Man, this place is cranky.
I speak of the United States, which still majors in day-to-day pleasantry as you travel about, but which has taken on an unmistakable double minor in surliness. If you lived abroad for six years, visited only occasionally and returned only recently, that mood might smack you all the more, especially in the grotesqueness of Sunday in Kansas City.
Now, you always could evade the surliness if you avoid cable news, large swaths of radio, certain churlish pockets of Facebook, all Internet commentary sections, various town-hall meetings and, of course, large family gatherings. In a different way, you also could elude it in stadiums, those healthy harbors for the release of trivial contempt. At least that brand of cranky could come off as amusing.
Surly Sunday in Kansas City went beyond the traditional, irrational bounds of hating someone from another team for his unthinkable wearing of a deplored color. And as fans cheered the head injury of a home quarterback, and the honorable Mr. Eric Winston protested later on at his locker, a question surfaced.
On sheer reputation, wouldn't you have guessed, oh, I don't know, Philadelphia?
Sure, Kansas City had a little brawl last summer at the Home Run Derby, qualifying for any top 10 of the world's most ridiculous little brawls. The fans booed quarterback Matt Cassel at that All-Star Game even though the immediate vicinity included neither an incompletion nor an interception. Yet on Sunday, they burrowed themselves into a fresh layer of disgusting, even if a Kansas City Star poll as of midday Monday did find a three-quarters majority condemning the cheering of the potential concussion.
What relief ... except, well, didn't you kind of hope for 99 percent?
For decades, we always heard of our national midsection as having superior "class," apparent in stadiums and arenas from Lincoln to Norman and back up to Kansas City. As old regionalisms go outdated, and as most every city resembles most every other, it makes sense that our certain measure of national meanness also would spread itself out.
We can note this without getting snared in any of those foolish traps or tropes that go, "Oh, it was so much better back then." Such nostalgia always drowns in the depths of research. Old newspaper front pages contain the same ghastly, somber stories seen today on local news channels. Fans of a century ago heckled - Ty Cobb once beat up one in the stands - and heckled probably even more viciously. Detroit fans hurled debris at St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Joe Medwick during Game 7 of the 1934 World Series. Phillies fans throwing bottles in 1949, Senators fans storming the field in 1971, "Hail Mary" in Minnesota in 1975, snowballs in Philadelphia and New York, beer bottles in Cincinnati …
Surliness does have a legacy.
Yet while our forebears probably reveled in the occasional concussed football head, it's unclear if they reveled in any of the potentially concussed heads from their own roster, and certainly not during a time of sprouting national awareness of concussions.
It took one of the unheralded cogs of American life, a 28-year-old offensive lineman, to upbraid properly the wayward Kansas City thousands, and from Winston's eloquent diatribe to reporters at his locker, the keeper might be this: "I've never, ever -- and I've been in some rough times on some rough teams -- I've never been more embarrassed in my life to play football than at that moment right there."
The Kansas City debacle of Sunday followed upon the Atlanta debris of Friday, which followed upon Major League Baseball's sudden introduction of an "outfield fly rule." The paying fans, clearly preferring that the outfield fly rule debut at a rules meeting in some hotel conference room rather than the eighth inning of a tense playoff game, littered the field. They joined the Cleveland Browns fans of 2001 in extending America's long history of occasional debris.
Unlike Kansas City, that misbehavior did contain a sliver of hope, for it reminded us all that a large contingent of Braves fans really do care.
In Kansas City, though, the contempt went across a line and gave hints of devolution, thus Winston's mention of the gladiators of ancient Rome. As a uniquely depressing moment, it seemed to fly right out of the sports domain to join the overarching idea of a cranky nation. Just remember that in times both more and less surly, so very often it's wise to listen to an offensive lineman.