It’s Memorial Day weekend, which is generally a time to connect with loved ones and remember those that we’ve lost, that have passed on in support of family and country. It’s a time to reflect on those poignant sacrifices that shaped our history, our nation, and our dignity. Our collective national pride is celebrated and embraced on Memorial Day, slightly tinged with a longing for modern-day heroes to produce more of these moments and bolster our illustrious history.
And then we watch sports.
This is it, folks. These sports figures are your modern-day heroes.
Look, it isn’t exactly flag-waving, salute-requiring patriotism here. But maybe it should be.
Granted, the only thing these guys all universally sacrifice is their physical well-being, and they’re compensated millions of dollars for it. They’re often moody, immature, petulant, and selfish. Many of them aren’t deserving of our attention due to previous legal troubles, or just general bad behavior.
But make no mistake; they’re ours. Our favorite teams either bought, drafted, or cultivated these guys. These teams pay their exorbitant salaries. As fans of these teams, we’re weirdly obligated to follow and support the players our teams employ, particularly if they’re good and impact team fortunes positively. We talk them up in chat rooms and compare them to opposing players, usually with in-grown, not-so-subtly-hidden biases. And for four or five glorious late-year months, we’re able to watch them play football, which we do with slavish, sweaty devotion. We do salute them, and we do wave flags, because we’ve been conditioned to show our support for our heroes that way. And that’s fine.
Really, what else is there to compare? The world of politics has become increasingly divisive and intolerant, but there are striking parallels. To clarify; open any football chat board during the fall and place a political chat board directly alongside it, and you won’t see a whole lot of difference in the tone and structure of the arguments. They both boil down to embracing sides as opposed to viewpoints, which approaches the very definition of partisanship. And as most US citizens are aware, partisanship is arguably the biggest political hurdle – and basis for discussion – our country faces.
What’s generally lost in the argumentative turmoil of football or politics are the similarities – most folks want the same things (like a balanced budget or an improved offensive line), but disagree on the methods to attain them (like slashing taxes or signing free agents). Of course, ego prohibits showing any stance of empathy towards a political or football opponent – we certainly can’t associate with “them”, because they [insert contrived infraction here].
It’s who we are. As US citizens, we love to express ourselves, and we are fortunate to have a set of guiding principles that allow us to speak freely. We value this freedom perhaps more than any other, because it enables every citizen to have a voice and to be heard in whatever forum they choose. Lending our collective voices to support a favorite team, candidate, or cause isn’t just an effort; it’s encouraged and invited by the entity in question, and shows of support are welcomed, especially well-documented ones. It also allows us to be associated, sometimes publicly, with our favorites, which feeds our self-esteem both collectively and individually. It makes us feel good to belong.
This weekend, in the midst of your beer drinking and searing of meats, take a moment to wave a flag, salute a fallen hero, or cheer for your favorite team in whatever arena you choose. Regardless of your affiliations, it’s what Memorial Day is really all about – belonging to this country, as screwy as it sometimes seems.
So, raise your glasses and intone along with me: Here’s to our country and our freedom to choose our sides.