American Shithole #10 — Sports and Politics
By Eric Wilson
I don’t know how I am supposed to treat Trump supporters anymore.
I can’t even bring myself to talk about hoops with an old friend — because he supports this bucket of turds we have for a president —when all I really want to do is grind his shitty conservative ideas and dangerous religious beliefs into the fairy dust from whence they came.
Basketball and politics dominated this past strange weekend, beginning with more crazy in the already looniest NCAA Men's Division I tournament ever, and ending with the tropical Stormy Daniels deluge into an already filthy Washington D.C.
We witnessed Loyola’s improbable run to the Final Four, with their chaplain, the adorable 98-year-old Sister Jean leading the charge. Look at how adorable she is! It almost makes me forget how much I despise organized religion! Almost! Still love you, Jean!
Then America tuned in as an adult film actress told her horror story about the terrible sex she had with a soft, foppish, sexagenarian man-child that would somehow years later, fail upward to the presidency.
This is a horror story people, it was a dark and stormy Daniels telling her frightening tale, with America gathered around the campfire. Yet, it’s a horror story being told while the forest is burning down around us. Relevant only as it speaks to character, and the shitty way women are treated by men of power.
Even the venerable news program, 60 Minutes, focused on both politics and basketball this past Sunday, offering up the much-anticipated aforementioned porn star confessional, followed by a feature on Giannis Antetokounmpo — the NBA player who is accomplishing things on the court that no one has ever seen before.
It is strange to me, but telling, that we value these two stories similarly enough that they would share equal time in an hour long news program. Presidential sex scandal, unparalleled in American history. New guy, that can possibly bounce a ball slightly better than anyone that has ever bounced a ball before him. 50/50.
I used to think that sports talk offered the best, safe haven for conversation in politically mixed company. It serves as an icebreaker, or an easy way to pass a short amount of time. Now I just think it’s where the largely silent, sane by comparison, wholly embarrassed, old school republicans have been hiding out in shame.
I was a casual sports fan in my younger days. I spent my teens in the Chicago suburbs in the early '80s, where kids didn’t have a lot to do or talk about — so we watched the Bears and talked about them. My friend, Pete B. lived across the street, and his family really loved the Blackhawks, and we would talk about the team while we played schlock hockey in his family room on game nights.
I also played soccer in high school, as well as on various park district and traveling teams in junior high. I was forced into organized sports by my mother’s second husband — Wayne — and I’m grateful for it. I don’t know if I ever thanked Wayne personally, they divorced when I left for college, and I haven’t seen him since.
One of my favorite soccer memories is from an away game on the traveling team. The right-wing crossed the ball from the corner over the front of the goal, near the other side of the field. Hell of a kick for a 12-year-old. The goalie came out, but the ball was just out in front of me — too far for a header, and what should have been too high for a kick. I somehow managed a sideways, in air, lofted, arcing shot over the keeper.
As I ran back to my team, I had to run by the opposing fans, and they had this look of awe and respect. And they were quiet, it was kind of weird. Coach said in the huddle, “Now that is how you score a goal.”
It was an amazing feeling — not just that moment, but many of the moments competing, and I cherish them, and I thank you Wayne, for making me play some sort of organized sport. You made an effort with an awkward boy you didn’t understand, and that should be commended.
Also, I once stole two of your three cases of shitty Olympia beer for a party sophomore year, and you never noticed — probably because you were an idiot.
In fairness to Wayne, he was not equipped to deal with the level of dork I was bringing to the table. If I could have avoided all lifeforms until college, and just hibernated in my own private nerdery with my Vonnegut books and my Dungeons and Dragons miniatures, I would have.
I left for Syracuse University after high school, and the Carrier Dome was my first experience with Division I NCAA men’s basketball. Going to your first college basketball game at the Carrier Dome is a bit like going to your first bonfire at Burning Man. 35,000 fans at a basketball game is unheard of outside a precious few programs. I loved it so much I got a brother from the engineering fraternity to get me a job in the hot dog room, just so I could watch games for free.
To this day, I get angry watching Syracuse players miss free-throws.
I get it, sports can be awesome.I understand that organized sports can be a character building experience that instills the importance of teamwork. Sports require discipline, and competition teaches some truths.
But do we really need to value professional sports to the degree in which we do? I know it’s a tired gripe from the left, but it feels a bit barbaric to me that we still worship sports like football and boxing in the 21st century. Post-Trump republicans do not deserve a safe place to hide. Besides, I want to be a member of a society that overvalues benevolent scientists and misunderstood bloggers that need more hugs.
I used to spend a great deal of time back in Chicago in the '90s with my friend Scott E., a huge sports fan, whom I had met as a player on an opposing team in the APA — a national pool league a bunch of friends and I played in once a week. We stole him for our team that season.
I haven’t seen him much in the last 20 years, but Scott is one of my few friends I still have contact with that voted for Trump. He is also the one I am angriest with, and the one I feel most betrayed by, for his continued support of a lying, stupid, sack of filthy shit.
I had written a scathing rebuke a day after the election back in 2016 focusing on my friend Scott, which I shared in a private group for feedback purposes. Literate Ape editor, Don Hall, had recently been invited to this group, and he might even remember this particular screed of mine, as it was dripping with vitriol. He was also a minority voice supporting the posting of that piece. Those who also knew Scott advised restraint.
My attitude has changed a lot over the past year, so in retrospect, perhaps my decision was for the best.
In the end, I never made that particular piece public, and with the exception of my near daily frustrated statements about this administration, my friend never received a message from me expressing my anger with him personally.
I hadn’t heard from Scott in a while, but he responded a few days ago to a rare sports related post of mine on social media, which prompted me to write this week’s column.
Again, I am faced with a situation where I am not really sure where I stand. I have been back and forth over the last year and some months, on how I should treat people that still support Trump, friend or not. I was so angry — I still am — but my anger is different now; more focused on efforts for change, less on retribution.
I don’t know how to talk to Trump supporters any more, even an old friend responding to my innocuous post about the craziness of this year’s NCAA tournament. I do know this though; I’m done with this lodestone of rage consuming me. I must remember to begin from a place of empathy. If I cannot, how can I expect others to do so?
So I find myself ruminating lately on how best to navigate our friendships, relationships, and online contacts in a post-Trump world. What framework do we have, what precedent is there to guide us? I want to affect positive change, so I want to stay engaged, but I have no idea how to connect with these people — via sports or otherwise — that appear to me, to be completely cut off from reality.
Shared interest in a sports team is a great way for two disparate people to find common ground. In America, many fathers and sons have relied on this fact for more than a century. At the end of the day though, it’s still a bunch of folks playing bouncy ball, or batty ball, or kicky ball, or throw that ball, and I’m not going to make small talk about sports with you, just to save you the embarrassment of defending your shitty ideas about the current state of American politics.
Which sort of leaves me back where I started.
How have you been dealing with the Trump supporters in your lives?
I think we all knew the March for Our Lives demonstrations across this country this past Saturday were going to be massive, but the turnout exceeded expectations. Those attending in Washington D.C. staged the largest protest gathering since the Vietnam War. I think the past month has shown us things are different. This is something new. This is not going away.