I was at the hair salon today – you know, that haven of gossip and girl talk. You’re privy to a lot of private conversations as women in the chairs around you chat with their stylists about their personal lives.
The things I overheard this time were no less than shocking.
“Can you believe they blew another lead?!”
“They’ll never make it to another Super Bowl.”
“They’re just pathetic.”
I heard the Monday morning quarterbacks on the radio lamenting our beloved Seattle Seahawks losing yet another game after leading the Panthers going into the fourth quarter. And even here, among these women with their hair poking out of blotchy silver foils or their black-draped shoulders covered in newly cut hair, the criticism was harsh
“They can still turn it around,” I joined in. “Keep the faith.”
I used to hate football. A game was the perfect time to head to the mall, take my kid to a movie, or get a pedicure. They play for a total of an hour a week, I would complain, but it takes all day. And then everyone talks those 60 minutes for a whole week.
Sportscasters analyze every play with what I consider less-than-brilliant commentary that I love to parody in a deep TV voice:
“What they really need to do is catch that football.”
“They have to get the football down the field if they want to score.”
“They will not win this football game if they don’t get more points than the other team.”
(My husband, I should note, does not find this as amusing as I do. Go figure.)
Still, even I got swept up in Seahawks fever, learning the game, admiring the plays, rooting for the players I feel like I know. I love getting together with friends for the agony and the defeat. I make chili and I have a (pink) Seahawks t-shirt. This team has made football fans out of the most reticent and reluctant, including lots of women. It’s now my girlfriends who take to Facebook and Twitter to comment during the games.
There’s the feeling we’re all in this together. It’s definitely fun to rally around a winning team, to see giant 12s illuminated in the windows of downtown skyscrapers and a sea of blue jerseys at every checkout stand or Starbucks on game day.
Millions of people tune in to games, feeling personally invested in the outcome of something they have literally no control over. There are high-fives all around when our team makes a great play. And screaming at the screen and name calling when they screw up.
Why are we so quick to turn on our team? To bash the guys we idolized last week or last year?
Today I heard about death threats made against the Michigan punter who dropped the ball in the last few seconds of yesterday’s game, leading to an incredible play that cost them the game they had in the bag.
Death threats? This kid will remember that play for the rest of life – and kick himself every time he lines up for another punt.
I was bummed at the outcome of Sunday’s Seahawks game too, but it has no effect on my real life. It was my son’s soccer game – the one in which he scored three goals and his team came back from a 0-4 deficit to win 7-5 that really got my heart pumping.
I scream my head off cheering for everyone at my son’s various sporting events. I’m especially enthusiastic for the kids who strike out, drop the ball, or shoot at the other team’s basket.
“Nice swing!” we yell from the bleachers to the boy who tries to make contact with a pitch well over his head.
“You did it!” we applaud the swimmer who touches the wall several seconds behind the other competitors.
Win or lose, our kids head to the middle of the field and line up to shake hands with the other team, saying, “good game.” When a child gets hurt on the field, the players from both teams take a knee. I was never more proud of my son than when he came in second in the 25-fly – the race he’d owned all season – and reached his hand over the rope to congratulate the boy who beat him.
You rarely see that kind sportsmanship in professional sports. I know these are elite athletes held to a high standard. There’s a lot of money at stake — beer sponsorships and astronomical salaries for players and coaches on the line, and owners who want a hefty return on their investment.
But I’m pretty sure NFL players started out the same way as my kid, getting a juice box, a granola bar, and a hug at the end of every game no matter how they played. I have to wonder how old they were when people started booing when they had an off day.
It kind of makes me want to build a human tunnel on the sidelines, with fans facing each other, their arms stretched overhead, fingertips touching, to create an arc for Russell Wilson and Richard Sherman and their teammates to run through, reminding them that this is just a game.