My father played college football at Purdue University. He was a defensive back on the Boilermaker team that beat U.S.C. to win the Rose Bowl in 1967. Bob Griese, the legendary Hall of Famer, was the quarterback on that team.
After graduation, my dad joined the United States Navy and became an officer. He volunteered to serve our country and did two tours of duty in Vietnam, flying helicopters with the Navy Seals.
Do you think my dad is an American patriot?
I was the shooting guard on my varsity basketball team at Oyster River High School in Durham, New Hampshire. We won the state championship in 1988. I finished the season as an All-State Honorable Mention.
After graduating from the University of Northern Colorado in 1992, I moved to the Netherlands where I’ve lived ever since. I speak Dutch and I’m raising my two sons bilingually. I have never served in the American Armed Forces.
Do you think I am an American patriot?
Yes? No? Tough call?
I’m asking the question because I fear we may be losing the plot. Do you feel that way too? All our “Red State, Blue State” tribal obsessions. I fear we’re losing our ability to find common ground. We’re getting nasty and somebody’s gonna get hurt. Hell, people have already gotten hurt. Killed, even.
It seems like we’re so distracted and insecure. So worried about our jobs and our pensions and our belief systems, so terrified that somebody is gonna swoop in and take it all away. We’re definitely looking for someone to blame. Somebody has to be the cause of all this bullshit. It’s human nature to find a scapegoat, we don’t have a choice. It doesn’t necessarily make us bad people.
But it’s a risky strategy.
All this hate we feel towards the other team. I don’t know about you, but it’s killing me. My blood pressure is through the roof. I’m drinking like a Russian sailor on shore leave. Every morning I grab my phone and whip out some article that proves the other team is a bunch of humiliating morons but I’m on the right side of history, motherfucker!
I get so worked up. Sitting there in my boxer shorts, screaming at my phone. In my better, less crazy, moments I ask myself, “does all this hating really help?” I mean really, is this what God intended us to do, hate the other team so much that we wanna punch ’em in the kidneys? Is this the evolution of homo sapiens that mother nature had in mind?
Who the hell knows?
But I’ve got a hunch. I don’t think it is. I think all this hating the other team goes against the unavoidable, infallible, and unstoppable evolution of our species.
Don’t believe me? Here’s an example from my own family: I have an uncle who roots for the other team. And he does it rather loudly. I can’t, for the life of me, figure out why he roots for the other team. How could he?
I’m picturing him in my head, right now. He’s a big dude. He played college football, just like my dad. Hockey too. He was so smooth on the ice that they called him “Cruiser”. Great skater. He started out in the Navy, but for the rest of his professional career he was an air traffic controller in New York City. That’s a stressful job. He was fucking great at it. He’s also one of the most generous guys you’ll ever meet and he’d give you the shirt right off his back. Big Brutus that he is, even he gets choked up at the sound of our niece playing a sweet song on her guitar, around the campfire, at our family reunion. “Play it again” he’d shout, all night long.
I still don’t understand why he roots for the other team. Our last family reunion was great, but we had some awkward moments, everybody trying not to talk about the other team. It makes me want to give up and run. To not go to family reunions anymore.
Hold on a sec.
I might root for my team and he might root for the other team, but me and my uncle, we share the same name. When I was 7 years old, he took me to my first game. This was in 1976 and back then we both still rooted for the same team. We were just kids. We took the train into the city, just the two of us. It was a beautiful summer day, I can still taste the bright sunshine and the popcorn and the cotton candy. Our team won. We got back on the train and went home. What a day!
He’s my Uncle. My family. These days we root for different teams, but we both love the game, know wadda mean?
I don’t know, man. It’s hard. I have no idea how to make things better. I don’t wanna be naive and I don’t wanna be cynical, but I’m stuck. I’m not sure what to do. In my gut it feels like we gotta do something, because things are gettin’ tight.
I guess we could just keep it simple. I could reach out to my Uncle. Talk about the game last night. It’s a start.
You could do that too. With your Uncle Bill or your sister Janine or your neighbor Youssef. Just make eye contact. Say “hi”. Take it from there.
Saying “hi” doesn’t mean you agree with him. He gets to cheer for his team, you get to cheer for yours. That’s the way it’s supposed to be, he’s “red” and you’re “blue”, but you’re both going out to the old ballgame.
Obviously we should continue to call out lies and protest injustice. We should hold our leaders and our media accountable and attempt to keep them honest. Obviously we should be wary and vigilant in the face of ignorance and extremism. We have to be.
But accusing strangers of being dumb? Hating people for wearing the wrong hat? All that energy expended, and for what? Are we really sure we’re choosing the right battles?
After all, we are the United States, remember? The most beautiful thing about America is we all get to be patriots.