If you pay any attention to sports (or any mainstream media), you know that the Seahawks pulled off an epic comeback to win the NFC Championships yesterday. It was a glorious moment for Seattle fans and anyone else who appreciates heroic sporting feats (maybe not Packers fans).
I’m a newly minted fan, but I was jumping up and down with the rest of the sports bar (and the city) yesterday when the Hawks pulled it out. Over the last two years, I’ve had lots of reasons to come to the football-loving table. My colleagues at Girl Friday are HUGE fans, my local team got seriously awesome, and I started dating (then moved in with a diehard sports fan.
There are still plenty of reasons to take issue with the sport, especially as a feminist, but as the inimitable Roxane Gay points out in her excellent, aptly-titled essay collection Bad Feminist, there is no way to do it perfectly. You can have strongly held beliefs and still want to zone out and watch some horrible reality television, listen to some aggressive hip hop while you work out, or drink at noon and watch the game with the rest of your city without feeling guilty. I’ve got issues with the NFL for days, for everything from their shameful “charity” efforts, to past handling of domestic violence and rape charges, to their sometimes blatant disregard for their own players’ health and safety. But the sport and the organization are not synonymous; you can have objections and still be a fan. Here’s why I watch:
Yes, they win football games. But the reasons to love this particular team are legion (of Boom). If there was ever going to be a team to get me into the sport, it’s these guys. This is not only great group of players but a great group of men, as my colleague Lam pointed out on the GFP blog last week. From our darling Quarterback Russell Wilson, who is known for his good works off the field (he visits Seattle Children’s Hospital every week!) to our silver fox of a coach, Pete Caroll who always keeps it classy, the team consistently represents our city well. We’ve got brainiacs like Richard Sherman, who is always on point in interviews and was a stand-out at Stanford, and Steven Haushka who majored in neuroscience, and then we’ve got characters like the one and only Marshawn Lynch, who tries to stick it to the NFL every chance he gets. In their post-game interviews on Sunday, every player pointed to the greatness of their teammates and the love they had for each other. Right or wrong, young men all over the country look at football players as role models, and you could scarcely find better ones than these guys.
There are few things that can bring people together like a football game. At the bar where we watched the game on Sunday, we were surrounded by an impressive mix of people; football fandom crosses all kind of barriers. This deeply American sport has a unique power to bring conversations to the national forefront. True, we are talking about domestic violence because of the NFL’s abysmal handling of it, but we’re talking about it. One of the reasons football makes such a compelling backdrop for fictional dramas (see below) is because it brings up so many issues of class, race, and culture. Being clued into what’s happening with football will tell you a lot about the state of the nation, and that can be eye-opening, especially when you live in a liberal enclave like Seattle.
People get plenty passionate about sports, but it’s still a more neutral subject than say, politics or religion. It provides a common language with which to speak to each other about deeper issues. I may be new to football, but I’m not new to sports. I’ve was a competitive tennis player growing up and in college, and I believe in the things that any sport can teach you: integrity, discipline, resilience, and teamwork, to name a few. Professional sports, and football in particular, have a dark side but at there is also a lot of good. There are many life lessons to be taken from watching a team at their best.
Before I started watching or appreciating football as a sport, I loved football as a storytelling device in movies like Varsity Blue, Remember the Titans, and TV shows like Friday Night Lights. Why? Drama! Football is a high stakes sport, both brutal and beautiful at its best. Everyone I watched the game with yesterday went through the whole spectrum of emotions, from despair to disbelief to joy and back again. Sometimes you just want to just up and down with strangers feeling all the feels. And that’s a beautiful thing.