In my Novel “The Safety“, I start the Prologue with “During the post-Civil War era in the United States, organized Sports slowly replaced war between states, cities and towns as acceptable aggression between conflicting sides.” I bring this up because I wonder sometimes, why I feel so terrible when my DC teams are losing?
For years I was convinced by my father that I was “too into sports” while growing up in the 60’s and that working in the industry “was not a real job or career.” It was tough to swallow considering he had been an All-State Guard and State Champion in New Jersey during his only year of playing high school football in 1929. At the beginning of the depression, he had to turn down a Princeton scholarship to take a “real job” in the post office and support the family.
I discovered, just after my first communion and confession (sorry…serious Catholic stuff) at age 7, that I was a closeted sports maniac. I can still feel the marrow in my bones quiver, when I remember witnessing Roger Maris smash a home run in my first baseball game at Griffith Stadium or seeing Sonny Jurgensen sling a missile to Charley Taylor at RFK or experiencing Earl “The Pearl” Monroe twirl and double pump in the lane at the Baltimore Civic Center.
Finally ESPN started in 1980 and being crazy about sports became a badge that I could wear openly. Before my father passed in 1993, I think he realized, that I was right about the importance of sports. Either way, he was pretty excited that Notre Dame football was finally on every Saturday afternoon.
On Wednesday night, March 1st, four of my favorite DC teams that played (Wiz, Caps, Nats & Terps) all won, snapping losing streaks for two of them. About 10 pm that night there was a quiver in my bones, I felt human again! So, for the millionth time I asked myself at age 63, why does this keep happening?
The reason, I learned and now believe, came from my reading of how organized sports evolved after the Civil War. The first announced College Football game was in 1869 between Rutgers and Princeton. Baseball’s current National League started in 1876. I believe the progression of these two sports, to organized amateur status in College Football and professional status in Baseball, after the Civil War, helped keep the peace between the States.
Every little to big town in the Nation had a baseball or football team that traveled to play other towns. The players were supported by local businesses with jobs and free accommodations. Each town, big or small, learned to have pride by supporting their team. Winning “the game” replaced the need for killing each other. Eventually every neighborhood or local school had teams, these competitions helped lower the need for gang warfare. The pride of one’s community winning “the game”, started seeping into the DNA!
Now to be clear, this is just a theory, but the more I have learned about myself and others over the years, the more I see the bravado and pride of wearing a team jersey and the almost fisticuffs (and yes the occasional, but…rare violence) between team fans, the more I witness the ups and downs from the sheer joy of winning and the pain of defeat, I think the evidence proves my point. It may not seem like it, but It Keeps the Peace Being a Sports Fan