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Sports and Politics: Us vs Them


Fans of one specific sports team are always a little bit interesting to me. Now, I love team sports; especially basketball and soccer. However, I get the following question all the time when the discussion turns to a specific sport, “Who is your favorite team?”

There’s a very subtle and possibly insignificant choice of wording with that question, but it’s interesting, nonetheless.

“WHO is your favorite team?” (I’ll get back to this a little later.)

My answer is almost always the same: I don’t have one. If a basketball game is on TV, you can bet your sweet bippy I’m going to watch it, typically regardless of which teams are playing. I’m an obsessive NBA fan, but I don’t have a preferred team. There are certain players I prefer to watch if given the opportunity, each one vastly different from the other in how they approach the game, and those are reasons why I appreciate them. However, I don’t own any team or player gear. I play basketball four times a week, but any pair of basketball shoes I own is devoid of a specific player design. That’s not to say this should be the case for everyone, but it typifies the way in which I approach sports; and even other things in life.

People tend to identify with one team based off various factors, be they location, familial tradition, or player loyalty. If you follow the NFL at all, you know that yesterday provided a very intriguing litmus test for fandom as the Colts took on the Broncos, which featured Peyton Manning—the Colts’ former superstar quarterback—going up against his former team and their budding superstar quarterback, Andrew Luck, who for all intents and purposes replaced Manning last year. Being from Indiana, I know that loyalty to the Colts and Peyton Manning were for years mutually inclusive, but now individuals have had to reconcile the idea that the player they’ve so identified with has moved on to another team, while their favorite team has moved on to another quarterback. It was a compelling juxtaposition for me, honestly, and it’s played out in dramatic fashion over the last week leading up to the game.

Why do we identify so much with one player or team, of which neither has any point of identification with us beyond our fandom for them? People will shout and fight to defend their favorite player or team, and even scream or cry when the game doesn’t go in their favor. High school and college rivalries have caused fights and riots, in the past, but I can at least identify with this due to the fact that the students involved are actually a technical part of the school, but that’s still odd to me. On the professional level, it goes even more over board.

I don’t begrudge anyone for their fandom, by any means. In fact, I didn’t use to perceive things this way; as a sort of personified Switzerland, remaining neutral in most areas. I used to loath people who couldn’t pick a side of the fence, thinking that they were just afraid to commit to one idea, or even stand up for it. That’s changed for me over the years, and I’m thankful for that. I still have my passionate opinions on things, and there are certain topics that absolutely are black and white, but not as many as I once thought.

Let’s take politics, for instance. The politcal arena is not unlike the football arena, except for the fact that there are typically only two teams. Those teams are Us vs Them. Democrats vs Republicans. Liberals vs Conservatives. We identify with and pick a certain side, and then we tend to remain on that side, no matter how foolish it seems in certain moments and in the face of special circumstances. There’s very little overlap between the two ideaologies and how we perceive them. It’s gotten to the point that when I encounter someone who can articulate a stable and reasonable perspective while identifying with multiple points on either side without anger, I’m surprised. I’m so confused I nearly crap myself, as there’s no other way for me to process it.

We tend to humanize the ideals that we fight for, and dehumanize those who disagree with them.

This brings me back to the question at the beginning of this post I get asked all the time.

“WHO is your favorite team?”

It’s a subtle and more than likely subconscious choice of a word, but if we dig deeper, we can probably make a healthy assumption that there is a reason for it. That team we love is us. They represent our engagement with the sport, for better or worse. In politics, the political party we identify with is a representation of all the ideals we abide by, even if they really don’t. We fight against the opposing “team”, and nothing shall stand in our way to “victory”, whatever the hell that really means. The government shutdown we all experienced recently is a perfect example of this, though slightly more nuanced. Two sides of competing forces trying to give us an example of what happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object.

This is largely why I prefer not to pick a “team”. Personally, I prefer to just sit back and watch the game.

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