I never really got into following sport. As a child I could see that it was clearly important to many people: adults would talk about the local football (soccer!) team; other children would talk about national football teams; and Saturday afternoon’s television scheduling was devoted to Dickie Davis and Des Lynam discussing scores, performance, tactics, division standings, and so on.
I tried to get into football, as that seemed to be the most popular sport among young boys. At the age of 7 I decided that I should support a team. I picked Liverpool, as they seemed to be (a) very popular, and (b) doing well at the time. I think I asked my mum to buy me a Liverpool holdall for my school bag. My little brother, in contrast, was much taken with the young Gary Lineker and became an Everton follower. This gave us both someone to argue with about who was best – another key aspect of being a sports fan. In keeping with my status as a Liverpool supporter I decided that I really ought to watch a match on TV. So one Saturday afternoon, at 3 o’clock (or whenever it was that kick-off typically occurred), I sat down in front of our wood-veneered TV to watch the beautiful game. Within about 30 minutes I realized that I was utterly bored. I think the next time I watched a game was some 30 years later, when Chelsea played Bayern Munich last May. I watched this match in Maggie Miley’s, together with a couple of friends and my dad; it was really about spending time in a pub with people I like, not the game. Plus it was one of those farcical matches that ends on penalties.
Going back to me as a young boy, this attempt to become a football fan was to be the first of several failed attempts, conducted over the next few years, to fit in by trying to mimic what other people did. Eventually, when I was in my early teens, a girl at my school offered the opinion that although the moderately-expensive-by-my-standards Gallini sweater I was wearing could improve the social standing of other boys, it had the reverse effect with me: effectively, I dragged the sweater down to my level. I gave up on trying to be trendy and cool.
So one of the reasons I never took to sports fandom is clearly because I wasn’t doing it for the right reasons. I did not have the appropriate intrinsic motivation. I later realized that I didn’t buy into the tribalism of it. This was partly because I wasn’t that excited about having a fairly arbitrary reason to claim that my group of people was somehow better than another group of people, and partly because the tribalism, manifested as local pride, seems incoherent when few if any players actually come from the town or city that they seem to represent. I have no idea how many Manchester United players come from Manchester, but I bet it’s not many.
At this point, I want to make it clear, sports fans, that I do not feel in any way superior to you. I am not condemning your love for your team or arguing that you shouldn’t enjoy the excitement that comes from your team (regardless of where the players originated) out-performing another team. Really! I am just describing the fact that I’m not really that interested, which is about me, not about you or about sports. David Walliams summed up my feelings when he said (on some TV show; I have forgotten which one, but I think it involved him having dinner with someone else) “I don’t see why they have to keep playing every year, why can’t they just decide who’s best?”
My point is that I have never found a reason to care passionately about one team over all others. First, my local team is not composed of local players. Second, I have lived in several towns; am I supposed to stick with Reading, or should I have shifted allegiance to Nottingham when I moved there. And which Nottingham team: Forest or County? Third, many people seem to favor teams that bear no geographic relation to them, viz. my early choice of Liverpool. All of this is further compounded by my move across the Atlantic. I did think that, as a consequence of my relocation, I had been given a new start. Although many people are keen on football (soccer) here, football (American) is much more important. Given that there is no Bloomington-Normal team and that I am not from anywhere that has a football (American) team, I have a truly blank slate. I can choose to support any team I wish for any reason. The closest major team is the Chicago Bears, and supporting the Bears would at least mean showing allegiance to the state I live in, but somehow they just don’t do it for me.
But! I now have a good reason to support a football team. Actually I have a good reason to look fondly on two of them. Brendan Ayanbadejo, of the Baltimore Ravens, spoke out in support of gay marriage:
“I’m Brendon Ayanbadejo, a linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens. I believe we should be doing everything we can to make Maryland families stronger, which is why I support marriage for gay and lesbian couples who want to make a lifetime commitment to each other. People from all walks of life, including gay and lesbian couples, want their children to be in stable homes and protected under the law. Join me; it’s the right thing to do.”
I now feel that I would be happy to wish victory for the Ravens. Unless their opponents are the Minnesota Vikings. In that case I would wish for a high-scoring draw. Here’s why: In response to Ayanbadejo’s statement, Maryland state delegate Emmett C. Burns wrote the following in a letter to Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti:
“As a Delegate to the Maryland General Assembly and a Baltimore Ravens Football fan, I find it inconceivable that one of your players, Mr. Brendon Ayanbadejo, would publicly endorse Same-Sex marriage, specifically, as a Ravens Football player. Many of my constituents and your football supporters are appalled and aghast that a member of the Ravens Football Team would step into this controversial divide and try to sway public opinion one way or the other. Many of your fans are opposed to such a view and feel it has no place in a sport that is strictly for pride, entertainment and excitement. I believe Mr. Ayanbadejo should concentrate on football and steer clear of dividing the fan base.”
“I am requesting that you take the necessary action, as a National Football Franchise Owner, to inhibit such expressions from your employee and that he be ordered to cease and desist such injurious actions. I know of no other NFL player who has done what Mr. Ayanbadejo is doing.”
Chris Kluwe of the Minnesota Vikings came up with a wonderful reply. Don’t just pay attention to Kluwe’s (appropriate, in my opinion), use of NSFW colorful language; he makes some truly excellent and very important points (my emphasis):
Dear Emmett C. Burns Jr.,
I find it inconceivable that you are an elected official of Maryland’s state government. Your vitriolic hatred and bigotry make me ashamed and disgusted to think that you are in any way responsible for shaping policy at any level. The views you espouse neglect to consider several fundamental key points, which I will outline in great detail (you may want to hire an intern to help you with the longer words):
1. As I suspect you have not read the Constitution, I would like to remind you that the very first, the VERY FIRST Amendment in this founding document deals with the freedom of speech, particularly the abridgment of said freedom. By using your position as an elected official (when referring to your constituents so as to implicitly threaten the Ravens organization) to state that the Ravens should “inhibit such expressions from your employees,” more specifically Brendon Ayanbadejo, not only are you clearly violating the First Amendment, you also come across as a narcissistic fromunda stain. What on earth would possess you to be so mind-boggingly stupid? It baffles me that a man such as yourself, a man who relies on that same First Amendment to pursue your own religious studies without fear of persecution from the state, could somehow justify stifling another person’s right to speech. To call that hypocritical would be to do a disservice to the word. Mindfucking obscenely hypocritical starts to approach it a little bit.
2. “Many of your fans are opposed to such a view and feel it has no place in a sport that is strictly for pride, entertainment, and excitement.” Holy fucking shitballs. Did you seriously just say that, as someone who’s “deeply involved in government task forces on the legacy of slavery in Maryland”? Have you not heard of Kenny Washington? Jackie Robinson? As recently as 1962 the NFL still had segregation, which was only done away with by brave athletes and coaches daring to speak their mind and do the right thing, and you’re going to say that political views have “no place in a sport”? I can’t even begin to fathom the cognitive dissonance that must be coursing through your rapidly addled mind right now; the mental gymnastics your brain has to tortuously contort itself through to make such a preposterous statement are surely worthy of an Olympic gold medal (the Russian judge gives you a 10 for “beautiful oppressionism”).
3. This is more a personal quibble of mine, but why do you hate freedom? Why do you hate the fact that other people want a chance to live their lives and be happy, even though they may believe in something different than you, or act different than you? How does gay marriage, in any way shape or form, affect your life? If gay marriage becomes legal, are you worried that all of a sudden you’ll start thinking about penis? “Oh shit. Gay marriage just passed. Gotta get me some of that hot dong action!” Will all of your friends suddenly turn gay and refuse to come to your Sunday Ticket grill-outs? (Unlikely, since gay people enjoy watching football too.)
I can assure you that gay people getting married will have zero effect on your life. They won’t come into your house and steal your children. They won’t magically turn you into a lustful cockmonster. They won’t even overthrow the government in an orgy of hedonistic debauchery because all of a sudden they have the same legal rights as the other 90 percent of our population—rights like Social Security benefits, child care tax credits, Family and Medical Leave to take care of loved ones, and COBRA healthcare for spouses and children. You know what having these rights will make gays? Full-fledged American citizens just like everyone else, with the freedom to pursue happiness and all that entails. Do the civil-rights struggles of the past 200 years mean absolutely nothing to you?
In closing, I would like to say that I hope this letter, in some small way, causes you to reflect upon the magnitude of the colossal foot in mouth clusterfuck you so brazenly unleashed on a man whose only crime was speaking out for something he believed in. Best of luck in the next election; I’m fairly certain you might need it.
P.S. I’ve also been vocal as hell about the issue of gay marriage so you can take your “I know of no other NFL player who has done what Mr. Ayanbadejo is doing” and shove it in your close-minded, totally lacking in empathy piehole and choke on it. Asshole.