Sunday, January 17, 2016

So You Say You're a Seattle Seahawks Fan....

Walking into Safeway this morning, I saw not one but two of them in the grocery store. I decided I would not avert my gaze. I committed to passing them and looking them in the eye as I did. I would not back down, I couldn't. 

They wanted every person in the grocery store to cower at their sight. Their relentless body language indicated to me they were ready and willing to engage in any criticism that might come their way. Snide remarks, sneers, inappropriate gestures, they were almost a welcome thing. How could that be? Why would that be true? These guys had the upper hand. 

They are Seattle Seahawks fans and while the San Francisco Forty-Niners have been largely irrelevant all season, this team is once again in the NFC playoffs fighting to return to the Super Bowl.
Their presence gave me pause to think about several things:
  • By looking at who I am and how I present myself, could I be convicted of my loyalty to a belief, cause, institution or program?
  • How do I carry myself when what I value is subject to criticism? 
  • When and where do I feel as though I have the upper hand? How do I respond to others when I do?
These questions aren't ones to be dismissed lightly. Using the analogy of sports and spirituality however is a thoughtful and invitational way to entertain them.

San Francisco and Seattle's NFL teams have developed a good rivalry since 2002 (according to Wikipedia) but it intensified in 2011:

when long-standing college rival coaches — former  USC coach Pete Carroll and former Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh — took over as head coaches, with Carroll becoming the Seahawks' coach in 2010, and Harbaugh becoming the 49ers coach the following season. Both teams drafted young, mobile quarterbacks to lead their franchises, Seattle's Russell Wilson and San Francisco's Colin Kaepernick. Both coaches turned their respective franchises into perennial playoff contenders, and since 2010, either the Seahawks or the 49ers have claimed the NFC West championship.
The two teams met in the 2013 NFC Championship Game in CenturyLink Field with a trip to Super Bowl XLVIII on the line, with the Seahawks winning by a score of 23–17. The game ended when Seahawks'  cornerback Richard Sherman, whom Jim Harbaugh previously coached at Stanford, tipped an end zone pass that led to a game-ending interception. Seattle went on to defeat the Denver Broncos 43–8 in Super Bowl XLVIII to win their first Super Bowl championship. San Francisco had represented the NFC in a losing effort in Super Bowl XLVII the previous season.

No doubt, it's been much easier to be a 'Hawks fan in the past 5 years—especially if you live
in San Francisco. I'm sure the true 12th men and women up in the Northwest—those who were behind their team prior to the Pete Carroll era—want their longstanding loyalty to be known. That's a natural sentiment among sports fans: the spectrum ranges from "Johnny Come Today" to "bandwagon" to "diehard" to "my family has owned season tickets for generations and I need you to know that." We all fall somewhere in between the 180 degrees of fanaticism; how we let that be known and understood is our story.  And yet wherever you fall, you benefit from what Dr. Michael Tino recognizes as a spiritual gift of sports: its ability to bring people together. He writes,
Of course, it’s not just spectators and fans who are bonded by sports. As much as being a Cameron Crazy might forever be part of my identity, those who play team sports experience that level of connection as well.
And those who love those who play sports, as any parent of a child involved in sports activities knows, get involved in the connection as well.
Freelance writer Billy Fondren, in reflecting on his own memories of sports, writes, “Obviously, sports can be about bonding, a very spiritual component of life. And this also applies to the little leagues. I remember when I first began playing soccer in the third grade. My family would come to my games and cheer their lungs out. Then came the traveling teams starting in seventh grade. Every so often, we piled into the car for a trip to some out of town soccer tournament. I made some great friends on those teams, and my family came together in ways that we may not have otherwise done so"
Sports can give us the gift of connection.
With the firing of former head coach Jim Harbaugh and now Jim Tomsula, the early exit of many Niners—Patrick Willis, Chris Borland, Anthony Davis and free agent Frank Gore as well as moving 38 miles south of the city is claims, (the furthest of any stadium in the NFL to the city is claims) remaining as a member of the Niner Faithful has been tough. But I dare say, that's what separates the true fan from the others.
This isn't a tough analogy to make to life. We value loyalty and dedication individually and as a society for a reason. And, theyare virtues that come with a price. Although we see "Here today, gone tomorrow" too often at work in our culture, it is at odds with these values. Granted, that can be tough for a sports fans, in particular those of us who love baseball as our team is very different from one year to the next. But, commitment to a team or something much greater—a relationship, a job, faith, a cause asks us to remain loyal in light of (not in spite of) societal norms or today's modus operands. 

In between games today, maybe you can take a moment to think 
  • What you are are a fan of? How has that connected you to other people? When has it been tough to be a fan—what did you learn about yourself in the process? When has it been easy? 
  • How do you share or demonstrate your loyalty? 
  • What could someone convict you of being dedicated to? And here's a great article related to that worth reading

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