Before Monday’s college football national championship game in Atlanta, while Alabama coach Nick Saban was sacrificing woodland creatures to his secret blood-gods and freshman Georgia quarterback, Jake Fromm, was likely untangling himself from the arms of some Athenian beauty, your friendly CONVICTS correspondent was sweating over which national championship team to place money on. Per usual, he made a poor decision and went with the underdogs on principle, then proceeded to stress-eat an apocalyptic amount of pizza as Georgia blew a commanding lead and lost to the Crimson Tide in overtime, 26-23.
The play was solid, that poor kicker from ‘Bama blew it at the last minute, and the 3.5 point spread preventing the luckless from sending significant chunks of their paychecks to shady offshore gambling sites was covered.
In short, the actual, on-field BCS Championship game was exactly what a national championship game should look like: there was drama, young upstarts who stepped up their game, evenly matched teams and passionate play. It was a great game, despite the fact that Nick Saban notched another National Championship victory into his belt.
Indeed, to the carb fogged mind of this writer, Saban seemed very similar to the evil emperor Snope in the most recent Star Wars: menacing and arrogant, utterly powerful. Saban is a great villain, and thus, he is fun to hate. That line of emotion, the hero/villain, us/them thing, is an emotionally violent pleasure of a physically violent game. Aside from the legal tackles and big hits, one of Bama’s linebackers punched a Georgia player in the face. Georgia received repeated sideline warnings for their head coach’s out of control aggression. Indeed, it appeared that Kirby had a coaching staff member especially designated to hold him back in moments of passion.
Monday’s national championship put the intense pleasures of Us versus Them on roaring, screaming display. This is all in spite of the fact that the two universities are fairly similar institutions. Both Georgia and Alabama are large SEC party schools. They are in the same academic strata. Both of their colors are red. Athens is four hours from Tuscaloosa, and their students are notorious for partying together.
There was, however another division at the game: the presence of Donald Trump and Kendrick Lamar has conjured a storm of reaction. True, they both sang and Kendrick didn’t forget any words, but the dueling presences politicized the event in an unexpected way.
Trump was in the stadium surrounded by military forgetting words to one song, Kendrick Lamar was outside remembering the words to many songs. The dueling presences politicized the event. Both Lamar and Trump’s stances are well known, though of course distributed unevenly on a spectrum of power.
This is just to say that, better or worse, the political inserted itself into an event explicitly elevates the pleasures of zero-sum conflict between groups. Politics and entertainment are converging on us, so it felt especially easy to pull for Kendrick in a way not-dissimilar to the way one was pulling for the their team.
That, however, seems like a dangerous line of feeling. Politics and football are vastly different arenas. Football, unlike politics, is not a high-stakes moral exercise. The act of fandom sheds light on our tendency to enjoy a fight and pull for the underdog, to find pleasure in hating the villain, dishing retribution, and winning. This is just to say, that not only are we all deeply capable of those emotions, but there is a strange attraction to them.
A healthy politic requires angels of our nature far better than those we bring to the football field.
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