Don't let your schooling interfere with your education.
~ Pete Seeger

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Tribalism and the Rose Bowl

Well, after a great season, the Oregon Ducks lost the Rose Bowl. Both teams played hard, and Oregon had its chances, but Ohio State put up an excellent game on both sides of the ball and there's no doubt they earned their victory. The boys and I watched the game at our neighbors' house, along with two other families from up the street. Every one of us was a Duck fan, and, as you can imagine, there were some long faces at the end of the game.

I shared that disappointment, of course, but mostly I just enjoyed watching the game. There are a number of sports I enjoy – basketball, soccer, horse racing – but most of all I love football. I love the pacing, because you always have a chance to talk with friends or watch replays between plays. I love the choreography, as each team moves in highly practiced ways to either move the ball down the field or prevent the other team from doing it. I love watching the power, grace, speed, and skill of the athletes. I love the strategy. I love to take sides, and see my chosen team win. I even love the violence – there is something primitively satisfying in seeing a hard tackle, or watching Jeremiah Masoli run over another safety. I just wish that women's football teams (go Pride!)were more popular, and we had more chances to watch them.

I have a friend who doesn't like football at all. He hates the violence. He's got a point. A lot of people get injured playing football, and I don't enjoy that, either. He hates the competition, which he calls tribalism, and the way that fans can get aggressive and obnoxious. Wouldn't it be better to recognize the unity we all share as humans on this planet, and focus on the real problems that so beg for solutions, and which are continually ignored? He points to it as a means to pacify the masses, and distract them from the way our leaders are corrupting our political and economic systems and destroying our planet. Again, he's got a point. I see the resources continually dedicated to sports teams that really contribute nothing to solving those serious problems, but rather take potential resources away, delaying the solutions.

I also agree that it is tribalism, on a very primitive scale. Football – and other sports, for that matter – is a highly stylized form of warfare, which sets one community apart from and against another. The athletes are warriors, holding the prestige of the entire community (in a limited sense) in their hands. Fans will meet them at the airport, whether they've won or lost, and celebrate their victories, mourn their defeats, with them.

However, I question whether that tribalism is necessarily a bad thing. Perhaps resources can be better allocated, but there is a beauty to the system. First, it is certainly better to participate in this stylized competition than in genuine warfare. Sports teams also do much to contribute to the identities of their communities, to define them. Perhaps it is this that gives me the sense that sports tribalism isn't a bad thing – I've had to fight to discover and define my own identity, and so see the importance that identity carries, even for communities, for states, for nations. On a larger scale, the Olympics does the same thing. At its best, affiliation with sports teams provides an outlet for what may well be the tribalism of human nature in a way that supports peace and inter-community or international connection and understanding.

I'm not saying my friend is wrong for his view. Every part of it is legitimate, and real. For my own part, though, I think I'll claim that tribalism for my own, celebrate it, and take my place in Duck Nation proudly. I'd like to be at the airport to greet our football heroes, too.


CrackerLilo said...

Usually, people who want to tell me my sports affiliations are wrong are as passionate about music or political groups (which they use as social networks as well as venues for change) or a hobby. And they'll use these things as ways to distinguish "us" from "them." But I think it sublimates those feelings a bit. Also, I have found that my NASCAR fandom draws me closer to my family, and my hockey fandom draws me closer to my wife and gives me something to discuss in the breakroom at my office. Sports can build interpersonal relationships.

Oh, as a Pittsburgh Penguins fan, I hate the Philadelphia Flyers and anyone who allies with them. And as a Tony Stewart fan, I am obligated to hate Jimmie Johnson and his fans. But I would never deny anyone civil rights or beat anyone up for being a Johnson or Flyers fan. I refuse to feel guilt over my fandom. (By the way, your friend would probably really hate the way I began expressing my Penguins fandom last month: my Cocktails with the Penguins blog.)

I love how you describe football, even though I don't watch it. You describe what you find beautiful in both the sport and the culture around it. It was great to read.

I wish we'd see more womens' sports broadcast widely, but we have to generate the demand. I hope, hope, hope that Danica Patrick can open doors in NASCAR. I'm going to be cheering for the USA Womens' Hockey team *hard*, and I think I need one of their jerseys. I'll probably have an oh-so-patriotic crush on a particularly skilled forward by the end of the Games. :-)

Sorry your Ducks lost, but I'm glad you could enjoy the game with people you liked being near. And I'm glad you posted. Happy new year to you!

anne said...

Hey girl,

I LOVE football, not because I like anything to do with the game, but because, without games, there would be WAY more war. Your friend is dead wrong there. I would rather see thousands of fans attending games than even see them out on the streets driving. It's a great way to let off tension, enjoy tribalism (which exists, no getting rid of it) and give the boys something to do as kids (play sports.) My friend, whose an avid soccer player says that the playing field is where boys learn to fight without killing each other.

I don't get sports much at all if there is any competition, which I hate. But I recognize that I am not most people and let them have their games, by all means. I LOVE walking around the streets when the Ducks are playing--so quiet...

Go Ducks--over there, away from me. :)


anne said...

Hey girl,

Whoops, girls too need the playing field. My sister used to work off all her anger playing tennis. She's still a world class athlete and has to run three hours before she can calm down enough to write. Her daughter is also a world class athlete and loves winning.

Different strokes for different folks.

Anonymous said...

I have also had discussions over my love for football. People not understanding mostly. "Why do you like to see people being hurt?" I don't like seeing people get hurt BADLY, but a good tackle can really make my day the same way wrestling with my little brother can. It's just part of my human nature. The desire for action and heroes is in my blood.

I completely agree with sports (even organized, over-funded sports) being a fantastic outlet for our energies that would probably be otherwise spent in ACTUAL wars, battles, fights, or brawls with neighbors. In picturing a world without these marketed sports teams, I see neighborhood against neighborhood. Actually, we'd probably just eventually figure out how to all play baseball together amongst the neighborhoods, and then everything would be fine again.


Seda said...

Hey, Lilo,
Thanks for your perspective! It's true that fandom can bring families closer - but it can also drive them apart! I have some relatives who are so obnoxious in supporting my team I'd really rather not watch with them...

I agree with you about women's sports. I like women's basketball as much, maybe more, than mens - same for soccer.

Happy new year to you, too!

Great point! I love it when it's quiet out, too. Traffic is sooo peaceful during home Duck games... :-)

That's great - without pro teams, we'd have more sandlot! I hope so. That would be cool. Though my experience as a kid with all that wasn't very positive. Could be because I had gender issues, though...

Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing. To keep our faces toward change and behave like free spirits in the presence of fate is strength undefeatable.
~Helen Keller

Reading List for Information about Transpeople

  • Becoming a Visible Man, by Jamison Green
  • Conundrum, by Jan Morris
  • Gender Outlaw, by Kate Bornstein
  • My Husband Betty, by Helen Boyd
  • Right Side Out, by Annah Moore
  • She's Not There, by Jennifer Boylan
  • The Riddle of Gender, by Deborah Rudacille
  • Trans Liberation, by Leslie Feinberg
  • Transgender Emergence, by Arlene Istar Lev
  • Transgender Warriors, by Leslie Feinberg
  • Transition and Beyond, by Reid Vanderburgh
  • True Selves, by Mildred Brown
  • What Becomes You, by Aaron Link Raz and Hilda Raz
  • Whipping Girl, by Julia Serano
I have come into this world to see this:
the sword drop from men's hands even at the height
of their arc of anger
because we have finally realized there is just one flesh to wound
and it is His - the Christ's, our