Friday, February 04, 2011

NW PA's Unloved Minority

(News-Herald, February 3) They live among us. Some keep their difference hidden as a secret, afraid to shame their family and friends. Others live defiantly, proudly out in the open. Some are accepted by their friends and family for who they are, while others find themselves ostracized, cut off from those around them. Many are pressured to change their lifestyle to something more socially acceptable.
I’m speaking, of course, about people who don’t care about the Super Bowl.
Maybe places exist where it’s not so big a deal. But this is a sports-intensive corner of the world. You may hear people complain about welfare recipients who spend money on fancy food or cell phones, but I’ve never heard a person in Venangoland question someone on the dole buying tickets for a sporting event.
Some non-fans will try valiantly to blend in this week. They’ve got a black and gold t-shirt somewhere, maybe a jersey that some well-meaning relative gave them for Christmas. They know how to nod enthusiastically at certain familiar names, and to glower menacingly at others.
The advantage of living in such a sports-steeped environment as Western PA is that even the densest book-wormiest couch-potatoest non-fan of sports has picked up the basics simply by osmosis (though there are always exceptions— what in the name of all things Pittsburgh were UPMC brass thinking when they picked for their new corporate color purple? Purple?!?!).
Any Western Pennsylvanian who knows a college student has heard first or second or third hand stories about Big Ben and his sorry record of off-the-field pass attempts, but they’ve also heard via every form of media up to and including smoke signals that we are all forgiving the New, Improved, Better Behaved Ben. We all know that Polamalu is more or less godlike, and that the team is gritty (just for fun, I googled “steelers” and “gritty” and got 824,000 results).
Take this basic knowledge and throw in some comments like “Well, that secondary will just have to do their job” or “I look for the offensive line to make things happen” or even just grunting “Seven, baby, seven, oh yeah!” and even the most apathetic non-fan can avoid attracting attention in a crowd. (It’s also best not to critique others’ comments by saying things like, “You realize that it’s mathematically impossible to give 110 percent.”)
Not all non-fans adopt protective coloration. In fact, some can be pretty aggressive in their non-interest. These anti-fans will be the ones at the party pointing out that one hard working nurse will not make as much in a lifetime of healing people as a star athlete will make chasing a bag of air up and down a field for half a year. They’ll try to inject fun facts into sports events, such as the number of people who have starved to death in third world countries in the time it took the Steelers to make one first down. Other hard core grumps may throw in little bon mots such as, “I wonder if the Chinese workers doing American jobs worry about spending a day watching football.”
This is simply mean-spirited. People are entitled to their entertainment, and while most NFL players have little real personal connection with the cities they are paid to represent, the city fathers of the burgh have certainly made sure that every citizen within spitting difference of the stadium has had a chance to help pay up. But “Of course they’re our team—we paid for them,” lacks a little something as a cheer, and that grit does have a Western PA blue collar feel to it.
Yes, some fans get a little carried away. St. Clair Hospital in Mt. Lebanon is wrapping all newborns in terrible towels this week, and I really don’t want to know more about celebratory tattoos. And despite the similar amount of coverage given each, the only thing that the Super Bowl and the fall of the Egyptian government have in common is that, sitting here in Venangoland, we can’t really do much about either one.
Closeted non-fans will eat the food, watch the commercials, and try to grunt loudly in the right spots. More Americans will watch the Super Bowl than voted in the last election. More Americans will watch the game Sunday night than will attend church Sunday morning. Non-fans could do worse than join in one of the last American community events, and fans could do worse than display the American virtue of tolerance. Also, Polamalu, gritty secondary, and seven, baby!

1 comment:

Joel said...

Hmm, probably easier to be atheist than a non-football fan in VenCo

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