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football patriotism

The other night, like most other nights, there were two groups of guys. One group of guys was trying to kick a ball into the other group’s net, and vice versa. It was said to be a competition of sorts, and these guys were representing entire nations of people in their ball-kicking. And so it goes.

Some call this ball-kicking thing “football”, others “soccer”, and yet, still others “pekhburti”, which roughly translates to “soccer”, because I’m not English.

But what made that night different was that it was in Tbilisi and the Georgians won for a change. And now, the Georgian team for the first time ever has qualified for the UEFA Euro Cup. So good on them. That’s historic as far as such things are historic. And gives them one more claim to the European family that’s not Eurovision.

Trigger alert: if you're a sports fanatic, maybe stop reading here.

My love of sports

You might not believe me when I tell you I’m not really a sports fan. I grew up playing saxophone in the school marching band, and when the football (American) couch called me to join the team because I was tall and fat (read: wide), I declined because I was afraid I might stub my toe or something painful like that. I also didn’t want to do all the running up and down a field, afraid I might run out of breath. But the eating-a-lot thing that athletes do did appeal to me, but I did that anyway and skipped the athletics.

I tried to get into soccer in high school. All my friends were into it. It was a little group of “Europhiles” who, once they hit university, started hanging out at the only British pub in town and calling the sport “football” because we were cool (read: pretentious c*nts, as the English would say) like that.

So, not only was I never really interested in playing sports, but also, I wasn’t interested in watching them. I still don’t get how other people who don’t play a sport can even get fanatical about some dudes playing a game. Unless of course, there’s money to be won. Then I’ll get excited…

Sports as patriotism

In the US, we have a bizarre tradition of standing up for the National Anthem before a sports event. I’ve never understood the connection between the two. What does my high school swim team competing with the neighboring town’s high school swim team have to do with my country?

But then, if that wasn’t weird enough, sports games going wrong are no strangers to wars and riots. There was the Serbo-Croat War in the 90s, and more recently the Odessa riot that is quoted ad nauseum by Russists in 2014. Sports is a metaphor for war, and it often leads to war. That of course is a little more understandable on a national level, but back to the high school swim team, really, wtf?

I get it though

And though I don’t really give a flying pig about sports, I do understand why people wrap up their own pride in it. People want to be a part of something. It’s so tempting, so numbing, to feel yourself as a part of a greater whole. Whether it’s a nation or a writhing mass of cheering people, all united for a common cause. Oftentimes we best not question that common cause because that can mean ostracism and loneliness, just cheer and be done with it. You might not be a part of the football team, but you’ll be a part of the greater team. The fans. And that at least is some sort of community.

Humans are communal animals, after all. We need to belong to something.

And so, even if it’s not something that you’ve done yourself, it’s perfectly acceptable to be part of the “extended team” and take pride in the actions of the core members. Why not? You are doing a service to it, you are adding your spirit to the great pool of spirit that is giving the core members the morale and money to keep on going. So that’s something.

A collective pride

But if you feel pride for your collective, mustn’t you also feel shame for what the collective has done wrong? And on the other hand, if you don’t feel pride for the collective, are you really responsible for that collective’s actions?

I don’t personally feel proud for the victories of some wood-toothed general upon crossing the Potomac River. Well, I wasn’t there, nor were any of my ancestors anyway, who were busy running piracy schemes or something in the Spanish Province of Louisiana. I don’t know really know what they were doing, and I don’t really feel pride (or shame) for a bunch of dead folks I never met.

But these are questions to be discussed, aren’t they? If I feel a collective pride, should I not feel a collective responsibility? Are we even entitled to feeling pride for our ancestors, or forefathers of our traditions?

Patriotism vs. Nationalism

Everyone’s (second) favorite French leader Charles de Gaulle once pointed out the difference between Patriotism and Nationalism. Patriotism is the expression for love of your country, Nationalism is the expression of hatred for all other countries.

And maybe that’s what sums up people’s love of sports. It’s the love of your community, country, and so on. Maybe I don’t get stirred up the way others do because I moved around and don’t feel at home anywhere. I don’t have a sense of place or people. I am the vagabond. I feel myself a metaphorical orphan no matter where I am. I look in through windows while standing in the rain.

And maybe it’s a selfish thought. I’m only home where my family is. My wife, kid, parents, wife’s parents. I grew up not to trust the government, trust the church, trust others, and so on. Why would I feel proud that some jock slammed a dunk forty times in a row?

Love of country

That all said, who am I to detract from that? Everyone can have their day. Better for people to have their day than not. That’s what I say. And if millions of people need football to feel a part of a community… it’s better than needing a war to feel a part of a community. And so it goes.

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