Two interesting things happened this weekend that led me to think a bit about sports, the need for identity, and conflict. Part One: As we are on our way this weekend to a baseball game between the Nationals and Padres (neither of which is a particularly important team to my Brewers-Mets-Pirates family), my three sons are discussing for which team they are rooting. My youngest announces that he is not rooting for any team but rather just going to enjoy the game (and the ice cream, popcorn, hot dogs, etc.) My other two boys tell him, rather forcefully, that he has to pick a side, he has to root for a team. “But why?” he asks. And he raises a good point.
Why is it that we feel the need to identify with one side or the other? Why do we have to root for a team? And is this innate need to be part of a team part of what explains how conflicts are created and maintained? If we can’t just go to a baseball game and enjoy the weather, but we have to root for someone in order to really enjoy it, can we observe conflicts and root for a good ending? A good or peaceful process? I don’t think so–I think we end up demonizing one side or the other–even when we might not be directly involved. This might not be all bad in those conflicts where we could argue it’s pretty clear who’s right and who’s wrong. For example, I am quite comfortable arguing that genocide, wherever it occurs, is a bad thing. On the other hand, assuming that Russia is the bad guy and Georgia is the good guy in the recent conflict between the two countries leads to overlooking a lot of nuances necessary to really understanding what is going on–and makes it much harder for the U.S. to play a positive role.
Part Two: Lest anyone think that I am above all of this identity politics, yesterday I had to remove the Steelers banner from my door where it has happily sat since the Steelers won the Super Bowl in 2006. Why? Well, my new colleague and rabid Eagles fan Paul Secunda made me a bet. If the Steelers won on Sunday, he would have to put a Steelers banner up on his door. If the Eagles won, I have to take mine down. This was too good to pass up–and besides which, he really is from the wrong side of the state! Alas, the Steelers played horribly (apparently with little care for my bet and my pride) and so I removed the banner yesterday morning. My only consolation is that, as a Steelers fan, I am pretty sure that I will have reason to put it back up long before those Eagles fans get a reason to mount theirs!
Cross posted at Indisputably.