This bumper sticker illustrates the point. Jersey wearers display their team spirit in ways familiar to sports fans. Credit, Nadin Abbott

Team Sports and Politics

Nadin Brzezinski

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April 23, 2018 (Analysis) The worst NFL game to police in San Diego was the Raiders-Chargers home game. These were things that San Diego Police always had to deal with in higher numbers: Domestic disputes, fights with the occasional knifing at the stadium, to drunk driving and drug use.

It got worst if there were questionable calls by the refs.

Studies have shown that violence in the game, particularly if perceived as unfair, increases the likelihood of violent acts by spectators. Fan violence is further magnified by strong identification with the team, underlying racial and ethnic tensions, social alienation, alcohol consumption, and predominance of young men in the crowd. The 2011 savage beating of Bryan Stow, a Giants fan, by two Dodger fans is a recent and egregious example.

The identification with a team does not necessarily mean that it crosses social class, or race for that matter. We know that Los Angeles Gangs have adopted the Raiders as their own. This is one reason the Raiders-Chargers move to Carson was nixed by the league.

The Raiders have long embraced their outlaw image, which goes back to when Davis appeared as a witness for the USFL in their anti-trust case against the NFL. Many gangs in Los Angeles and elsewhere have identified with the Raiders and adopted the team’s colors and logos as their own.

Actor and rapper Ice Cube even starred in an ESPN 30 for 30 program called “Straight Outta LA” that examined the relationship between the Raiders and the rap culture in Los Angeles. In a separate interview, he said the team had gangsters for fans well before the rap scene supported the team.

This is a public relations problem for the owners, and it is not limited to the Raiders, or the NFL. British Hooligans have a well earned reputation for violence on the stands and off. They follow their soccer teams religiously, and are a deemed a clear and present danger during World Cup competition.

The identification with the team, and team colors is not unlike a tribe. What you see on and off the field is sanctioned violence. What you also see are humans who believe the other team is less than human, and deserve to die.

Politics

So what does this have to do with American politics? Everything. As it has been noted by others already, Americans treat politics like another (blood) sport.

We saw it after the death of Barbara Bush. And it was not just Roger Stone, who is a political street fighter who hates the Bushes, and came out expressing hate. Mind you, from him, if you know his history, it was hardly shocking or surprising. There were pretty normal people doing the equivalent of mom, yes, your mom, screaming at the scrimmage line at you, KILL HIM! They hate the Bush family so much, that they could not let go of this team mentality for a week. Nor could they acknowledge that a family was burying their mother and wife.

And it is not just whatever passes for the left. Those on the right will also spike the football every time they get a chance. Every time a politician gets arrested, both sides wait with bated breath for party allegiance. If the crook is on their team, they will promptly ignore it. If not, they will spike the football and do a victory dance.

Wait, somebody was arrested for having ninety-thousand dollars in their fridge? It does not matter what the details are, or how bizarre the story is. I will admit, for a life is stranger than fiction moment, this is one of my favorites, and not because he wore blue team jersey. It just has all the elements for a good mystery novel.

However, this story had two elements that allowed team red to spike the ball and do a victory dance. The Congressman was black and team blue. So it was proof of corrupt black Democrats. At no point did they ask the obvious question: is this proof of systemic corruption? We have evidence this is the case. But that would be inconvenient, since it would drag way too many team red and team blue players into the net. It almost has the feel of you shall not speak of fight club outside fight club.

Policy

How does this affect policy? First off, sausage making is, by its very nature, hard to follow. It is complex, and some bills affect your life more than others. However, the sports mentality also affect how it is done. It goes without saying, there was a time when this mentality did not get in the way of policy making. It was an era when politicians did compromise more often than not.

Let’s assume for a second that President Donald Trump proposed no income limit for FICA contributions, which is considered one way to save Social Security. This means that it does not matter what your annual income is, you will contribute across your income. Yes, the billionaires would get taxed for the totality of their annual income, and so would you. Team blue would immediately reject this. Never mind that this is one of the solutions proposed by policy experts. I am assuming a very clean, one page bill here. Not just one page, but one written in plain language, with no riders. One that is written at third grade level, and is so clear that it leaves no room for interpretation. It would be opposed because Trump proposed it, end of discussion.

Then there are issues of consequence in foreign affairs. If you have spent any time on social media, you have heard about George W Bush and torture. It is wielded like a Scarlett letter by team blue members. Of course, he is linked to CIA nominee Gina Haspel, who was responsible for running a CIA dark prison, where yes, torture was employed. We even had legal justification for it. Incidentally, governments need that fig leave, not just the American government.

Team blue will not take the next step. George W was not the first president to order torture. Perhaps he was the first honest one, who knew we, the pure knights in white armor, were using it to save the world. The discussion should not start and end with the Iraq war. It should properly start with the 1947 National Security Act and the creation of the Central Intelligence Agency, and carry through Korea, Vietnam and Central America, just to mention the big ones.

In the real world, where policy, not team sports matters, we know torture has been used in the past. As a medic, for a National Red Cross Society, I heard plenty of this in testimony from refugees. When Efraim Rios Mont was convicted by a Guatemalan court, I knew exactly what they were talking about. Actual faces of 15 and 16 year olds who were raped and tortured filled my mind’s eye. The coup that led to the civil war that ultimately led to that genocide and torture, was at the very least supported by the US. It was an early CIA operation.

There was plenty of mass murder and torture covering presidents from both team blue and team red. Just because Americans were told that we did not do it, cross my heart, does not mean we did not do it. Many witnesses spoke of the Americans who were at the very least present during torture sessions.

And we could go on with many other policy issues treated as team sport. It short circuits our ability to see the full picture. Sadly, there is another aspect to this. If you see those on the other side as less than human, you allow yourself to loose basic empathy and a human bond. You literally have no problem yelling at the scrimmage line “KILL HIM!”

Sooner or later, this eliminationist language will take on darker tones. The shooting of Congressman Steve Scalise, a red jersey wearer, is not the exception. Here you have Raul Ruiz’s office vandalized. He happens to be part of team blue. And if you are honest, and scour the web, you will find an increasing frequency of these incidents. Most do not send people to the intensive care unit. Most stay very local.

This could get far uglier. This is the perfect recipe for much darker hours, and even a civil war. In my mind we already are in a cold civil war. We can still step off that ledge. But to do that, we need to stop treating politics like a Raiders-Chargers game.

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Nadin Brzezinski

Historian by training. Former day to day reporter. Sometimes a geek who enjoys a good miniatures game. You can find me at CounterSocial, Mastodon and rarely FB