Beer and Pavement

The One Where He Blogs About College Football

Posted in Jock Straps by SM on October 27, 2010

Every building same height
Every street a straight line
Team colour’s yellow and blue
Cheerleaders single file
Perfect smiles unaffected
And you won’t forget
Our colour’s blue
No you won’t forget it

Twenty miles westwards
Home of the Redbirds
Team colour’s crimson blue
Open up your purses
For the boys to reimburse us
With a goal line stand on 4th and 2

And so goes Pavement’s “Lions (Linden)” off of the EP Watery, Domestic.

One thing I always appreciated about Pavement was their open fandom for the sports ball. They played basketball and table tennis backstage at Lollapalooza. Bob’s been betting on horses forever. Even now, Malk, a long-time fantasy sports junkie, came out in a Jamaal Charles[1] for the band’s Kansas City gig. All this made me feel OK about my own love for organized team sports growing up alongside my love of indie rock and anything alt.

One of those sports is football, particularly college football. Growing up in Ohio, you learned to love The Ohio State University Buckeyes. Their storied history of championships, legendary coaches, and great players were practically taught in the schools. I remember watching games at home or attending a few in person at the mammoth Ohio Stadium. While Ohio and its culture is in my blood, Ohio State football is a part of that experience and therefor will always be a part of who I am.

The trouble with liking a sport like college football, is that many of one’s more artistic, intellectual, leftist friends don’t get it. In fact, they look down upon it. My lifelong fandom is relegated to guilty pleasure status as these friends and acquaintances look down upon such a brutish sport that only represents the worst in American culture.

The way in which these friends criticize my favorite sport is quite insulting, really, but I recognize that everyone’s entitled to his/her opinion. They don’t have to like college football. That’s fine. However, the sport (like most sports) has cultural and societal value. Plus, college football has no worse an effect on culture and society than other, supposedly more prestigious entertainment options.

Take this past weekend for instance. The University of Missouri celebrated its annual homecoming weekend here, including a high-stakes, nationally significant college football game. The hype was insane for most of the week as ESPN’s College Gameday (as well as other ESPN programming) was scheduled to take place on Missouri’s campus. All this led up to a marquee match-up of two undefeated teams: the hometown Tigers versus the #1 Oklahoma Sooners. Missouri won and all hell broke loose.

Several things happened or were discussed over the weekend that perturbed me.

First, with the activity around campus reaching a fever pitch, academics in my circle[2] began complaining about all the hoopla. For this, I can’t blame them. Their workplace was being transformed into a TV set, students were skipping class with excitement, and the bane of any academic’s existence (the football team) was at the root of it all. Admittedly, I avoided campus as well as I did not want to be held up by the growing crowds of gold and black clad students and alumnae.

That said, the best thing some of these professors could do would have been to simply ignore the proceedings or even acknowledge them without judgement (which many did in all fairness). Instead, the contempt was often expressed in classes toward students, most likely alienating them for the remainder of the semester. How do you bash their school pride like that? There have to be worse things than students being excited about the school in which they attend. Teachers and professors don’t have to cancel class, but they could at least support their students a bit.

And don’t pretend that the football team has no value to the university. The University of Missouri, like countless other universities with major college football programs, benefitted greatly from their 2007 team in the form of increased enrollment. The excitement created by that team has carried over the past several years and the campus holds more students than ever before. More students means the need for all those professors who need justification for their employment (aside from their research, of course).

The second thing that bothered me was the general response by local progressives to the football game and the surrounding excitement. It was the talk of the town the next morning at one of our favorite breakfast spots. Sarcastic questions of “Did you go to the game?” followed by eye-rolling. I posted pictures of the ESPN Gameday broadcast, featuring a record crowd for the program and a herculean effort of sign creation. The response was that it was somehow “creepy”. Let’s take a look at one of those creepy images…

For comparison, look at this image from a Flaming Lips concert…

Or this one of Justin Bieber fans…

OR this one of Burning Man…

Or this one of protesters…

What makes the first image creepy and the rest perfectly acceptable? A friend responded with the following[3]:

  • Uncritical conformity to group norms.
  • De-Individuation of the Self
  • Blind obedience to authority
  • Dehumanization of the opposing team
  • Allegiance based on arbitrary factors
  • Inculcating the idea that zero-sum games are the only ones worth playing

Let’s break that down a bit…

Calling the crowd uncritical is a bit of an assumption. We don’t know what discussions were going on. I followed much of the event on Twitter and while a significant amount of discussion focused on how great the festivities were, there were also some critical and witty exchanges. Regardless, it’s difficult to assume the entire crowd of 18,000 fans was uncritical. If anything, football fans can be a highly critical lot and ESPN College Gameday is one of the more critical college athletic shows, in regards to football anyway. So, calling them uncritical is a stretch.

As far as the conformity of group norms, I’m not sure that’s so creepy either. In all of the images above, people are conforming to norms. In fact, like all the examples above, there are also moments of participants demonstrating some sort of individuality. In fact, the goal of the College Gameday crowds is often to create the most unique signs. How is that conforming?

The “de-individuation of the self” is laughable as all or most of the participants are doing whatever they can to stand out in the crowd. For someone who knows the inside jokes (i.e. the program’s intended audience), many of the signs displayed Saturday were quite clever. So, there is still room for individuality of self in such an event.

Besides, who’s to say that being a part of a group of like-minded folk is “creepy”? What happens at a rock concert or political protest? A bunch of people with similar thinking all gathering to feel a sense of community with like-minded peers. How is that creepy? How is that any different than getting together with my beer club or attending a Flaming Lips concert in full furry regalia?

The blind obedience to authority really has me perplexed. First of all, who is the authority? Gary Pinkel, coach of the Missouri Tigers? Kirk Herbstreit, co-host of College Gameday? No one required those kids to skip sleep in order to camp out for a good spot in the university’s quad in order to get on the TV show. In fact, I bet the powers-that-be would have preferred the students sleep in their beds, only waking to sneak in a little extra studying, but that’s not the authority we’re talking about here, I guess.

And, again, who’s to say that this so-called authority isn’t worth following? We blindly follow politicians, musicians, craft brewers, etc. because we believe in what they stand for. Sure, I love a good Noam Chomsky quote as much as the next guy, but I don’t think it creepy when said quote is posted on Facebook and forty other people click “Like”.

I would argue that “dehumanization of the opposing team” isn’t the only thing that is occurring in some of the signs berating Missouri’s opponent, Oklahoma. In fact, a lot of what is going on is an attempt to humanize these athletes who are often seen as invincible beasts, not able to be bested on the field of play. It’s part of the football culture to talk a little good-natured trash. Do some fans take it too far? Sure, but don’t some fans dehumanize the opening act by booing them off stage? Protestors dehumanize politicians despite the fact that they often have families and lives outside of politics that prove them not to be the monsters protesters (or Facebook posters) make them out to be.

“Allegiance based on arbitrary factors.” Really? Define arbitrary. Could it be similar to the fact that I like hoppy beers? I dislike the Grateful Dead, but love Yo La Tengo. British beer just taste…I don’t know…British. I don’t like olives. Are none of these opinions valid? Besides, the fans in the photo at the top are fans because they go to school or have gone to Missouri or have family and friends participating in the big game. I don’t think that’s arbitrary. I think that’s belonging to something, supporting your team.

Finally, there is another assumption that every football fan believes that zero-sum games are the only ones worth playing. In general, that’s a huge leap, but I can explain how even football is not zero-sum. One of the best traditions of football at any level is the wish that neither team sustains injury. A clean, injury-free game is a good game, no matter who your team is.

The city of Columbia greatly benefitted from the Oklahoma fans who made the trip to Columbia, and the good folk of Norman will hope for the same next season. That’s not zero-sum.

Football contains many games within the game. How do these players match up? Who won that quarter? Who has the edge in passing yards? What’s the national ranking? What’s the status of the conference? Did our team improve from last year?

As you can see, the only thing creepy or wrong with college football is misconception. Is college football perfect? No. Are there things I wish were different, better? Yes. But to look down upon a huge number of people who wear their school colors and cheer for their team every Saturday in the fall is hypocritical and elitist[4]. For once, consider the passion of college football fans as if it were the passion you hold for something dear to you. Consider that fandom is part of the human condition. It contributes to our individualism. It’s part of what makes many of us who we are. Then, you might understand the feelings of euphoria that caused half of Columbia to rush the field upon the Tigers victory last night.

Please, comment. I understand if you don’t like college football or you’ve had a bad experience with it. However, you must recognize that people have a right to celebrate their passions as much as you do.

Not many notes for this post. It took me long enough to post this. If a good point is made or some explanation is needed, I’ll add them as necessary.
1Charles is a fantasy beast, like most top-notch NFL running backs.
2While this does include my partner, she is at least tolerant of football fandom. She doesn’t get it, but she accepts its place and therefore allows me this indulgence.
3I’m using a friend’s words here mostly because I had trouble articulating why this image would be creepy. He provided rather clear and articulate reasoning, me thinks. So clear, that I felt it necessary in using his words to refute his argument. It should make for good discussion at the bar.
4And not the good kind of elitist, like “We want the smart guy to be president.” Or “That dude is an elite guitar player.” I’m talking about the “I am better than you” kind of elitism here.

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10 Responses

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  1. Jeff said, on October 27, 2010 at 7:29 pm

    The Flaming Lips image is hosted on a site that disallows leeching. Use this one I made for you instead:

    • builderofcoalitions said, on October 27, 2010 at 7:50 pm

      Funny. I can see it. I’ll replace it with yours. Thanks.

      • Jeff said, on October 27, 2010 at 8:03 pm

        Probably because it was cached. If you check it with another browser you’ll see the missing image icon instead.

        I saw the missing image and opened it in a new window. I got a error page from the server. Reloading it caused it to show up.

        They are using HTTP referrer information to see if the image is being requested from their own site. If not (here, it’s being requested from your blog) it denies the request.

        People do this to keep bandwidth costs down. If you have an image on a site you pay for and, say, someone post it inline to Fark or whatever, it can eat of gigabytes of your bandwidth really quickly.

  2. Alex said, on October 27, 2010 at 8:15 pm

    It sounds like you are apologizing for something. Do you feel persecuted?

  3. Scott said, on October 27, 2010 at 10:30 pm

    Do these people that got all worked up about the game and the hoopla ever get tired of being reflexive contrarians and lame? Also, and I’m being serious, do you know of specific examples of professors bashing the football hype? Seems like a very odd thing to do…but possible.

    • builderofcoalitions said, on October 28, 2010 at 8:04 am

      I do, but some are my wife’s colleagues or their partners. So, I will hold onto their remarks out of respect.

  4. Justin said, on October 30, 2010 at 11:21 am

    Interesting post – liked it. and that game was awesome. In my experience, most people, if taken to an actual big college game, realize that it is just awesome and an amazing experience in itself even if they don’t care for either team, or for the sport itself. It is undeniable. I went to a Tennessee/Florida game several years ago with someone that had absolutely no interest. It was a torrential downpour for almost half the game and she still walked away saying it was one the coolest things ever.

  5. Steve said, on November 1, 2010 at 6:19 am

    Great post.

    Sport is a fantastic means of bringing people together. It helps foster a feeling of belonging, and in a world where we grow ever distant from our neighbours, helps create a sense of community.

    And it achieves all that without any political or religious dogma.

    Nothing creepy about that – quite the opposite.

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