Longtime pro football fans clicking through their TV channels won’t be surprised to see Brady Poppinga seated in a broadcast studio and breaking down games with trademark enthusiasm.
The Brigham Young University product spent almost a decade in the National Football League tormenting quarterbacks and tailbacks. His gridiron bona fides are well established.
But those same fans may be a bit surprised to hear the words coming from Poppinga’s mouth.
Instead of talking about “players” and “special teams,” he’s discussing “jugadores” and “equipos especiales.”
For several years, Poppinga has blended his football know-how with his bilingual skills, offering insight and analysis on Spanish-language sports stations.
So how did an Evanston, Wyoming, native with a surname aptly suited for a hard-hitting linebacker — POPpinga — become fluent in the Romance language of Cervantes and Neruda?
Most Latter-day Saints can likely guess the answer.
The 41-year-old Poppinga served a mission in Uruguay. Two decades have passed since he returned home, but he’s still comfortable speaking Spanish. And he is still polishing his language skills.
“When I was still in Uruguay, I made a commitment to myself to never forget the language because it was so challenging to learn,” he told the Church News. “On my mission, I made a habit of studying Spanish, whether it be reading the scriptures or reading general conference talks.”
Those habits, he added, have continued post-mission.
Poppinga also consumes Spanish-language news and never passes on opportunities to practice with native speakers. He has even developed something of a “drive-time ritual” when he’s alone in his car where he simultaneously translates his thoughts and feelings from English to Spanish.
He also enjoys practicing Spanish with his wife, Brooke, who also served a mission to Uruguay.
His hard-earned mission language skills have snagged the attention of the Spanish-language sports community. During his NFL career he was occasionally interviewed in Spanish and participated in team-sponsored Hispanic heritage events. Then in 2014 he was hired by Fox Deportes to work as an analyst for the first Super Bowl television broadcast delivered entirely in Spanish.
It wasn’t easy. “Football is hard enough to analyze in English,” he said with a laugh.
But the high-energy Poppinga had fun and has continued to jump at opportunities to share his NFL insight and opinions with Spanish-speaking audiences. Recently, he has been offering 2021 NFL preseason football analysis for California-based EstrellaTV.
And he continues to practice, practice, practice. Poppinga’s skills have evolved to a point where he is comfortable breaking down plays or games in Spanish, “but the learning still continues.”
When young Elder Poppinga arrived in Uruguay, he didn’t imagine speaking a second language on live television for a global sports audience. He remembers struggling to communicate with just the basics of Spanish.
“At first, I didn’t understand one word, but you have to start somewhere. … I quickly learned that just opening your mouth and doing the best you can was a fantastic way to learn,” he said.
Poppinga also overcame his natural shyness while sharing the gospel with Uruguayans in their native tongue. He became more comfortable and confident — additional skills that now serve him well in his broadcasting ventures.
A fitness professional, Poppinga can spot parallels between building muscle and building language skills. You must become comfortable with being uncomfortable. Muscles grow and adapt when they are consistently stressed. “And with languages, it’s the same principle. You have to put yourself in a strategically stressful environment. … If I’m constantly speaking the language and searching for ways to express myself accurately, I’m eventually going to learn to say things the right way.”
Poppinga is frequently asked how a “gringo” from Wyoming is able to talk football’s X’s-and-O’s in Spanish.
“It all comes back to serving my mission in Uruguay.”