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Life / Society

If you’re not first, you’re last.

If you’re not first, you’re last.

Before we jump right in, I have a confession to make.

Prior to 2016, I paid just about as much attention to football as I did to politics – ahem – almost none.

In my mind, both American pastimes were just fuzzy activities that existed in my periphery as I fumbled my way through life as a twentysomething (I’m sure many of you can relate).

Whenever I got together with “the guys” to watch the “big game,” I kept my cheering to vague, noncommittal statements like:

“Go [my favorite sports team]!”
“Score a [goal/basket/unit]!”
“Keep your (overly-concussed) head in the game!”

As you can probably guess, I’m one of those people who watches the Super Bowl for the commercials.

If I’m being honest, I’ve never really understood the appeal of watching a bunch of adult men hit each other as hard as they can, potentially causing irreversible damage, all for the sake of entertainment and nostalgia.

Like I mentioned, I have also taken a similar back seat with politics.

When it comes to local and national elections, I have always tried to do my duty as a voter by educating myself, but that’s where my effort has usually ended. I was essentially oblivious when it came to current events and how they impacted our political climate.

Both football and politics remained blips on my radar. That is, until 2016.

Within the span of a few months, Colin Kaepernick made a bold statement by kneeling during the national anthem and Donald Trump shocked the nation by becoming the 45th president of the United States.

Thanks to these two events, I couldn’t help but notice football, politics, and now the intersection of both. While paying more attention to this intersection, I’ve realized that there is one overarching trend that I can’t help but to call out:

If we are all brothers and sisters around a collective Thanksgiving dinner table, both politics and football are tearing this American family apart.

When you stop and think about it, is it really that surprising?

Both have thrived off a culture of binary winners and losers. In the words of Will Ferrell in Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, “If you’re not first, you’re last.”

Don’t believe me?

Winners and losers – Sure, many people might call me a “liberal snowflake,” but I’ve never been a fan of this “all or nothing” attitude in politics and football. Candidates (and athletes) are willing to do whatever it takes just to eek out a few more votes (or points), including pumping way too much money into smear campaigns that target their competition or, you know, putting their bodies on the line.

Men and women – I don’t think there’s another sport on earth that is more hyper-masculine than football. After all, when you’re on the gridiron, the guys that hit the hardest are usually the ones that win (and walk away). And who can forget cheerleaders? This archaic use of women screams “let’s cheer on the big, strong men as they prove who is more dominant than the other.” When it comes to politics, a large portion of the country tends to side with candidates that speak the loudest and most assertively. Being female, or a part of any minority group for that matter, is often seen as a weakness in today’s political climate. Hopefully, that tide is changing…

Majority and minority – Speaking of minority groups, it’s no secret that both the NFL and many political processes openly discriminate against minorities. Since Kaepernick made his statement back in 2016, the NFL leadership has instituted a fine for players who kneel during the national anthem. Don’t believe that this is necessarily racist? Just take a look at their leadership: 94 percent of the franchise owners and 75 percent of the head coaches are white. Compare this to the fact that 70 percent of the players are Black, and it’s clear that this is an example of racially-charged oppression. In terms of our political system, you don’t have to look very deep to see the oppression of minorities in action. The U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world and the people behind bars are disproportionately Black and Hispanic. In fact, this is one of the specific reasons why Colin Kaepernick took a knee in the first place (along with protesting police violence against people of color).

As you have probably witnessed, politics and football can be topics of contention, especially around the Thanksgiving dinner table. These, along with plenty of other divisive topics, tend to polarize people’s opinions, often to the point that someone ends up yelling and screaming.

If you ask me, it’s okay for people to disagree. In fact, when intelligent, empathetic people discuss their differences, amazing things can happen.

The issue is that it’s almost never this easy, especially when ego gets in the way. When we identify as a Democrat or a Patriots fan and then only look at the world through those lenses, problems start to pop up. Instead, we should accept that not everything is about winning or losing. When it comes down to it, football is merely a game and politics is simply the framework we have for running our country.

We should all be open to improving both, even if it means taking a “loss” once in a while. As a straight, white, cisgendered male, I can confidently say that if we don’t start paying attention and helping people who aren’t as privileged, we will have much more to worry about than a fumble or two.

What else do you think we can learn from the intersection of football and politics?

This post reflects the views and experiences of the author, and is intended to start a conversation. Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

Or, if you’d like to hear some overall thoughts on government and politics from Christians at THRED, you can find those over here.

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William is a freelance designer, writer, and founder of Collide, a company that is creating a better, deeper way to connect with others over shared ideas and skills. He is passionate about turning ideas into action and helping others do the same. When not working, William leads a double life as a beatboxer in One Too Many, St. Louis' premiere all-male a cappella group.

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