Loyalty in Football

Americans would do well on Super Bowl Sunday to remind themselves what team sports are really all about.

Last November in the sports section of the Kansas City Star, my hometown paper, there appeared the nearby photo of Jimmy Nielsen of Aalborg Denmark, goalkeeper for KC's Major League Soccer team.  Jimmy appears to be holding up a scarf or muffler across which is emblazoned "LOYALTY."

But to what exactly is Mr. Nielsen expecting us to pledge our loyalty?  You see, any breed of loyalty, even to a sports team, must be all about connections that are old and deep.  What genuine loyalty is built on are the "ties that bind."  And the oldest and deepest of these are to family, friends, and, dare I say it, "blood and soil."

We're talking tribalism, folks -- us and them.  This ancient part of our nature cannot be repressed without risking serious repercussions.  But with team sports in today's America, we're stymied in our quest for tribal identity and cohesion.  Instead, sports fans are expected to have loyalty to their local team, the so-called "home team."

But when sports fans settle for loyalty to the local team, they're frustrated.  That's because their "favorite son," the local boy with all the talent, is off in some other city playing for them.  And not only that, but the players on the "home team" would just as soon be playing elsewhere.  These players are mercenaries, Hessians, and even foreigners.  What do they have to do with us?  What history do we share?  We're unconnected.  And not only are the fans unconnected to the players, the players are unconnected to each other.  How can they possibly make up a "home team" that deserves our loyalty?

Real loyalty is about commitments that are so strong that one is willing to go to war for them.  And that dovetails nicely with team sports, because team sports are nothing less than a substitute for war.  Since actual war is nothing less than hell, team sports provide a healthy sublimation.  But, as organized around the trivial criterion of proximity, team sports in America have a hard time igniting the old passions.  (One exception might be Green Bay, where the owners are the fans.)

There's absolutely no reason to have loyalty to a professional sports team, like KC's MLS soccer team, other than that its corporate headquarters are in one's hometown.  So Mr. Nielsen is asking Kansas City residents to have loyalty to a corporation.  Now, I have nothing against corporations.  Indeed, I tend think of them as people.  But corporations just don't stir the primal passions like "blood and soil."

When one looks at the starting lineups of, say, the Boston Celtics or the Fighting Irish, one isn't likely to see much in the way of red hair and green eyes.  The principle of tribal purity was thrown out long ago.  However, if team sports were reorganized around tribe, it would be dangerous.  You'd have Tutsis playing against Hutus, Serbs against Kosovars, and Chechens against Russians.  Team sports wouldn't be a substitute for war; they'd be a prelude to it.  Better that team sports remain impure and that true catharsis remains unattainable than to insert the explosive element of tribe into the sports arena.

So it looks like sports fans will have to content themselves with giving their loyalty to some corporate team.  But that doesn't mean that it has to be the local team, the home team.  Football fanatics can root for teams in faraway cities.  And the reason for that is allegiance to higher things than mere proximity.  Some women root for an out-of-town team because they like their uniforms or because the quarterback is cute.  But the serious football fan will root for a team in another part of the country because he likes the head coach's "philosophy of the game."

The serious fan may believe that the ground game is more important than the aerial game, or vice-versa.  Or he may think that football should be more cerebral and prefer brainy, complex, razzle-dazzle plays over brute force, like crafty old Odysseus outsmarting that Cyclops fellow.  Philosophy and style of play may be the reason El Rushbo has been a fan of the Steelers rather than of some team in Florida or Missouri.

Resourcefulness is another reason to prefer an out-of-town team.  Take John Elway's stunning reversals, snatching wins in the last moments of play.  The team that provides the more interesting games is likely to garner more out-of-town loyalty.

As to where my own loyalty lies: I always root for "red state" teams.  So for this year's Super Bowl I can only ask: who cares?  "What difference at this point does it make?"

I'm sure Jimmy Nielsen is a very fine fellow.  In fact, I may even be distantly related to him.  But real Americans don't care about soccer, which some are so impertinent as to call football.  There aren't enough injuries in soccer for it to qualify as a real sport.  Heck, you don't even need to wear a helmet in soccer.  How many 300-pound men play soccer?  Vinnie Jones, one of soccer's so-called "hard men," couldn't play real football -- i.e., what Americans play.  Scouts would consider Jones too soft for even the Chiefs.  In America, soccer is a girl's game, and only girlie men watch it -- no offense intended.

For true sports fans, what is best in life is "to crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women."  That is, we want our team to crush their team on the field, and then, after the game, we want to see them in the parking lot ourdamnselves.  Anything less is not only inhuman --- it's un-American.

Jon N. Hall is a programmer/analyst from Kansas CityThe opinions expressed in this article are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of American Thinker.

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