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.