On Tuesday I voted for Barack Obama. I do not think my support of Barack Obama is some defining statement about myself. I do not think that Mitt Romney is a terrible person. I don’t think anyone who voted for him is either, just like I don’t think anyone who voted for Obama is somehow a better person. The way Barack Obama sees the world is closer to the way I see the world than Mitt Romney, so I voted for Obama. I’m glad he won. But I try not to get too worked up about these things.
If there’s any relief to be had in the election, from both sides, it’s that it’s over, and we can all move back on with our lives. Both sides did their fair share of mudslinging in the race -- though all told, it could have been worse -- but the main reason I’m happy the election is over is that, for at least a few more months, until everyone starts gearing up for the next election, we can talk about anything online without someone calling us a fascist/socialist for it. Deadspin has been running an amusing feature in recent weeks in which figures in the sports world are blasted by Twitter followers for straying from the apparently rail-thin topic of sports, from ESPNW writer Sarah Spain encouraging people to vote to Yankees broadcaster Michael Kay taking a picture of a lamp.
Part of this is natural: One of the nice things about sports is that it transcends barriers like political orientation; it gives us something in common with those who are otherwise dramatically different than us. (It’s strange to think of having something in common with this guy, but I do.) It’s understandable that one would want to keep his or her sports chocolate away from the political peanut butter. But people are in sports are human beings; we get to have thoughts about the planet around us too. On the whole, elections bring out the worst in the Internet, so forgive me for being relieved that this one is over.
Then again, you can make an argument that sports is basically a series of elections that happen every day, all year. The stakes are lower, sure, but they rarely feel lower. I was nervous at points last night before it became apparent that Obama was going to win, but I wasn’t nearly as nervous as I am during a Cardinals playoff game. I made sure not to watch the election with a Romney supporter, but I’d have done that long before I’d have ever watched an NLCS game with a Giants fan.
What I’m saying about politics -- about how people just go after you in a second if they’re on the opposite side of the aisle -- is pretty much the way sports is all the time. In the heat of an election, I can look at someone whose views differ from mine and I can’t fathom what they’re thinking. But today, now that the election’s over, and we know what happened (and we know the world did not, in fact, end), we can have a conversation. When the election is over, everybody cools off for a bit, either to mourn or to celebrate. The “debate” that goes on online in the world of politics, for as ugly as it can get, is ultimately a weirdly hopeful one: It’s one that’s optimistic it can somehow change minds, the goal of any election. You talk because you think it can make a difference.
It’s nothing like this in sports, which can make the conversation more unrelenting. After all, I’m not trying to turn a Cubs fan into a Cardinals fan. (If Cubs fans actually did that, I’d have no respect for them as fans and would never believe them anyway.) I’m just actively cheering for them to be unhappy. I need them to be unhappy. This is not a philosophical difference; this is how in the world can you root for those monsters? It actually makes politics look reasonable.
I have many friends who are Cubs fans, and we can laugh about it when we’re doing something other than watching a baseball game. I have just as many friends who have different politics than I do, and we can laugh about it all the time, with the exception of the week before a huge election like last night. I think my disagreement with the Cubs fan is more serious. There are shades of grey with those on the opposite side of the political spectrum: We may agree on the problems but disagree on the solutions, or have different backgrounds (religious, geographic, genetic) that just lead us to see situations in a fundamentally different manner. But deep down, we all want the world to be a better place. I think they’re wrong, and they think I’m wrong, but we’re on the same page there. No one wants the world to be worse.
But in sports, I just want my team to win and the Cubs to lose. The gulf in politics is vast, but in sports, it’s unfathomable. It is simply never going to bridged. In some fundamental way, sports fans opponents are simply always going to hate each other.
Yet, as bad as it might seem sometimes when you’re randomly searching Twitter or watching ESPN’s “First Take,” I actually think this is a good thing for sports. We can get out our aggression and antipathy in sports -- where it doesn’t usually do any real harm -- so that we keep it out of the world. We can yell at Cubs fans so we don’t yell at real people in our lives.
Tribalism is a problem in the world. But it isn’t in sports, save for your occasional bit of violent sociopathy (Bryan Stow, Raiders games) that would likely exist outside the construct of teams anyway.
Sports, year-round, is like the last days of an election. Everybody thinks the other side is wrong and terrible and trying to hurt America. I’ve decided I’m OK with this.
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I absolutely could not have written this column 72 hours ago. Already, the election feels like it happened months ago. Funny how that works. Thoughts, concerns, grousing, future column ideas? Remember, this column is meant as a valve, a release, for when you’re yelling at your television during games, or, after reading a particular column, you’re pounding your fists into your computer. Obviously, I’ll need your help to do that. Anything you want me to write about, let me know, through email or Twitter. I am at your beck and call.