In the SEC, college football fans revert to a form of elevated tribalism: beer cozies, tailgating rigs, clothing, face paint, college choices, marriage choices, and workdays revolve around the schedule of the team. Friends are made—and lost—over the results of a game.
A truly top-notch Super Bowl party is akin to arriving in the fields of SEC Elysium, with libations of soda (known colloquially as “coke”) or beer for all who attend and a never-ending supply of Ro-Tel and chicken wings, ready at hand.
Of course, this is the South. Not everyone can participate in the life of a sports fan with such unbridled and admirable enthusiasm. But for many, regardless of culture, income, or location, sports remain an important point of social life and shared identity. Stephen Webb of First Things recently pointed out just how significant sports have become in American culture:
You can measure what a country takes seriously by what it doesn’t joke about. We talk about sports but we don’t joke about it much. Sports are too important to joke about because it is where so many men put their hearts.
He argues that sports have become a point of solidarity in an increasingly fractured and socially conscious nation, a source of common experience.
Politics are divisive and the economy too depressing. … Religion is too personal, or complicated, or otherworldly, or bound up with the drudgery of duty that also includes yard work and oil changes. … We talk about our kids but don’t want to brag too much. We love our wives so much that we keep the genre of jokes about the burden of being married to a minimum.
He makes a good point, too. Much of what constitutes a national identity has been lost in America. Our national icons are a point of contention, our history regarded by many as due cause for shame. But Americans of all stripes can rally unabashedly behind a sports team, and they do so with gusto.
At the Wall Street Journal, Jeremy Gordon called the World Cup a “global ritual.” And it would seem so. But, more importantly, it is a national ritual: it is a means for people from all around the country to connect, an opportunity so rarely afforded us anymore. William Leitch of Sports on Earth says that we “can talk all we want about a globalized society, … but that has always seemed more true in theory than in practice. In real life, we search out our own.”
And I think that this cuts to the heart of the issue: it is through sports that Americans, so wary of religion, race, and politics, can finally have confidence that we are among “our own.”
This has always been the fundamental greatness of sports, the reason they’re so enduring and powerful: They turn a world of grey into one of black and white. … Now, obviously, the world of sports is not exempt from politics: The exact opposite, in fact. But for two hours, that can be stowed.