Politics and Athletes


Itโ€™s fun to read all the deep thinking about the relationship between football and politics. I donโ€™t watch television, with the exception of the NCAA Menโ€™s Basketball tourney, so the current screaming match wonโ€™t affect my viewing habits. But I do love sports, and Iโ€™ve been doing Italy for fifty yearsโ€”reallyโ€”and if you spend time in Italy youโ€™ll do a lot of soccer. Likewise across Europe. And if you do soccer, you do politics. Most of the teams all have very clear political identities. There are two in Rome, for example, Roma and Lazio. Lazioโ€™s fans tend to come from good neighborhoods, and they tend to vote for conservative parties. The Roma faithful are less affluent, and tend to vote left. Elsewhere, the countryโ€™s top team, Juventus, hails from Turin, and itโ€™s been owned in large part by Fiat, which is to say, the Agnelli family. VERY establishment.

Some teams are obviously class-linked, and if you want to see the current version of proletariat vs bourgeoisie, go to a match between (prole) Napoli and (bourgeois) Juventus, or (prole) Marseille vs. Paris St. Germain (bourgeois). One of my favorite books, written by a keen-eyed and keen-nosed French anthropologist, discusses the quasi-religious passions stirred by these matches.

The NFL isnโ€™t like that. We donโ€™t have politically or anthropologically defined teams; thatโ€™s part of European collectivism, not in keeping with American individualism (Iโ€™m sure you knew that the term โ€œindividualismโ€ was added to the English languageโ€”by Alexis de Tocqueville, I believe--to describe us Americans). The current to-do has to do with individual players, not entire teams. When the Baltimore Ravens kneeled in unison before Sundayโ€™s home game with the Steelers, the fans booed them (apparently misinterpreting the teamโ€™s gesture). All the talk about โ€œunityโ€ is beside the point. There is no team unity, only individual decisions. You know, Americans.