Monday, October 4, 2010

I know I won't be making fans here...

I never was a sports fan until I started dating my husband. I came from a family with 5 sisters and only 1 brother, and neither of my parents was interested in sports. They did take us to the occasional Phillies game, but only on the days when they were giving out free stuff and we always sat way up in the nosebleed seats and we never stayed if it ran into extra innings. Sundays were always just another day in our family. We planned birthday parties and get-togethers on Sundays without even thinking that it might be a major inconvenience for anyone invited. We never talked about sports (although I do think my mom had a bit of a crush on Mike Schmidt for a while there), and we never really played sports either. My sisters dabbled in grade school softball and I think my brother might have played on a baseball team for a season when he was like 8, but that was pretty much it.

When I started dating Dave, my life was thrust into the sports arena faster than the Phanatic could launch a hot dog from an air gun.
His mom is a lifelong Eagles fan, and although his dad doesn’t show much interest in football, he watches NASCAR and talks about the drivers as if they’re friends of the family. Dave’s sister is an all-around sports fan who watches everything from football to baseball to Olympic gymnastics, and she married a diehard Phillies fan. In Dave’s family, its perfectly normal to wear your football jersey to Christmas dinner- in fact, it’s encouraged! I learned pretty fast that Sunday night is Football night in America- period. And you don’t plan birthday parties, or any party for that matter, on a Sunday from August to January. In fact, in a horrible twist of fate, I had no choice but to move Anna’s first birthday party from Saturday to Sunday due to various scheduling conflicts. The party ran 1pm-4pm, and the Eagles game started at 4:15. It was a pretty amusing sight when the opening of the gifts ran us into party overtime:


Over the years, I’ve actually come to embrace sports, football in particular. I loved the way it brought families, friends and cities together. I started to look forward to game time because it forced me to sit back and relax in front of the TV for a couple of hours before the start of another long work week. As I learned more about the culture of sports, especially within the context of the city of Philadelphia, I started to take ownership of my own inner fan. I loved having people over for big games, ordering some hot wings and cheering on the team each week. When the Eagles went to the Superbowl in 2005, we hosted a small get together to watch the game, complete with green Jell-O shots and numbered cupcakes.


But I soon came to find out that I couldn’t entirely embrace the Philly fan mentality. I know our city is known for its passionate, and sometimes aggressive, attitude for and toward their sports teams, but I’m the kind of person who is happy to be proud for the accomplishments they have made rather than the championships they haven’t won. When the Eagles lost the Superbowl in 2005, my little party took a dismal turn. I was happy to be in the company of friends, while my friends were thrown into a post-game slump. They bemoaned the same players who in the hours just preceding the game they touted. I, on the other hand, was probably a major pain in the ass as I kept saying things like “But they only lost by 3 points!” and “I think it’s a great accomplishment that they even made it to the Superbowl! Only 2 teams can do that, and we’re one of them!” They rolled their eyes and drowned their sorrows in green cupcakes.

Baseball has always been a little tougher for me to get into because it moves slower than football (also probably because I have memories seared into my brain of scorching hot summer days spent sitting in the nosebleed seats at the Vet watching a game I couldn’t understand, sharing one giant soda with 5 siblings and cursing myself for ever being lured into this sweltering sun for some freebie with a bank’s logo stamped on the side). But in 2008, even I had a case of Phillies Phever. I bought a Brad Lidge T-shirt and learned enough about the sport from my husband so that I could follow a game (for the most part). I watched with pride as Lidge pitched the final ball to win the series and I cheered along side my neighbors for 2 weeks straight. But in the following season, Lidge went into a slump, and our fanatical city was brutal with him! Almost every week, the local news was tearing him to pieces, and it was breaking my heart. I put on my #54 shirt for a game sometime mid-summer and my husband balked. I was learning quickly that this town is filled with a bunch of “what-have-you-done-for-me-lately’s”, and I was beginning to suspect I wasn’t cut from the same cloth.

Then along came Michael Vick, the former Falcons quarterback whose dog fighting ring controversy rocked our nation back in 2007. He not only hosted dog fighting in his Virginia home, but he financed the bulk of the operation. The Falcons fired him, and the NFL commissioner publically admonished him. My friends, both sports fans and animal lovers alike were absolutely appalled by his actions and it was the hot topic of water cooler and dinner conversations all around our area. He went to prison then served time under house arrest, and the radio and TV news covered his sentence in detail. They would show clips of him walking around the grounds of his home with a monitoring device attached to his leg. And then we started seeing coverage of him throwing a football again and… hmmm…. He looked like he was still in pretty good shape! He could still launch a ball like a rocket…. Hmmm…..

….And then, out of nowhere, the story broke that Vick was to become a Philadelphia Eagle. Talk about mixed emotions- our fine city hesitated for all of 2 minutes before the backpedaling began. “Well, he HAS served his time. Why shouldn’t we give him another chance?” I was horrified as I listened to the same friends who were disgusted with him in the preceding weeks now making excuses for why we should welcome him with open arms (and a $1.6 million contract and a $5 million option for the 2010 season). Coach Reid and the Eagles organization treaded very lightly the first season, popping Vick in and out of plays, showing Philly what he’s capable of so he could build a nice, big fan base. When the season ended, they traded McNabb, but were still very careful about Vick, using Kolb as the front until they could bench him when the time was right to make Vick the starting quarterback.

While I believe that everyone deserves second chances, I also think it is a privilege to play in the NFL. His second chance is that he gets to only go to jail for 22 months for financing the senseless torture and death of many dogs. He’s an able-bodied, healthy young man who can find another way to make a living, but Philly has chosen to give him a glorious salary for our entertainment purposes. There are hundreds of guys vying for a chance to play at this level. And I get that dog fighting is an unfortunate cultural element of the financial class from which he grew up, but aren’t we all faced with vices at various points in our lives?

I feel that if Vick had physically hurt human beings no one would support his return to the NFL, not even parade-hungry Philadelphians. But since it’s only dogs we’re talking about, that’s okay because, after all, he’s doing better than Donovan and with him we have a chance at the championship. I see him working the high school circuit speaking out against dog fighting, doing his good deeds… can a person really reform from something as dangerous as habitual murder, or does Michael Vick just have a great agent?

My one friend, who is without question the biggest Eagles fan I know, said to me “So what, now you’re holier than thou? Why don’t you get down off your high horse???” No, I don’t think I’m holier than anyone, but if my “high horse” is simply knowing that if I’m ever faced with the option to fight dogs to the death in my own basement for financial gain, I'd pass on the opportunity, then…. yea, I guess that’s something to brag about. I guess I’m proud to say that I’m not interested in paying for a ticket to a game or watching a game on TV to be influenced by this team’s network sponsors so that I may somehow be a contributor to Michael Vick’s salary as a privileged entertainer.

However, sports traditions run deep in Dave’s family and it’s important to him that this be ingrained in Anna’s upbringing, and I respect that. I just want to make sure she learns the good parts- the teamwork, the perseverance, the camaraderie- I want to make sure she never needs to win so badly that she would compromise her moral groundwork for a shiny trophy. And I acknowledge that for myself having grown up in a virtually sport-free world, I may just be missing what many fans believe is the crux of unwavering team support. But that’s okay… I don’t think I ever had it in me to bleed green anyway.

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