Sports Fans & Politics

politics as football


Every year, there’s a Superbowl. Every four years, there’s a presidential election, and the winners and the losers behave exactly the same way.    

Eight years ago, after Obama was elected, gun sales soared into record numbers, and Republicans were building bunkers to live off the grid to escape Big Brother destroying their country and their lives. Just because Democrats are now on the losing side of the media-driven hysteria about how high the stakes are, doesn’t mean they have to do the same. The end times have not arrived.

Yes, the “shoot-from-the-hip straight talk” that Trump has become known for is emboldening white supremacists, and they have been more vocal than usual. Hate crimes are up and minorities have tangible reasons to be alarmed. Reacting fearfully is very human, but it doesn’t help. When wild dogs attack is precisely when the rest of us need to calmly work together to stop them. And I think most Trump supporters would be on your side. They didn’t all vote for him because they are racist, sexist, xenophobic bigots. Many of them voted for him because they hate politics as usual (something you probably have in common) and they think he might shake things up, (which he might), or because they just hated Clinton so much they would have voted for anyone else. The dangerous people you are so scared of are as rare in this country as terrorists in the Muslim world, and they are surrounded by law-abiding Americans who won’t condone their behavior.

            We have protests in major cities across the country, denouncing the values of Donald Trump. We all think we know what Trump’s presidency is going to look like, and it is pretty close to the apocalypse. That’s what conservatives thought about Obama, and the country didn’t end, we didn’t become communists under martial law. The Presidency isn’t one person, it is a system, and while we may be ashamed of our figure-head and his brazen tongue we have yet to see what he will do when he takes office. He’s highly unpredictable. I’ll bet Republicans are almost as nervous as Democrats because Donald himself doesn’t even know what he’s going to do.

People will continue to speculate about how bad it could be, but what good is that doing? Driving us all into a fearful frenzy doesn’t help. Fear clouds judgment and prevents rational thinking. That won’t help us accurately anticipate real threats that need to be dealt with. Human brains feed on the building up of fear in the nervous system, like the adrenalin rush on a roller-coaster or at a horror movie. We hate it and we get a charge out of it. This fear, when it builds on itself and spreads from person to person, creates mass hysteria. Like a herd of cattle, we could find ourselves running off a cliff. The media is doing a lot of this - priming us to be afraid - and the media is biased… not always to one party or candidate, but to a narrative that excites your nervous system so that you keep watching.

Why do we watch sports? To live in a fantasy world? To vicariously win or lose through a team we identify with? Could it be that we use sports to channel our instincts for battle while living in a society where fighting is unacceptable?

            Do we similarly project our inner aggression, aspirations, and frustrations upon our politicians? Could that explain the flood of grief and fear being expressed by democrats since the election of Donald Trump?

           Back in the earlier years of this country football wasn’t the highly popular and violent sport it is today. It has risen in popularity and in violence following the rise of the United States as an empire. Rome’s ‘bread and circus’ followed their military dominance in similar fashion, and having slave labor allowed their citizens to spend much of their time being entertained. Here in the U.S. we still work a lot, although immigrants and machines do much of our manual labor to provide most of our food and essentials, but we seem to have a lot of time for entertainment. And while we could be studying to better ourselves or to adapt to a new technological job market or talk to our neighbors, we’d rather spend our time in front of the television watching our modern ‘gladiators’ battle. This isn’t right or wrong, good or bad, but why do we do it? And why are the more violent sports more and more popular? Why the rise of Ultimate Fighting? Is it because we glorify a violent domination of the planet, or is it because we feel that instinctive aggression that we aren’t allowed to express in society? Perhaps it is both of those things combined.

            Right now citizens are conducting massive protests in big cities all over the country. None of them is as large as the Cubs victory rally in Chicago, mind you, but big turn-outs nonetheless, to protest a president-elect who hasn’t done anything yet. It’s no surprise violence is happening; we are angry, frustrated, aggressive mammals feeling threatened and disenfranchised from our own country. Now, we have a perfect target that represents what is hurting us, so we will attack whatever or whoever bears that symbol. The left has so identified Trump as “the enemy” that we can’t see through his facade to his humanity.  Trump is a man who grew up in New York, albeit privileged, richer than most; and he says brash, racist and sexist things, but he is still a human being. As much as we want him to be the monster that must be destroyed, that is really our projection on to him. We want an enemy. We want to take all the things that are wrong with this country and distill them into one person and destroy it. But that will never work. The evil lurks within all of us.

We are all racist. All of us prejudge others based on their appearance and our unique assumptions. That’s not something we can completely overcome—it’s built into our subconscious. The best we can do is educate ourselves about how our minds work so that we can adjust for our prejudices. The useful thing about a man like Trump, a man without a filter, who condemns the PC Police, is that we hear the thoughts on the minds of many who may have been afraid to speak out; who were hiding their opinions. Their voting for Trump is a message to all of us that we need to listen; there’s another minority in this country that we don’t recognize; millions of Americans who are afraid and in need of support and they haven’t had our attention in years.

Pulling the politically-correct censorship gag off of the silent minority is not a backstep; it is the beginning of the dialogue about issues that have always been there. And it isn’t a one-way-conversation of privileged, college-educated elites enlightening the downtrodden and under-educated. Small town America may have a lot to teach city-slickers too, starting with our unchecked privilege and prejudices.

There are scary things happening in the real world today, emboldened white supremacists, hate speech and violence. I’m not trying to gloss over this. White people need to reach out to immigrants, minorities, gays, and women, and let them know that most of their fellow citizens will stand up for them and fight for their safety. I believe that, ultimately, the citizens who stand for tolerance and inclusivity will win, because there are more people who care about the freedom of our minorities than those who don’t, and that is real power, more than a figure-head can wield.

The best way to undermine the power of a Trump presidency is to work at the roots—talk to his supporters. The best way to oppose Trump’s hateful rhetoric and name-calling is to do the opposite—listen and talk respectfully to those with whom you disagree. Shaming people with your enlightened perspective is part of the problem, not part of the solution. No one is going to want to listen unless they feel the other is listening. Screaming taunts at these people like they were from the opposing team at football game is not going to do anything but harm. 

So by all means, protest. Speak your mind, but don’t do it like a sports fan, led by the herd, chanting the fight song, identifying with your team and demonizing the “other.” Be conscious of who you are and who you are talking to. We are all playing in the same game. This isn’t the end of our country. This is half time—a time for pep talks and revising strategy so that we can play together with good sportsmanship. Grieve if you must, celebrate if you must, but don’t forget that there’s more game to play, and you can’t do it without the other team.

Let’s work on healing our country and helping our fellow citizens to feel needed, cared for, and involved in the national discussion. If our new “coach” doesn’t work out, we will still be here working for each other when he’s gone. So let’s stop the hateful rhetoric we are generating. And for God’s sake, stop watching political news that reminds you of a UFC fight or a horror film. The fear and hate all builds up in our nervous system and turns us into maniacs.

We can pull our projections back from Trump and Hillary, and politics in general, and see that we are still lucky to live in this country, even if we aren’t personally doing so well right now. But it is our responsibility to be its stewards. Electing a president isn’t the extent of that responsibility. Working actively in social institutions to amplify the voices of sanity shows what power really is in this country. It is what the framers of the constitution envisioned instead of political parties, and unfortunately we quickly devolved into team spirit and a win-lose dichotomy because we’re human. But we can take a little extra time away from the couch and the TV to talk to one another, engage in dialogue with those who are agreeable and those who are not, and start healing this divided nation.

Perhaps we can get our aggression out at the gym so that it doesn’t come out in our language. Perhaps setting a tone for peaceful dialogue with our fellow citizens could spread into our dialogue with other nations and set a better precedent there as well.

This isn’t Trump’s America. It’s ours. And if you’re tempted to sit on the couch and do nothing, don’t forget that this is more important than a Superbowl; after all, it only happens once every four years.