the Olympics for Sweden and made 14 appearances for his national team.

Has his stutter ever affected his football? Sema claims it has never affected his football, even referring to his initiation song at Watford.

“It’s never happened to me,” said Sema.

“I thought coming overseas to England that it would be weird or strange if I had a stutter, but the thing is, no one really cared. No one asked because I was still myself trying to talk to everyone and trying to be involved.

“I never sensed that anyone was wondering why I was saying that or wanted to ask me what my deal was. I had great teammates and coaches who were calm about it. They asked me how I felt about it.

“When you’re new to the band and you have to sing the initiation song, I don’t mind. I can do it. I sang Stand by Me, which is my favorite song. I don’t mind standing in front of a crowd saying my name and where I’m from and singing.

“Maybe because I like doing it and I’m not afraid of it. These interviews, spotlights and cameras are fine because of course it’s my job and it’s in the public eye.

“You’re a footballer, everyone knows you and I guess that’s normal for me. However, I know a lot of people will have difficulties and challenges standing in front of a crowd, but the point is to try to be confident and stay calm.”

Asked if stuttering ever bothered him when he was younger, he added, “I never considered it a problem.

“I’m an honest guy, I like to talk, I like to laugh and joke, I dance, I sing and everything. I’ve never seen it as a problem like I can’t speak in public or I can’t go out in front of a crowd because I’m shy, I’m not that type of guy.

“But of course when I was younger it was a bit different. At school you don’t know how your friends and classmates will react, but it’s more about how you see yourself than how people around you see you because it seems like no one cares how you talk or what you are.

“As soon as you’re happy enough to be yourself, that’s all that matters.”

Looking back, what would Sema’s message be to his 10-year-old self?

“If I was young and saw myself now, I’d think ‘wow’. I’d think he’s just like me and if he can do it, I can do it. It’s not like you can’t become a footballer because you have to stutter

“It is not a problem. If I can do it, he or she can too. You don’t have to give up on your dreams. To dream is free. Just try to be yourself because that’s your superpower.

“As a human, you always think the worst, while others around you, your friends and family, don’t really care that you stutter sometimes. It doesn’t affect the people around you.”

And finally, while Sema still has many years ahead in football, has the reaction to his interview potentially changed what comes after football?

Whatever may happen, Sema is eager to capitalize on the positive impact his “normal” job interview has had.

He said: “The whole thing that happened may actually be about something more. It’s bigger than me.

“But if I can help in any way, even if it’s the smallest thing, I will do it every time.”

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