Before he became one of Hollywood’s leading men, before the Oscar for best actor in 2014 and he went Interstellar on the silver screen, Matthew McConaughey was learning his craft and, in fact, preparing to shoot his very first scene.
In 1993, he delivered an ad-libbed line — “Alright, alright, alright!” — that would stay with him throughout the arc of his career and is now going to feature prominently in a new venture that he could never have imagined when he was cast as David Wooderson in the coming-of-age movie, “Dazed and Confused.”
The 51-year-old McConaughey is now a co-owner of Austin FC — Major League Soccer’s newest franchise — and ahead of the new season, Austin supporters are chanting those words to the tune of “Olé, olé, olé!”
Speaking exclusively to CNN Sport, McConaughey marveled at the trajectory of those three little words.
“If you said that night, ‘That line you just threw out of your mouth, someone’s going to be chanting that 30 years from now and it’s going to be the supporter group for your local soccer club, which you’ll be a part-owner of,’ I would have gone, ‘Cool! But what are you talking about?'”
McConaughey is a well-known football fan, American football that is.
He’s talked passionately about his love for the Washington Football Team in the NFL and he’s often been seen on the sideline of the Texas Longhorns, his alma mater college team in his native Austin.
“I did play 12 years of soccer as a youth,” he said, explaining his love for both sports. “I went to a Tampa Bay Rowdies camp one summer. I was never that good. I did lead the league in red cards, but that’s a longer story! So, I had interest, but it wasn’t my game as it wasn’t the quintessential American game back then.”
‘It’s the great peacemaker’
That all changed when he met his Brazilian wife, Camila Alves
“You find the woman of your life and she’s from Brazil. Woo-hoo! You better get to know this other football brand, Mr. McConaughey!”
He describes his marriage to a supporter of the five-time World Cup winners as akin to having “soccer injected into my blood’ adding that their three children have now made his passion of the game even stronger.
“As we travel the world, we have found and love the game of soccer, because it’s the one game they can play wherever: in the city, in the country, from New York to Timbuktu.”
He casts a glance outside of the window to his yard and chuckles: “I’ve got two goals and I can see nine soccer balls, and there’s my son trying to do reverse kicks into the goal, with himself!”
McConaughey’s work has taken him all over the world and his travels have shown him soccer’s global appeal.
“Reykjavik, Cape Town, Cleveland, New York, Malibu, Warsaw. There’s a soccer ball there. You can go up to anyone. You do not have to introduce yourself or even say your name. Just put a foot out and the ball comes to you. It’s the great peacemaker. I call the soccer ball the greatest invitation in the world.”
This year, the liberal, artsy, multicultural city of Austin will join the global conversation.
The Texas state capital has never before been home to a major-league professional sports team, and the demand for season tickets has rapidly outstripped supply –15,500 have already been sold, with another 14,000 fans on the waiting list.
McConaughey isn’t just a part-owner of his hometown club; he’s also its Minister of Culture, surely a unique title in the world of professional sports.
Interlocking his fingers to make the point, McConaughey explains the diverse nature of the city and how he hopes their arrival as the 27th MLS team could change the face of the game in North America.
“Austin already had a fever for the game of soccer. I would argue that the snapshot of Austin FC may represent the international game — look and feel, culture, fan experience — it has the chance to represent that more than any other team in MLS.”
He talks optimistically about the continued growth of the game in the US, which will host the 2026 World Cup along with Canada and Mexico, and which is increasingly exporting talent overseas.
“We are now finally starting to develop products on the pitch that match the fever that we have had in the stands. We’re not at the international level yet, but we’re on our way.
“When it’s become the first-choice sport of the youth … it’s becoming ingrained in our culture.”
He adds that if soccer isn’t “the new sport in America, it’s “the sport in the new America.”
For a man who’s made a very successful career out of scripted storytelling, McConaughey finds the attraction of sport’s spontaneous narratives irresistible.
“It writes itself, live, in real time. And that’s the beauty of sport. That’s why we watch, because you don’t know!”
He could be talking about Austin FC’s first game of the new season against LAFC on Saturday, his beloved Longhorns or even something much closer to home.
“My son’s little league [baseball] or junior soccer game on a Saturday morning that turns out to be an epic battle, it was 8-7 at the end. And I just thought I was coming to a junior soccer match!”
Asked to compare the two forms of entertainment with which he’s so familiar, he concludes that sport is winner. “The prescribed script of how it will go down is already in second place, because it wasn’t live.”
McConaughey is entering the world of professional sport at a moment in history when it has become increasingly politicized, and also at a time when he is considering taking a step into politics and running for governor in Texas.
“You’re not defined by being an athlete. It would be like somebody saying: ‘Matthew, you shouldn’t consider anything political because you’re an actor and a storyteller.'”
Athletes like McConaughey’s friend, the Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton, uses his platform to campaign for social justice and racial equality; so, too, do stars such as the NBA’s LeBron James and the four-time tennis major champion Naomi Osaka.
In 2019, MLS named Alejandro Bedoya the Player of the Week after he grabbed a pitch-side microphone and screamed: “Congress, end gun violence now!”
Meanwhile as corporate America begins staking out a position on dozens of states’ efforts to suppress the vote, Major League Baseball recently withdrew its All-Star game from the state of Georgia.
“Is there a line?” wonders McConaughey. “I don’t know that there’s a line. I would just say if you want to boycott or move out or protest, know your reasons, develop them and evolve those reasons along the way. Nobody is bound by their vocation to be excluded from having a political view.”
Unfortunately, the pervasive nature of social media in modern society means that anybody’s opinion can now be thrust directly into your feed, and many athletes have recently borne the brunt of some very toxic and even racist abuse.
“We, as humanity, as people, we’ve got to get a handle on this,” reflects McConaughey. “Our youth doesn’t know, so many adults don’t even understand, that what you’re putting down is going to outlive you.
“It’s part of your resumé, of who you are for the rest of your life and after you’re gone!”
So how would he react if any Austin player finds himself on the receiving end of such abuse?
He says that it would be important to emphasize that the abuse isn’t necessarily personal.
“A lot of times, that person is just spitting off. That person’s got their own problem; that’s the first thing I’d say to a player. Don’t let their dirty laundry make you dirty. Don’t take it personally, even if it feels personal to you.”
Perhaps he’d even recommend trying to find the abuser, to educate them face-to-face.
“Sport is a great example of anti-racism, a great example of people coming together and actually shining a light on differences. Let’s go sit down and have the discussion, not on social media where he or she can hide.”
For all of his accomplishments, McConaughey has said that the one thing that he always wanted to be was a father. In his autobiography “Greenlights,” he says he knew that when he was just eight years old.
His three children come up often during the conversation in this interview and it’s clear that sport plays a big part in their relationship.
Many parents will identify with the early starts every weekend to get their offspring to games and tournaments.
“You just trespassed on your mom and dad’s Friday night, buddy!” he quips about waking up to travel to a 7 a.m. match, but quickly stresses the shared life lessons are worth it.
“As a dad, it’s almost a greater day to talk to your son after the heartbreaking loss than it is to talk about the championship. ‘Did you give it your full effort? You’re going to find resistance in this world, people wanting what you have. You’re going to have to work with others to get what you want.'”
Now that Austin FC is up and running, his weekends are going to be even more full of it. The kids will be pulling him in one direction, the professionals in another. And that will be perfectly “Alright, alright, alright!”