Sunday, January 17, 2010

For Whom to Root?

I watch the NFL playoffs with interest — and embarrassment. Being human, I characteristically pick one of the two teams to root for — and then spend the rest of the game wondering if I made the better choice. Yesterday, for instance, I watched the Saints beat the Cardinals. For whom to root? I liked New Orleans when I went there for Mardi Gras, but I adore the Grand Canyon beyond my ability to express. Advantage: Cardinals. How many of the Cardinals, though, are actually from or of Arizona? A tiny fraction, I think it’s safe to assume, just as a tiny minority of my once-beloved San Francisco 49ers were from the Bay Area. And why assume that any of them was as humbled by the Canyon as I? Because of an extraordinary innate talent for a particular athletic task, these are young men who are treated like God Jr. throughout their early lives, and then paid gigantic salaries and treated, in many cases, like God Period. Advantage revoked.

And why should my loyalties be geographically ordained when those of the vast majority of the fans filling the Louisiana Superdome, the Saints’ home, are not? Had native son Early Doucet, a wide receiver from New Iberia, Louisiana, who played for Louisiana State University, have caught the pass that beat the Saints, the fans would have been grief-stricken. They reveled instead in Drew Brees, a Texan who studied (at least in theory) at Purdue University in Indiana, throwing three touchdown passes. No fewer than 26 former high school stars from the New Orleans area play in the NFL, four of them for the Pittsburgh Steelers, none for the New Orleans Saints. Wouldn’t it make more sense for local fans to be rooting for the former than for the latter?

[Since originally writing this, I have discovered that Drew Brees has been fervently philanthropic in New Orleans, which obviously gives the locals every reason to root for him. How delicious, the taste of my own foot.]

How about, then, that Kurt Warner, the Cardinals’ quarterback, had a long, uphill fight to prove himself capable of leading an NFL team, and at one point, while others his age were already appearing in Sports Center game highlights, was stocking grocery store shelves. Advantage: Cardinals.

But wait. Warner’s also known to be an avid Christian, and I can’t be sure that means someone who’s loving and charitable and tolerant and Christ-like, on the one hand, or, on the other, repressed, smug, and judgmental. I know that Peyton Manning of the Colts contributed to the re-election campaign of George W. Bush, for which reason I will be rooting against the Colts with gusto; for all I know Warner is the poster boy for homophobic legislation somewhere. I can’t take a chance. Advantage revoked.

It’s highly likely that a large percentage of both team’s players, in any given NFL playoff game, are arrogant bullies who’ve gone their whole short lives feeling majorly entitled because of their extraordinary ability to throw, catch, kick, or run with a football — or to tackle one attempting to do any of the foregoing so brutally as to knock him unconscious. How do I know that the Cardinals roster has more or fewer such players than the Saints’?

This stuff can drive you crazy.

Today, the Jets, for whom one line of thinking would have me rooting because I’m a resident of New York’s Hudson Valley, will be playing. I like that their quarterback, Mark Sanchez, isn’t only a rookie (who doesn’t root for David over Goliath?), but a Latino. A quick visit to Wikipedia, though, reveals that he’s a Latino who doesn’t even speak Spanish, and who was accused of sexual assault while at USC.

Every professional sports team is an assemblage of mercanaries, the overwhelming majority of whom have only a fiscal tie to the city they purportedly represent, and the more talented of whom will sign a more lucrative contract with another team at their first opportunity. I know that the old system, of players being tied to a particular team until it pleased the team to release or trade them, was deeply exploitive, but it was ever so much better from a fan’s point of view. How are you supposed to make an emotional connection with a player you know is going to lease his services to the highest bidder the moment his present contract expires?

Oh, for a new Joe Namath, an iconoclast with panache. Failing that, any team that unites in support of a gay player can count on my fervent support. And now I discover that Mr. Namath voted twice for Richard Nixon for president, and my head spins.

In this year’s Super Bowl, I think, regardless of who’s playing, I will root for the 1974 Dodgers, in spite of Steve Garvey's having been a sanctimonious hypocrite, and Don Sutton a raging egomaniac, and...

[Hear my life-changing new album Sorry We're Open here! Facebookers: Read more All In Tents and Porpoises essays and subscribe here.]

1 comment:

  1. Up front, I am not a fan of football. The only game that I barely watch is the Super Bowl, because it is attached to a wonderful annual party with friends.

    Nevertheless, your comments led me to think about whether knowing the politics or the criminal history of a player impacts my wanting to watch them perform or my wanting root for them. For me, it's a factor.

    We are barely an hour away from Mark Sanchez vs. Peyton Manning in the AFC Championship Game. Since I view the Bush presidency as the darkest chapter in American history (even darker than the Nixon years), I cannot root for anyone who contributed to his re-election. The election was bad enough; but to have voted for his re-election puts Peyton Manning beyond forgiveness.

    As for Mark Sanchez, all the media talk about him as a "rookie quarterback" makes him sound like a sweet young thing who just needs a bit more seasoning. How naive am I to have been surprised to read in your blog post that he was accused of sexual assault while in college? I think of Cher saying "SNAP OUT OF IT!" as she slaps Nicolas Cage in Moonlight.

    It has become impossible to think of football without marvelling at a sport that finds a way to re-embrace players with a history of strangling dogs or running down pedestrians.

    I prefer, therefore, to think of the fan base as the group worth rooting for. Today, it's the Jets' fans looking for a win after 40+ years, or the Saints' fans recovering from Hurricane Katrina. Ultimate advantage, Saints.