Spend too much time in the South amongst church folk, and you will hear someone lecture you on the evils of letting sports become a part of your identity. At least you will get that talk if you refuse to root for the “right”team. Usually the lecture follows report to the effect that you are difficult and not a “team player.” I don’t know maybe everybody gets that lecture; but they sure seem to come after the person finds out for whom you root. In fact live in my certain state long enough and you will get plenty of people pulling you to the side speaking in earnest tones about how in this state everyone has to pick one of the state teams with whom to align. In random conversations people will say they root for team a because when they moved in they had to choose a side and like team a’s colors, campus, coach, mascot, etc. “Well, I grew up pulling for team x, but what can you do, I got a job here so I changed to team a,” they say wistfully. If that is not enough random strangers will announce their disapproval of your choices if you dare wear the colors of team y in state. They wander up and look you up and down remarking, “team y, huh. You root for team y.” The words sound vacous and without meaning, but the nonverbal element: how the words are said, and the expression used during the statement are pure ‘mom’ expressing their disapprovement. In my mind I hear Hester Prym saying, “you too” as she looks at that ‘A’ on her chest.
Complete strangers will make the joke, “I can’t serve fans from your team here.” At least you think it’s a joke; but when you live in a state that turned water hoses on people for waiting to sit at the same lunch counters as people with different color skin than them, you can never be sure; and you definitely start worrying if said person reaches for water. I have friends who have the made the same horrible life choice as me; and we have been kicked out of multiple restaurants throughout our city for the crime of trying to watch our team play in public. In a down economy you would think that struggling sports bars would welcome an influx of 10 to 20 people into an establishment to spend several hours drinking, eating, and running a larger tab than the cobwebs decorating the windows; but no it just takes one person to complain that they cannot enjoy their game while those people are in the building. So the 20 of us close our tabs, and don’t come back, ever. You guess that one person spent a lot of money; but eventually you drive by enough closed bars to wonder.
Growing up every argument I had ended the same way. Well, you root for team y so you definitely are an idiot whose word we cannot believe. Sometimes you wonder what rooting for one team on one day has to do with 2+2; but evidently if no one who roots for team y could be trusted to say the correct answer is 4. In fact people from team a will argue with you on 4; if only to screw with you because come on the only math you need uses 7’s, and 3’s. Who needs to be able add 2’s, people whose team offense sucks; that’s who.
Don’t get me started on team day. From kindergarten on, you learn about school spirit day, it is the last Friday of the regular season; when the two state schools play their annual rivalry game. School students across the state are dressed up in their finest team colors and packed off to spout such witticisms as “you team sucks.” Everybody is having a great time until you show up wearing another team’s colors. Then you get the lecture about the importance of community and being a team player but since you’re a bookish nerd that weighs half as much as anyone in the class you get the last laugh because in what world does anyone think you have a chance to play on the team. Forrest Gump has a better chance of making the team roster and he is totally a fictional character who nevermind the pictures of him with the sainted ball coach never played on the team. Yes, OK, I know who I root for on Saturday; and what has that to do with knowing the difference between a movie and a news reel. What? Never mind me the orange on my shirt obviously caused a brain fart.
The only hope you have is that team y wins on Saturday. Then at least the comments will die off until next season. The looks will not. The hatred just gets worse if unspoken. The only thing that could be more awkward than attending church after a team y victory would be going to a Klan rally in black face; but then the black would wash off and everyone could laugh about it while you roast marshmallows on the burning cross. Being a fan of team y does not wash off, and after winning no one tells you about the fire, much less offers their marshmallows to you. And you can forget trying to be a good sport; because whatever color clothing you pick for that morning it will be wrong. Like a crazy chick suffering a bad breakup; everything will remind them of the one that got away; and they will only hate you more for bringing up that heartache, can’t see they are in pain here. Not that they think of this after they win. In fact everyone is so nice after the win; that they want to be to just make sure you knew the final from the game. They will also wear the gaudiest red they can find; because come on a little social awkwardness is the perfect way to express their feelings on the matter: how can you root for that team, I mean really, next you know you might admit to reading the liberal media, believing in global warming or evolution, or liking to be around immigrants doing something other than cutting your 10 acre lawn for about $10 and a tract (because we all know that onlyAmericans are going to heaven, but just in case God might want to make exceptions for people who will do menial work for too little money).
Seriously. all this social shaming is for your good. Maybe one day the disproving looks from the guy pumping gas into his 4 wheel drive truck with a confederate flag on the back; will ensure that you root for the winning team next year. Because nobody likes someone still bemoaning a loss from a battle 100 years ago; unless you also happen to be a Dukes of Hazzard fan and/or believe in ironic racism.
Spend 38 years with this and people wonder why you as a white person raised in the suburbs get so mad when black people are shot for buying skittles in the wrong neighborhood. They wonder why you have such compassion for people whose sexuality is obliviously unbiblical. They wonder why you can vote the wrong way and not care about the approval of the local community. They wonder why you don’t take arguments from the authority of a traditional community as being worth anything. They wonder why you from an earl age stopped listening when preachers and teachers said “everyone believes / acts this way.”
Spend 38 years with this, you read the previous paragraph, and thank God for allowing you to suffer like this. You think God and you go out to hug a few lepers, help a few poor people, and talk about your hero who also happens to be the hero of the new Pope. You think God that when the judgment occurs, He will be the judge; and that He could care less about team a. You think God He is only going to ask you how you treated the poor and the outcasts of society; and He just might ask you about team y.
Then together you can roast marshmallows while listening to this song: