Big Feelings About Sportball

I have a connection to Ohio, and I went to THE Ohio State University (at Newark), but I care about football about as far as I can throw one (which isn’t far). Husband, however, is more than marginally interested in the collegiate version of the sport, so I find out a lot of stuff tangentially.

My only other association with sports is through my mom who is from New England, so by default I love the Red Sox, the Patriots, the Celtics, and the Bruins (also, fuck the Yankees). And what I find interesting is that a lot of people hate those teams and the OSU Buckeyes because they’re all pretty good and do well most of the time. It’s also probably because they have a lot of very annoying fans; kind of like The Big Bang Theory or Jesus.

So it wasn’t really a surprise that when OSU’s head coach, Urban Meyer, got in trouble for a very weird thing and college football fans lost their goddamned minds. So basically the whole issue boils down to this: Meyer didn’t fire one of his underlings when said underling was suspected of domestic violence. I have a lot of feelings about domestic violence, as you can probably imagine, but I am also a relatively logical person, and I know you don’t fire anyone for a rumor as, at the time of the incident there wasn’t any police action or charges being pressed to go on. I’m actually not even sure you can legally fire someone for being arrested. I’m not saying Meyer and the coaching staff did the right thing when it came to Zach Smith because honestly the guy seems like a poor choice for anyone who’s about to influence a bunch of new adults in general, but I can’t say for sure that Urban Meyer’s actions or lack thereof, were fireable or even suspendable.

Looking at the bigger picture, I’m not sure when any individual’s outside-of-work conduct should come into play when it comes to their job–there is obviously a line, I just don’t know exactly where it’s drawn. But I do understand not wanting to pay exorbitant amounts to a school that will channel that moolah plus government university state school dollars over to some fuckwad who beats their wife or to someone who knows one of their underlings beats their wife. I get it, I just don’t know if what happened here is that exactly.

What I do know for sure, however, is that a lot of people sure seem to give a shit about this which kind of shocks me because sportball in general has a REALLY AWFUL HISTORY WITH DOMESTIC VIOLENCE. I mean, it’s so prominent we’re desensitized to it and actually joke about it. These dude physically and sexually assault people–especially female partners–at an alarming rate. I’m sure the outrageous amounts of concussions, steroid use, and just generally spending the majority of your day being as aggressive as humanly possible all play a role in the behavior of a lot of athletes, but what also plays a role is their celebrity in that so many of them get away with it or get light to no sentences if they’re even charged.

Here are some stats on the ones who have been arrested in the NFL. Note that I said arrested–this doesn’t include anyone who was just accused.

The above list might not seem too bad since it just shows 100 arrests from Jan 2000 to now, but the issue is ongoing, deep-seated, and persistent. In fact, just this summer two of the leading women working on the NFL Players Association’s commission on domestic violence left because, well, basically the commission is a sham.

When it comes to college and even high school ball, cities and states are so corrupt that kids can get away with almost anything: parents, teachers, police, and attorneys will go to sickening measures to cover up cases of abuse all in the name of winning a fucking game. I wish I could find the interview now, but I followed the Jameis Winston case in 2013, and I remember very specifically the prosecuting attorney was asked if he was choosing to not file charges because he didn’t believe Winston committed sexual assault or because he didn’t believe he could get a conviction, and that man looked at the interviewer and said “because we can’t convict him.” He believed the kid was a rapist, but knew the state of Florida would let him off (and he wasn’t going to risk a loss on his career.) Sure the school settled with the victim, but that didn’t stop Winston from getting the Heisman the same year or being the NFL’s #1 draft pick (coincidentally just like OJ Simpson).

So what I want to say, with all the above in mind, to the people who were outraged specifically with Urban Meyer’s lack of action and who will continue to speak out against him, is this: thank you. Thank you for finally giving a shit about domestic violence in football. Thank you for standing up for a woman, even if this woman is coming off as insane: not that that would ever justify brutality against her–in fact, thank you for being able to look past that apparent “crazy” that so many men love to cite when dealing with an “irrational woman.” Thank you for taking a stand for what’s right, and good, and just, and thinking of your moms, your sisters, your wives, your daughters, maybe even that random lady walking down the street that you don’t know and never will know but you have the ability to recognize she’s a human being deserving of equality, respect, and at the very least the right to not be assaulted despite not being related to you. Thank you for finally deciding to step up and speak out and say NOT TODAY, ASSHOLES! WE NO LONGER TOLERATE DOMESTIC VIOLENCE IN SPORTBALL! I KNOW WE’VE KINDA BEEN SHITHEADS ABOUT IT FOR LIKE A REALLY, REALLY LONG TIME AND TURNED A BLIND EYE AS A FANBASE WHEN THE THING HAPPENED AND THE OTHER THING AND THAT OTHER THING TOO, BUT THIS IS THE MOMENT WE CHANGE, GUYS! TODAY WE SAY: NEVER AGAIN!

Because that’s what this is, right? We’re finally ready to have this conversation…right? Guys? Hey…guuuuuys????

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The Sportball We

I love language. The trivialities of linguistics, the odd words we use, how simple semantics can change entire meanings, dialects, colloquialisms: it’s all awesome (except, I admit, there are some accents that I hate, but that’s a whole other thing). English is remarkably complex and word-wealthy, borrowing from so many other languages and spreading across the whole globe, that there are practically no rules in English that aren’t at some point broken yet still considered correct, and just when you think “okay, this thing is a rule and there’s only this one exception”–BAM something else hits you in the face!

But I think I’ve come across something wholly unique in the English language, and I am fucking pumped. I have come to affectionately deem it “The Sportball We,” and, Dear Reader, I would love to explain, especially since it’s about to be the Super Bowl.

The Sportball We is something that we all are familiar with, but it hides in plain sight (hearing?), and you’ve probably never given it a second thought. Let me be clear: this is not a rant. I don’t care that people do this; I just find it fucking fascinating. What I am calling The Sportball We is the phenomenon that occurs when a person speaks about a sports team as if they are part of that team despite it being understood by everyone that they are, in fact, not a player of or other peripheral teammate to, that team. Example:

Did you see the Lightning game last night?

Yeah, we really crushed the Canucks!

or

Do you think we’ll make it to the Super Bowl this year?

or

Are you guys getting a new head coach?

Those second two examples are especially interesting since they can be said utilizing The Sportball We as a total replacement for the team name if all the speakers in a conversation know which team the answerer is “part of.”

What is most fascinating about this to me is sports are the only activity or organization that the speaker is not actually a part of yet speaks as if they are. When I tried to find other examples, my mind immediately went to religion and houses of worship. People say “we” when discussing their congregation or religion; however, they actually are part of these things. People are Christians or people belong to and attend a mosque. Sportball We-ers don’t take an active part in the game in the way a Jewish person might actively celebrate Passover, but SBWs do, in some way, take a passive role in sports by being fans.

So I thought, okay, what are other things of which people are fans? Music, of course. But do Beyonce’s fans leave a concert declaring “We totally slayed it on stage!” or ask one another if they’ve seen our new video yet? I don’t think so. Sometimes people refer to a fandom as a whole that they are part of, but that’s the thing: you are part of a fandom as you can take an active role cultivating it, but you’re not part of the band or musician, and music fans have a distinction in their speech that SBWs do not.

The same can be said for people who say “we” about their hometown or their alma mater. Though they might not live there or attend that school anymore, they did at one time, took an active part in living there, and would still be considered a representative of those peoples.

The only thing that seems to come close is when men say “we’re pregnant.” Your buddy Bob at the office is hauling around a fetus and vomiting his guts out as much as he’s tackling Tom Brady on the 30, but at least he actually (probably) had a hand in making it possible for a fetus to eventually exist, and in that way we can kind of parallel conception to being a dedicated sports fan who “helps” their team win. However, there are a lot of people who find the “pregnant we” weird, and almost no one who thinks The Sportball We is bizarre.

In fact, I never thought The Sportball We was weird until I started working in a male-dominated department where sports were discussed in numbers equitable to how children were discussed in my previously female-dominated department, so the language was constantly in my ear. It’s just a part of American culture and language, and that’s kind of cool. There is, of course, a lot that could be said sociologically about patriotism and sports fanaticism, but I’ll leave that to someone else for now. Instead, we can all just marvel at the uniqueness that The Sportball We brings to English.

Also if you think you have another instance of a “we” used in a socially acceptable and understood instance despite the user having no actual, active participation in the activity or organization, leave a comment below, Dear Reader, and I’ll be happy to tell you why you’re wrong.