Sunday, February 05, 2012

No to the Super Bowl

It was in the 1950s--probably midway--when I attended my last football game. Fairhope's biggest rival was Foley. It was the biggest game in the season.

In those days I went to Fairhope's "other" school, the little School of Organic Education with an enrollment of about 50 in the high school. My friends and I faithfully went to all the home games of Fairhope High. I sat with five or six lifelong friends (they are til this day) and thrilled to the sound of the bands, the atmosphere charged by the energy of cheerleaders--the smell of autumn in the air and all the trappings of the game. Going to a football game was exciting, and Fairhope always had a good, competitive team. The Foley game was the highlight of the year.

This particular year Fairhope was winning by a big lead. It was several years before Kenny Stabler was on the Foley team. We wouldn't have known his name in those days anyway.

All I know for sure is that Foley was not going to win this one. It was a slaughter, and we knew it was a slaughter before the end of the first half. That was when one of my favorite people on the planet made an astounding suggestion.

"Let's go sit on the Foley side for the second half," he said. "We can boo until they give up!"

I was shocked to hear this. Stunned and heartbroken. "No!"

But I was much more heartbroken at the response. This bright and beautiful young man got the support of all my friends and a few others from the Fairhope side. Double whammy heartbreak for the starry-eyed girl from Montrose (me).

I said, "If you do this, I'm leaving. And I'll never come to another football game." They were incredulous, but nobody supported my action.

At the break, while the bands were playing and the half-time show was going on, a group of about ten youngsters from Fairhope actually traipsed over the Foley side and found front row seats (Foley didn't have many in the stands). When the game started again there they sat, cheering wildly every time Fairhope had a successful play on the field, no matter how small, and jeering at the top of their lungs when someone on the Foley team attempted a counter action. It was a spectacle I have never forgotten.

By then I was ready to walk away from the game. I lived far enough away that I had to await a ride from my mother, who would pick me up by the time the game ended. There was no telephone nearby so I could let her know I was ready to go home early. I stood near the field but out of sight of the game, and heard the roars from the stands when Fairhope made touchdowns and the slight sounds when Foley did something that might make a point.

I knew at that moment I had changed my life with that action. Never again would I see football or any other sport as an innocent, positive aspect of American life. I would see the whole spectrum of competitive athletics as fostering the opposite of "good sportsmanship." I didn't want to learn the finer points of the game. I would never again thrill to joining the cheerleaders in their chants, yelling myself hoarse with the best of them. I would go to the basketball games for my school; I once even attended a local bush league baseball game and was bored to tears after a few innings. I tolerated sports on television when I had to. But for the next fifty years I would like football least of all.

It was a small incident, really. Over the years I've wondered why I allowed it to be so meaningful in my life. With the orgy of emotion in this country over every game--high school, college, and professional--and the obscene amount of money that controls all organized sports, I suspect this may be one of the times I was wrong. Sometimes it seems to me that football is the engine that drives my country, prepares its young men for actual battle and definitely for the hard core workplace. It makes people happy to win and win big. Cheering for the winners is a national pastime. All of this, with my teenaged decision, was lost to me for a lifetime.

Maybe it was destined to happen anyway. There are plenty of people who have things they'd rather do than watch football. Probably I would have become one of them without the scene I witnessed. Clearly I overreacted. Now when I think of the joy of high school football I remember that night and it is like a black hole in my soul. At 71 it's probably time I cleared that hole out and put something in its place. Even now I don't know what, how or even why I would have to do that, and it is a little late.

I'll never be a football fan, but over time I've learned that it's not the game that creates the dark side in otherwise good people. The episode signaled the beginning of my loss of innocence, but it was highly personal and might have ended another way if I had not been so judgmental of those near and dear friends. I shall find other things to do than attend a Super Bowl party this evening. Maybe I'll use the time to work on ways to replace that memory and not hold all of the culture of football responsible for the bad behavior of a few teenagers in a remote utopian enclave of the distant past.


greg0629 said...


Steve said...

You did the right thing, you stood your ground. The others, well, they made their own decision. I have never been a huge fan of professional
sports, other than with the Celtics during the 80's and only when I was there in person. I will watch this years game, but mostly for Myra Kraft and all she has done for the community. i will enjoy the commercials and a lot of food. Is good to let go of this and make space for something else.

John in New Orleans said...

I think football reflects something primal, and not very attractive, in the American character. The "Us vs. Them" aspect of this infests so many aspects of American life... business - politics - religion. I think in a certain way that football actually subverts a sense of common purpose that keeps us from becoming the society that we could potentially become. I'll root for the New Orleans Saints because I know how much it means to a damaged city, but that's pretty much it.

Fran said...

You were right of course - to stand your ground and in your comment that sports are all about anything but good sportsmanship, at least with the emphasis on them today. I use that excuse sometimes when friends ask why I'm not a big fan of (most) any sport. A good soccer game can be exciting - the action never stops; and I do enjoy semi-pro baseball for the people watching; But the main reason I don't like football is because it is sooooo boring!

Steve said...

ML, I read this superb article a while back that presents what I consider to be one of the most literately philosophical, balanced and substantive considerations of the pros and cons of sports that I've ever encountered. Perhaps you'll feel the same way if you read it:

In any case, I hope you CAN let go of this ugly incident from the distant past. I watched the Super Bowl yesterday, despite my own misgivings about the psychic debasements of big time sports in general and the physical destructiveness of football in particular, more as a cultural experience to share with my foreign-born wife than anything else. If not for her, I would probably have done something else. For there are plenty of positive reasons not to watch a Super Bowl game instead of being controlled by the negative reason of an emotional aversion stemming from a distant albeit still vivid memory.

Cheryl A. said...

I was right there with you on this Mary. I could feel how upset you were, how disappointed. One of those moments in life that stays with you. I don't like football. When my grandfather would watch football he was pretty calm about it for the most part but I was young and didn't quite understand so I hated seeing him so upset when his team made a mistake or lost. He'd make his disappointed face and I'd worry. On another side of the family the males lined up on the sofa to scream and belch and stuff their faces and scream obscenities at the TV and also at we the females who were bringing them more stuff to belch out. That memory has stayed with me too - a meanness, a violence almost that the game brings out in people. I never liked it then and I don't like it now.

Anonymous said...

Man is a herd animal. Gathering in large groups by nature fosters a protective spirit. Led by a dominate personality to seek direction the group follows in an effort to avoid rejection. As someone who stood your ground on principal, the others I suppose, all fun loving good nature, knew there were stuck there for the duration of the game thus sought to elevate the amusement factor. If the foley stands were jam packed I doubt they would have ventured over to the opposing team side -- also the game of football has become so dangerous with the risk of life long brain injury, is it worth the risk. team spirit, as a herd animal seeking to identify with something to "like" wearing your heart on your sl er chest or back to the tune of advertising dollars is not my cup of tea either.

Steve said...

I recommend the following piece entitled "Super Bowl Pageantry – – Life Imitates Art."

Mary Lois said...

And I recommend you see the movie CONCUSSION. Thanks for the link, Steve. I think the game itself is as silly as the hoopla. And dangerous in many ways.