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Sports: Our First Hate



Sports are where we first learn to hate people who are very much like us but come from someplace else. Sorry. It's true. Yeah, it's all fun. It's also where we get that earliest childhood experience in passionate false superiority. "Our team of randomly assembled  athletes is Number One! Yours sucks!"

There's nothing like that first hate.

Rooting for the home team is where we learn it's okay to dismiss those other ignorant losers, even if they're actually the dude in the mirror wearing a different colored shirt. Are football fans in Cleveland really different from football fans in Cincinnati? They have pretty much everything in common except the roster.

Politicians succeed by inventing ways to separate and agitate us. Sports leagues make billions doing it. Allegiance for hometown sports brands drives billions in merchandise and ticket sales. NFL advertising suggests people who cheer for other teams are creepy and wrong.  Show your team colors!  Don't let those others into the family!  Jerry Seinfeld said sports fans cheer for laundry -- for the uniform. We do seem to root for whomever is wearing it this season. What else are we rooting for? The team owner?
 
Really, we're rooting for ourselves. "The results are in: every single US sports team is blue-collar," said a 2015 article in The Guardian, citing local descriptions of teams everywhere. "Many fans view sports as a heroic struggle where one team working hard can overcome all. They apply the blue-collar label to their favorite athletes and, eventually, to themselves." A study of  professional "team personalities" published in 2018 found no significant differences among the teams. Still, the push for nonexistent distinction and false exceptionalism starts early. When we tie our identities to the franchise, we need to believe We're Number One. It's our side, the good guys, defending the proud tradition against all enemies. Good thing it's only a game. right?
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