Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Team Identity

I always found it interesting when a new coach comes to a team and says, "We are working hard to build our team identity."  I was late coming to my passion for football and phrases like this always had me scratching my head.  Did they not have an identity, know who they were or decide to change their identity?  I can see how teams known for great defenses, especially given names like Purple People Eaters or Orange Crush, can see this as important.  But I also see a lot of similarities here with our political landscape.

As I said, I was late to football.  I became a little bit of a fan at the end of my high school years because I would see my stepfather screaming at the television during games and wanted to understand.  I would later find out that my father was a football fan but never really talked about it (usually putting a bet in on a game here and there.)  Of course, I would find this out after I had become a fan of his rival team.  Usually, those things are passed down though and changing would feel traitorous.  During these early days, a loss hit hard.  I remember being frustrated enough that I'd just want to curl up and sleep the feeling off.  Sure, it didn't help that it was a team that would have over a decade and a half of bad years to come but you stay with your team.  You actually identify yourself as a (insert team) fan and tell friends, "We lost a close one last week.  If only we could have got the ball to (insert playmaker.)"

So, why do I see a tie to politics here.  Well, there are isn't...well, not just one.  Let's start with identity and what team you are on.  Politics has become a team sport and, if you become active in it, you will have to pick a team (or two.)  A lot of those "teams" take a stance or allow another "team" to take a stance which places them on the other side of that issue.  So, your "team" may be for something but against others... kind of like a football team has a great running back but no quarterback to get the receivers the ball.  The defense may have holes here and there too.  Changing "teams" can easily brand you a traitor.  I was on one such "team" until a few years into college.  As a matter of fact, it could be said that I had another football team as a child because of a Vikings jacket that I was given for Christmas one year (and I have no idea who gave it to me) but never watched a game until years later.  Identity is important.  Isn't it funny how both major parties identify themselves with animal mascots like the elephant and the donkey.

I have never personally voted for anyone that won a presidential election.  It could be that I'm on a losing "team" or that I'm not a "team" player.  I believe the last few elections have also been about identity.  In 2008, I was asked in by a union leader what I thought of their choice to back Clinton or Obama.  I said that, at that time, there was a lot of baggage with the former.  That year was a record voter turn out and many said that they identified with the man because of his race and what having a black president would mean about our nation.  Opposing team differences with his policies were viewed as a problem with his being black.  A friend of mine told me that if a woman ever ran for president, she would vote for her.  A lot of women this year identified with Clinton.  It didn't help that her opponent put his foot in his mouth when talking about women or when old footage of him sharpened that view.  Ads pushed that image and were awarded with a few different reactions: fear, indifference, anger or a sense of over-reach.

Did identity politics affect the vote?  It speaks more to the post-election climate than votes.  The counties that flipped in key states like Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania that previously would have gone to her were struggling economically and are believed to see a continuation of current policies and new regulations on coal as unbearable.  My friend didn't vote for her despite her earlier resolve.  She believed that she wasn't the right person to represent the gender in the office for the first time due to ongoing legal issues.  Sometimes a coach isn't right for a team.  Sometimes changing coaches every year or two isn't the answer either.  You make a decision there based on the personnel you have or you keep your coach and change your personnel (which can take time.)  It is easier viewing this from the outside because, I said, my team has been bad enough not to make it to the big game for a very long time and my "team" isn't a major party.

Maybe these major "teams" need to build or change their identity.  (I wonder what the Green, Independent, Constitutional or Libertarian animal mascots would be.)  But, I guess, there will be plays in the future for the first Islamic president, first Hispanic president, first gender neutral president or first bisexual president as real issues get ignored.  There is despair out there.  Fear inspired by the ads during the election and mixed with a few organizers have brought some unrest on the streets.  Pain and division of those "teams" don't look to heal soon.  I can only hope that we can put something decent on the field.

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