It’s been said there are three fundamental ways an American can serve the country: voting in elections, serving in the military, and sitting on a jury. With Independence Day upon us, I’m here to tell you there’s a fourth way to fully engage in the American experience: choose and cheer a sports team.
There’s one qualifier when it comes to this component of patriotism. The team’s flag you wave can’t simply be your college alma mater. This is too close to a member of the Army showing off his stripes. It’s one’s duty, after all, to support the football team (and swim team!) from the campus one called home. Do so with passion. But pick at least one other team, cut ties to any other (in the same sport), and count the ways you honor this country’s founding fathers.
• The pursuit of happiness.
In these trying times, is there any more direct path to happiness — at least for a day or night — than pulling for your baseball team to end a losing streak? Or for your basketball team to knock off a division rival? No narcotic unleashes the endorphins like a stirring comeback victory by the team you call your own. And no happiness, I’d argue, is quite as pure.
• Freedom of assembly.
“I’ve got tickets.” Perhaps the three most liberating words in the English-American language. Sports command our attention on screens more than ever, but it’s still about being there. In the arena or stadium. With thousands, or even hundreds (hell, even dozens) of others with a shared devotion. The sounds and smells of a ballpark are as rewarding as anything we see on the field. With your numbered seat secure, you’re more than merely a fan. You’re part of a movement.
• Freedom of religion.
Sports fandom is a form of faith. Never doubt this. Witness the tears of Atlanta Falcon fans after surrendering their first Super Bowl title in about 20 minutes of playing time. Witness the tears of Chicago Cub fans kneeling at gravesites with newspapers, tangible proof that curses and miserable baseball do, somehow, go away. Witness rally caps, lucky t-shirts, game-day meals, and fathers explaining to daughters why they need to stand straight when they walk by the statue of Stan Musial.
• Freedom of speech.
Have you checked your Twitter feed lately? If you can dance around the blather from or about our current president, the most opinionated commentary from American “twits” involves one team or another. LeBron James has made two franchises champions merely by his choice of uniform. Kevin Durant has ruined the NBA by choosing the same path James did in 2010. My team will win the Stanley Cup finally (or again). Your team is an embarrassment to all things right and holy. Matter of fact, YOU are an embarrassment to all things right and holy. The teams we choose stir discussion. It’s up to us to avoid Stephen A. Smith and keep the discussion intelligent.
• No cruel or unusual punishment.
I know. This one has you wondering. Sure as hell feels cruel (if not unusual) when the San Antonio Spurs once again end a season for our Memphis Grizzlies. But here’s the beauty of team sports (and one of life’s grand clichés): There’s always next season. Unlike actual life, “dead” teams come back. Rosters are adjusted, coaches changed, and every team opens a new season undefeated. Losing hurts, particularly the losses that mean months without a game to attend. But in the world of 2017? Have you read (non-sports) headlines of late? A bad day at FedExForum is better than most in or near a state capital.
Happy Fourth of July everyone. Fire up the grill and gaze at the fireworks. But do so in your favorite team jersey. It’s perfectly American.