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February 25, 2008

Sports Tribalism

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

The blood flows passionately through those Obama fans who hope, hope and Hope that He will be the one to end the curse of that nasty old nation-stuff, leading us to the exalted realm of World Citizenship. Yes, that golden goal of everyone being equal, at last! ... aside from those Ivy League grads who will do most of the thinking and all of the deciding.

But all that idealism eventually comes up short, confronting what seems to be human nature. You know, the in-group, out-group thing. That starts early in life. For example, when I was in grade school it was our third grade classroom versus those other rooms. Our Cub Scout den versus the other dens in the pack and our pack as opposed to other packs.

This concept was brought home to me in college when, for the first time, I regularly read the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (P-I) newspaper. In those days it was the morning paper and the Seattle Times (which my family took) was the evening paper. But the fraternity house subscribed to the P-I so I read it every morning at breakfast.

Now, in those days the P-I had a sports editor/columnist named Royal Brougham. Actually he had been writing sports there since shortly after the earth started to cool, and was in his mid-60s when I was in college and still cranking out the content. I suppose almost every city with a daily paper had someone like him at one time or another; if you want more information about Brougham, click here.

The point I'm creeping up to is that Brougham was a "homer" -- a super-homer, in fact. When it came to Seattle high school sports, he had no wiggle-room; he couldn't favor one team over another in a column. But when a Seattle team played a Tacoma team, the us-versus-them thing kicked in. It went into high gear when the University of Washington football team was playing any other team. But if the Huskies weren't in the Rose Bowl, then he'd cheer for the Pacific Coast Conference team that did get to play. And, in the Olympic Games, it was our Americans versus those foreigners.

Brougham died with his boots on, so to speak. Well, make it that he died with the cover off of his Underwood typewriter. He suffered his fatal heart attack at a Seattle Seahawks game in 1977. Today, there's a street named Royal Brougham Way next to the baseball stadium.

One can argue that this is ancient history, that today's sports writers can get away with being more cosmopolitan. And it's probably true, up to a point. Nevertheless, it's hard for me to imagine a sports writer holding his job if he showed contempt for local teams most of the time and favored out-of-town, out-of-state and out-of-country teams.

Human nature still rules. Just ask those sophisticated Ivy Leagers; their beloved football teams no longer play in the NCAA's Division I. Maybe they're getting what they deserve.



posted by Donald at February 25, 2008


Royal Brougham certainly deserves an award as Name for the Decade!

Funny line about how we're all equal, excepting the Ivy Leaguers who will be pulling the levers. So true.

Your posting has got me thinking about how people let so many of what I think of as religious feelings infect their political thinking. It seems to me to be one of the fundamental mistakes, as well as something that's forever landing all of us in hot water. As for myself, if I want to think Large Thoughts and connect with a cosmic perspective, I'll do it in imagination, while meditating or doing yoga, or whenever. But when it comes to running a country? I want people in place who will look out for that country's best interests (in as modest a way as possible). Surely it can't be that difficult to recognize that these activities occur on two different levels and should be addressed on the appropriate level? Yet so many people want, hope for, or even expect transcendence via politics.

As someone who has never-ever shared this penchant, I ask: Whassup with that?

I mean, lord knows I have my sillinesses. (Among them, at least once upon a time: Looking to the arts for too much.) But where politics is concerned, it has always seemed to me deranged to ask for deliverance. Over-focus on cosmic goals and, y'know, the bridges that need repairing won't get fixed.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on February 26, 2008 1:08 AM

In an era when Republicans have used religion, most especially the evangelical faiths, to win elections, it is curious that the target of this post is Obama. What about Huckabee or Romney? Oh, right, in re-reading I see that what is being dissed is the idea that we should work WITH other nations rather than get fired up to BEAT them in the big game. Perhaps world politics is different from the NFL? Maybe there are less than desirable implications when we approach global politics as if it was the lead up to the Super Bowl and we are the Patriots?

Maybe, just maybe, the results as seen in the economy, our relations with other countries, our military flexibility and so on of the most recent administration, an administration that both used religious fervor as a campaign tactic and projected an US vs. THEM, you're with us or against us, approach both at home and abroad, has led many to conclude that such an approach is NOT in our best interests. It is a long stretch to conclude that because we root for the home team we need a vehemently adversarial foreign policy hawk in the White House.

Posted by: Chris White on February 26, 2008 8:42 AM

Of course, what the elites never talk about is all the good that comes out of pack loyalty. Would you or I even be alive if some ancestor hadn't given all he had, to the point of his life, to protect the pack?

Brooklyn boys like me go to their graves hating the Yankees!

Posted by: ricpic on February 26, 2008 11:01 AM

Ricpic, it's only fitting that a good number of the current Dodgers are ex-Red Sox, including the manager (owner is a Boston boy, too)!

Posted by: Brutus on February 26, 2008 12:54 PM

Republicans have appealed to evangelical Protestants and traditional Catholics on the basis of respect for traditional morality. Obama is doing something else: phrasing his political campaign as if it was a religious appeal, and encouraging his supporters to respond in kind. When was the last time you heard of people fainting in ecstasy when a politician spoke?

Posted by: Rich Rostrom on February 27, 2008 12:11 AM

Religious feelings in politics are nothing new, it's just that the Democrats finally have someone charismatic enough to arouse them. And yeah, it is kinda dumb. I just am voting democrat this year because I want the US out of Iraq, and that's about it.

As for sports, yeah: I against my brother, my brother and I against my cousin, my cousin and I against the world. I root for the Yankees. If I can't root for the Yankees, I'll root for the Mets. If I can't root for either of them, I'll go for the team that's from the Northeast. If I can't have a Northern team, I'll root for a blue-state team.

Posted by: SFG on February 28, 2008 9:44 PM

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