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Politics as Sport (And Guess Who the Losers Are?)

November 5, 2013

The growing pressure on Washington Redskins owner, Dan Snyder, to change the team’s name prompted TIME Magazine to suggest in its November 4th issue an “alternative name more fitting for a sports team in the nation’s capital.” The lighthearted proposals included: The Washington Gridlocks, the Washington Whistleblowers, or the Washington Deficits.

(A disclaimer here: I do not follow sports. This was embarrassingly evident one evening when, acronym challenged as I am, I asked some guests at a dinner party in Florida what FSU stood for. The look of incredulity on the faces around the table prompted my defensive retort: “Sorry, the only FSU I know is the Former Soviet Union.” Unfortunately that didn’t make it better. Nor did I acquit myself on another occasion when I was asked if I knew about Crimson Tide. I replied by asking if it was an especially virulent form of ocean-based algae.)

Perhaps because of my general ignorance of sports, the TIME article made me smile. Indirectly, the magazine hinted at one of my long-held assertions. Politics in America has become more like a football game than “the art of the possible” – a means for debating and resolving policy issues. For many reasons, not the least of which is the competition to attract television viewers and Nielsen ratings, politics has become a game of winners and losers; a clash of showy rivalries.  These passionately, sometimes obsessively-held team allegiances are based on loyalty rather than substance or performance. This is part of the fun in sports, but it is no laughing matter in politics.

During the recent budget standoff I could not help but feel like I was at the Super Bowl. It was as if the country was divided like fans at a national football field. On one side of the stadium the Democrats cheered, pompoms fluttering. On the other side, GOPers were roaring and honking horns, except for some who were grimly quiet. After brief stints of action on the political field, broadcasters provided endless replays and non-stop commentary, breaking down which side had more momentum going into the second half.

Excessive attention was placed on the freshman from Texas, whom tea partiers regarded as the GOP’s most valuable player. But it turns out the rookie was anything but. He let his team down by fumbling the ball while eyeing the bleachers. It soon became clear that he never had the goal [post] in sight.

In the weeks following the shutdown it was not much better. Instead of having a hard-headed national discussion on how to avoid further brinksmanship and finally come to a deal, we were subjected instead to endless post-game analyses of who won, who lost, and why. On October 23, weeks after the impasse had (temporarily) ended, Express, a scaled-down version of the Washington Post, had an insert. On the left side of the centerfold the headline read, “GOP Feels Shutdown Hangover.” I started reading. Then, attracted by the right page headline – “Who’s in a Better Position to Win?” – I was expecting an analysis of what the budget and debt standoff would mean for the midterm elections. Instead, I discovered I was reading the sports page!

I grant you that sports are a wonderful pastime for fans everywhere; they offer endless hours of enjoyment and serve as an innocent way to blow off steam. But the sports culture has now permeated the politics of policy in an alarming way, most significantly by trivializing the national stake we have in cooperation and collaboration.

This country has significant challenges, not the least of which is the refusal of our elected officials to practice the art of governance and compromise—one of the bedrock requirements of our system.

We are in the midst of revolutionary changes on many levels at home and abroad. If we can do more to think of ourselves as one team, we are more likely to find ways to address our challenges. Much good can be regained if we define progress as something other than the score.

So, if Dan Snyder takes TIME Magazine’s suggestion seriously and concludes that the name of his team must have some reference to the nation’s capital, I would suggest he consider something fun like the “Washington Cherry Blossoms” or the “Washington Monuments.” If those names do not sound like a fighting man’s team then perhaps the “Washington Legislators” would be more appropriate. That way there would be no more questions about the culture of politics and sport. And, if Snyder’s team plays well at least one set of Legislators would actually be making things happen.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. Ann Turpin permalink
    November 5, 2013 12:52 pm

    Excellent!! (and a bit of fun, as well.)

  2. Tony DuPuis permalink
    November 5, 2013 12:55 pm

    Great Game Strategy report Susan.!!!! Sad…just ever so SAD…the Country is so Divided and the HATE that this Washington “Sport” has caused, is inexcusable…Think we do indeed need a “Time-Out” from “IGNORANCE and POLICY” that is ever so weak, yet so divisionally strong.The amount of “Spin” has increased 3 fold on so many issues. PLEASE, let’s return to The Art and “Response-Ability” of our GOVERNMENT.
    AMERICA deserves better !!!
    VOTE 2014…
    For so many, the Game calls are already being made: “You’re outta here !!!!!!!!!!!!!”….
    Thank you Susan for being who you are :-)

  3. Richard J. Bono permalink
    November 5, 2013 1:29 pm

    You failed to mention the lying and cheating now so rampant in sports from Lance Armstrong, to A-Rod, to the spoiled, drug addled, football heroes. Mirror this with the the fact challenged politics from everything to Obama’s birth, to death panels, to the constant ignoramus hectoring from the talking heads in the media. All this in the context of massive salaries, driving all the money minded mental complexes. It’s a pretty ugly mix, and it doesn’t help that its seen as just a game.

  4. Bob Hanfling permalink
    November 5, 2013 1:52 pm

    Once again, Susan E. scores a touchdown, a goal (hockey or soccer), a grand slam home run etc.
    What a great move to out flank the opponents (whomever they are) and focus on sports as a “sport”, with emotional winners and losers, and government as a “sport” which should be winners and winners.
    In real sports the players are on the field. They can win or lose. In government “sports”, the
    “players”, ie: the winners and losers, are in the stands. Generally they are called the American People (or AP’s).
    They are often quoted or referred to in speeches as the AP’s want this or the Ap’s oppose this. Like I an against Obamacare , but I like the Affordable Care Act (TRUE). Don’t let government into health care, BUT leave my Medicare alone.
    Running a government and truly helping all of the AP, is not a sport. It is serious business and deserves more than what is happening now.
    Sorry for the long response, but Susan you have it right on. Maybe some of the USG people will stop and look in a mirror and leave “sport” out of the Congress.
    We all must win!!

  5. November 5, 2013 2:30 pm

    I fear that it is not the national dialogue per se that has changed but rather that we have become so polarized and partisan self-obsessed as a people that we are no longer debating across a table but across a canyon instead. We are no longer two parts of a united nation sorting out our internal family differences; we are two divorced parties squabbling bitterly and endlessly over property and visitation rights.

    We blame our politicians for truculence at peril of smug hypocrisy for we did not ‘hire’ them to compromise; we hired them to get what we want, whatever they have to do to accomplish that. If they fail at this we attempt to and often do replace them with someone who will fight harder for what we believe in. The ‘enemy’ is us. We have become a people who want their partisan way or we will take our patriotic toys and go to the home of our particular bigotry, America be damned.

    One side has polarized out so far out to the left that treason in a time of war, actively aiding and abetting the enemy for partisan gain, is seen by them as loyal opposition in spite of its prolonging wars and metastasizing costs and casualty rates.

    The other side has polarized so far out to the right that it now shrugs and accepts that the rich in America are getting richer while the poor are getting poorer. We Americans are more divided and balkanized now than in 1860.

    In our groupie self-obsession, we’ve invented too many compartments of sex, race, religion, secularism and politics. We’re Southerners, Northerners, Westerners, liberals, conservatives, Cribs, Bloods, LGBTs, straights, capitalists, socialist/communists, ad nauseum.

    I wish I had a viable solution but that would be asking me to tune-up human nature and only one thing will do that: a domestic attack by a dangerous and deadly enough common enemy that forces us to abandon our petty clubbyism for mutual survival.

    What a price to pay, and will there remain a country to pay it?

  6. November 5, 2013 2:36 pm

    Susan–great stuff for a sports addict like me! And I love “Washington Monuments”. On a totally serious note, the DC football franchise renaming is way overdue: can you imagine if a similarly blatant offensive term for African Americans were employed anywhere [and just think of what the equivalent would be!] College teams with much less odious nicknames have been forced to rename.
    Of course, fact that I am an Eagles fan has absolutely nothing to to do with it…….

  7. C AC permalink
    November 5, 2013 5:25 pm

    Susan
    Now we know that you just don’t understand.
    Football is more important than healthcare and a silly debt ceiling.
    In fact, in Florida and Alabama, football is critical to job creation. That’s
    why high paying jobs explode in Tallahassee (FSU) and
    Tuscaloosa (Crimson Tide) as long as they have national championship
    potential. (Jobs go away after losing seasons)
    Big time winning football must be the key to economic growth.
    So,Susan, please get your priorities right.
    Nick Saban for President !! :-))

  8. Gerry Wenner permalink
    November 6, 2013 6:55 am

    Susan

    Your comparative analogy of the gamesmanship of football with current partisan politics is spot on!
    Yesterday, while serving as an Election Judge I observed many dedicated voters intense desire to elect effective leaders who can move “the ball forward” beyond this national nightmare!

    Gerry Wenner

  9. November 6, 2013 7:53 am

    Politics has, in my opinion, always been a sport for the physically uncoordinated. Now, it has become the sport for those who are challenged by integrity, intelligence or wisdom.

    All you say is true. It is time for a new voice, a new way, a new media, a new platform. To discuss the issues rather than the antics is the right perspective. To continue to be a voice for accomplishment rather than applause, and results rather than re-elections, and policy solutions rather than political drama is of critical importance.

    There is a sport’s analogy that translates well: “Is the candle worth the game?”
    The current partisan passion play is not; the message for a ‘reasoned way’ is.
    Thank you.

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