I’m sure some of you reading this are aware that I’m one of the founders of VSB (verysmartbrothas.com). If you are one of these people, you’re probably also aware that I went by an internet pseudonym (“The Champ”) for the first five years of VSB’s existence. What you probably don’t know — and what I’m about to share — is where “The Champ” came from.
The Pittsburgh Steelers….hmm. Let me start that sentence again. My Pittsburgh Steelers won the Super Bowl in 2006, a spectacular ending to an unlikely playoff run that included three consecutive road victories, a bevy of trick plays, and an always entertaining Peyton Manning meltdown. The victory meant a lot to the city. I never witnessed a single event have that much of a positive effect on an entire region’s mood. So much so that it affected me by osmosis, providing a much need respite from my life. I’d just broken up with my long-term girlfriend and I was unhappy with my job. I felt directionless, aimless, even. Almost like I was floating. Although the Super Bowl victory wasn’t the only reason I got out of that funk, it definitely helped.
So, inspired by a column from ESPN’s Bill Simmons where he stated that (paraphrasing) “anyone who lives within a 15 mile radius of a Super Bowl winning team reserves the right to refer to themselves as ‘The Champ,” I started calling myself “The Champ.” It began on my old blog, followed me to my (fortunately extinct) Myspace blog, and stayed with me on VSB.
This is just one story about my relationship to football in general and the Pittsburgh Steelers in particular. Although basketball is my first, truest, and deepest love, many of my favorite sports memories are football-related. I attended college on a basketball scholarship and still play a few times a week, but nothing I’ve ever done basketball-wise has made me feel as good as catching the winning touchdown pass in a diocese championship game in 8th grade — the last football game I ever played. As an adult, fall Sundays became sacred to be. Not because of church, but because that’s when I’d make my weekly trip to my parents’ house to watch the Steelers and eat dinner with them.
I’m perhaps the only Black person in America who cares more about Mike Tomlin’s job security than Barack Obama’s.
Recently, I watched the Steelers beat the Carolina Panthers pretty handily. It was a bit of a surprising victory — for me at least — since these same Steelers got manhandled by Baltimore a week earlier. I was happy to see them win. But it was the same type of happiness you get when seeing there’s a half cup of orange juice left in the carton instead of a quarter cup. Basically, I wasn’t as happy as I would have been in 2006. Or even 2010. It’s just becoming increasingly difficult for me to enjoy the games while being fully aware of all the issues plaguing the NFL, including (but not limited to)…
…a commissioner who initially downplayed and dismissed a star player’s domestic abuse incident…and then, when the public backlash got too severe, reversed his stance and continues to pretend like he had no idea the incident was that serious
…star players accused of crimes ranging from child abuse to multi-state rape patterns that rival any plot from any episode of Law and Order SVU
…more and more data showing that at least a third of the NFL will experience irreversible brain damage…and more and more data showing that the NFL leadership has tried to suppress this news for years
…the fact that it’s the most violent and physically demanding of the four major American professional sports, but the only one not to offer its workforce guaranteed contracts.
Basically, the type of cognitive dissonance needed for me to continue to be a diehard NFL fan is just too much to handle now. Too exhausting.
I realize no entity is perfect. And that the larger the entity, the more likelihood of flagrant imperfections. I can put the same microscope on everything I enjoy — from the NBA to the iPhone — and find reasons to discontinue my support. But what makes football different is that its imperfections are inescapable. The violence is an unextractable part of the sport. It, and the constant threat of it, is what makes it so thrilling, so arbitrary, and so beautiful. But the violence — and the effect both the actual violence and the culture of creating violence has on its participants — is where all of its issues exist. And this is the conundrum many others also wrestling with their fandom face. Taking the violence out of football makes it no longer football.
This past Sunday, the Steelers played the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Buccaneers stink, so the Steelers should’ve won. But they didn’t. My wife and I are in the process of moving, though, so I missed the game. Which I was a little upset about, but I shouldn’t be.
I shouldn’t be watching now anyway.