It’s official. There’s no way for me to get around talking about the Super Bowl — despite wanting nothing to do with it this year. There are a lot of reasons behind my absence from the big game for the first time since 1993, the biggest being I’m still (really) pissed off at the NFL — and Jerry Jones in particular.
The second is, I really didn’t care about either team. In fact, it was my nightmare Super Bowl. As a Cowboys fan, it’s an inherent given that I’m not an Eagles fan: We’re division rivals; Eagles fans throw bottles from the stands at opposing players, and they cheered as Michael Irvin was carried out on a stretcher after a hit that ended his career.
And the list goes on and on.
All week leading up to the big game, I heard everyone talking about how this Super Bowl was the meeting of David and Goliath, the frontrunner and the underdog. And (most) people wanted to see the underdog — the team that had never won a Super Bowl — win. Everyone loves an underdog, I heard repeatedly throughout the week.
What I stopped short of saying — but not short of thinking — was that this rooting for and love of the underdog, interestingly enough, only pertains to football teams and games — things that have no real-life impact or (dare I say) importance.
Love of an underdog doesn’t necessarily extend to the underdogs in our real world — women, people of color, the LGBTQ community, native peoples, immigrants, animals, our planet. And on Sunday as I witnessed most of America cheering on the Eagles, I couldn’t help asking myself, “Where is all the support for us ‘underdogs’ and our right to equality in our everyday real life?”
Maybe I’m reading too much into a game that’s meant to be a distraction, that’s meant to be fun. But then again, maybe other people are seeing too few connections — especially with the kind of year that the NFL has had. National anthem protests from players all around the league (and in all variety of sports), an NFL owner’s statement comparing his players to prisoners, and, of course, Jerry Jones’ comments that he would fire any player who didn’t stand for the anthem.
Because the reality is, as the world watched and cheered Sunday night as the underdog team won the Super Bowl, the real underdogs of the NFL (and of systemic power and privilege) — black, brown and other marginalized voices went completely unsupported all season by those very same people who are now cheering and celebrating the underdog. So what most football fans must mean is that they love an underdog when the stakes aren’t too high (and don’t involve the American flag).
Which basically means that we, as a society, love an underdog when it suits us and our needs.
Last night, my wife and I went to see the movie I, Tonya. Tonya Harding, from the moment she skated onto the ice, was an underdog. From her abusive mother to her husband to having to make her own costumes and pave her own way.
It is a sport laden with money, elegance and class, and she had none of it. But she skated anyway. She broke the mold of what a figure skater should be, come from, look like and act.
Unlike the Eagles, being the underdog didn’t go so well for Tonya, and eventually she was stripped of the only thing she ever really loved: skating and all access to it. Whereas the men who actually masterminded and acted out knee-gate got jail time and a fine, that was a slap on the wrist compared to the lifetime sentence Tonya has to live out.
Her story reminds me of another, more current, underdog: Colin Kaepernick. Only Kaepernick’s major sin was taking a knee for what he believes in, not being a part of a planned attack on someone else’s knee.
The point — and the real tea — is that Colin, despite being an amazing quarterback, was also dealt a lifetime sentence by the NFL, which pretty much has blacklisted him from playing the game he loves. And more importantly, it is a game that needs him; the turbulent ratings of the NFL this year prove that.
But this year also proved something else: If you’re the wrong kind of underdog, then America’s favorite pastime, sports, has no tolerance, no acceptance, no place for you. “Just shut up and play” is what they would say if they could.
And that means that for those of us in the LGBTQ community who also love football and have been waiting for someone in the NFL to come out, it’s never going to happen. Not after this. Not after Colin. Because if Colin is any indicator — and he is — he is now the precedent of how the NFL, football fans and owners are going to treat the rest of life’s underdogs, including any player who comes out gay. So why would anyone who has worked their ass off, who has been an underdog their entire life, risk the kind of opportunity the NFL can grant for the truth?
They wouldn’t. And I wouldn’t blame them.
If we want the NFL to do better, then we have to do better. And that begins by taking a good hard look at ourselves. Myself included. Because even though I didn’t watch the Super Bowl, I did watch ESPN’s 5-minute recap of the game.
Is that just as bad? I don’t know. I don’t have to know. Knowing all the answers isn’t the point, the point is to ask the questions that force us to go deeper into the choices we make — and the language we use.