The voice of soccer's most popular video game helped about 60 Texas A&M students and staff kick off the university's Hispanic Heritage Month on Thursday with an evening of storytelling and laughter inside the Jackie Sherrill Lettermen's Club at Kyle Field.
Fernando Palomo, a 1995 Texas A&M graduate who has called soccer and other sporting events in Spanish and English for ESPN since 2000, shared stories highlighting his path from studying agricultural economics at A&M in to voicing the renowned EA Sports FIFA video games. He has been the play-by-play voice of the FIFA games since 2013.
"Wherever I go, all over the world, I tell people a couple things. One is that I'm from El Salvador and proud to be from there, and second, if there's a school they need to get to know, it's Texas A&M," Palomo said to a racially and ethnically diverse, raptly attentive audience.
Palomo weaved together audiovisual clips of some of his career highlights, stories of how his career at ESPN began and advice of tools and skills he encouraged attendees to carry in their imaginary backpacks on their own paths.
"The road I created is my own. It's impossible to follow in someone else's footsteps -- we have to create our own paths, but we can learn from others who have gone through similar things," he said.
A&M sophomore Stephanie Guerra said after the event that she most appreciated Palomo sharing specific themes that have helped him succeed. "It means a lot to have someone who we can relate to talking about his path that may not be exactly like ours, like he said, but who has been through similar things to us."
Guerra stood in line to meet Palomo following 75-minute presentation. Like many students, Guerra had a short conversation with Palomo in Spanish and took a photo with him, gig 'em thumbs raised. Guerra said she watches soccer "on a daily basis" and appreciated when Palomo said her favorite player, FC Barcelona forward Lionel Messi, was the best in the world.
Palomo posed and spoke with a number of A&M Hispanic student athletes, including men's swim team co-captain Mateo Gonzalez Medina, who introduced him to the audience. A&M's Hispanic Heritage Month consists of 19 more events running through Oct. 20.
"It means a lot to be able to come here and let them know everything is possible -- that you can come out of anywhere and make it everywhere," Palomo said following the event.
Palomo described his journey from new A&M graduate and internationally competitive javelin thrower to ESPN broadcaster as "going through that little door for me to take."
He said he cut wires for sportscasts as a high school student in the late '80s and early '90s. Palomo explained how slowly the wired results of the men's 100-meter dash finals at the 1988 Seoul Olympics came through -- "Come on, hurry up," he recalled saying, to laughter from the audience -- and said that through his college career, he worked summer jobs in sports journalism and viewed it as his hobby as he pursued international-level competition in the javelin.
"Over time, I realized that's what I wanted to do," he said of sports journalism.
His first assignment for ESPN was to call the 2000 Great Outdoor Games, a now-defunct series of events including fly-fishing, log rolling and sporting dog retriever trials. "Calling the Great Outdoor Games felt like calling a World Cup final because I was so excited."
As the laughter from the Great Outdoor Games anecdote subsided, Palomo said he prepared for the Games as fully as any event he's covered since, and encouraged attendees to prepare fully and to "say yes" to a variety of opportunities, even if it seems out of one's skill set. "Never start thinking that you know enough," he said.
As the first question following Palomo's presentation, A&M student Aaron Anderson asked him about growth of soccer in the United States, and wondered whether Palomo saw barriers to soccer crashing the party of the big four American sports -- namely baseball, basketball, football and hockey.
"Soccer has a rapid fan base and it will slowly make progress. Every sport has a culture and if others respect that culture...instead of fearing it, there's no reason soccer won't keep growing," Palomo said in response.
Anderson said he asked about barriers to growth in soccer because of his passion for studying gender and racial inequities in sports. He and a professor presented at a conference in the spring about pay inequity in international-level soccer, Anderson said, and the senior sport management major said he plans to continue looking at what goes into the pay gap between the U.S. women's and men's national teams, among other gender and race-related issues.
"I also loved how he talked about luck is what happens when preparation and opportunity meet," Anderson said.
Palomo continued storytelling after most attendees had left. He said he had on a Texas A&M shirt in Moscow, and a "short, stocky guy" came up to him and said the names of Johnny Manziel, Christian Kirk and Von Miller, all former A&M football players. "That turned out to be all he could say in English, which shows how far A&M's reach is," he said.
Palomo said after the event it meant a great deal to be able to come back and speak with students at his alma mater -- both in Spanish and in English.
"It's just nice to see how the school thinks about its legacy. To come here and share experiences with people who want to find their own path -- it means so much to be able to provide that," Palomo said.
For more information on A&M Hispanic Heritage Month, visit http://hpctamu.wixsite.com/hpctamu/hhm.