Oliver Lewis | Indy Week

Oliver Lewis 
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Re: “You can take a fan away from his or her team, but you can't...

Mister Fobi,

Thoughtful once again. There is something singular about the Pittsburgh Steelers' fanbase, and I would like to attempt to put my finger on it.

Your de Tocqueville quote is a perfect point of departure. When he wrote, Americans - that is, those of whom he spoke, which do not include the Redskins, whose namesake remains a disgrace to this nation, and not because Dan Snyder is megalomaniacal, but because of their hideous name - had no sense of place. But he should have known that this was bound to change, as indeed it has. The deeper insight he might have had is that with such a short sense of place, the sense of history was bound to be correspondingly short. As as result, we live in a land whose ultimate sense of political pride gets bound up in its city's teams instead of in the civic matters that, well, matter. I dare any Republican or Democrat to prove me wrong.

And so, Pittsburgh? Here you have a city where civics once were everything, where a small immigrant minority lived the American Dream and got insanely rich, where a much larger immigrant majority lived the other american dream and organized themselves for a decent living. Here is a city born on class conflict, all the way back to the Whiskey Rebellion, a city that cannot and does not avoid history. And in this city, you have a team that manages to embrace all of its historical elements. It is owned by a single Irish immigrant family, passed down through multiple generations, workers becoming wealth, the American and american dream. It has the happy accident of its team becoming dominant at just the point that its economic fortunes declined. When that happens in a city of history, even American history, a legend will be born. And you, Mister Fobi, must have witnessed the city in its renaissance, not just the late-Cowher/early-Tomlin years, but the years when medicine and technology revived its economy. This city is the American Phoenix, born of its own ashes, and just old enough, with just enough history and class consciousness, to have some sense of what this means. The result, given the youth of this country as a whole? Steelers fans are religiously bound to their team. Perhaps a more mature nation would produce a city that would know how to put its team in perspective. But in America, when you brush up against history, the result cannot be anything but zealotry.

I cannot wait to read _The Ones Who Hit the Hardest_, which, I suspect, will confirm all that I've just said: it is the Steelers, not the Cowboys, who are truly America's (and america's) Team. And lest my tone confuse, I mean that in the most admiring, proud, and yet utterly conflicted way.

Which I think is consummately american.

Posted by Oliver Lewis on 09/11/2010 at 12:29 AM

Re: “Pimpin’ Ain’t Easy: Nick Saban, Lebron James and the language of professionalism

Thanks for the enlightening comparison, Mr. Fobi. You've elevated the level of discourse on these matters several notches above the plane they typically occupy. Two remarks are in order, however:

1) The problem that no one wants to discuss regarding college athletics, because emotions run so high at every level concerning them, is that they should not exist, at all, in their current guise. The NFL and NBA need what MLB, the NHL, and European football all have: top-notch developmental leagues that have nothing to do with higher education. This is not likely to happen anytime soon, of course, and not just because of the obvious and overwhelming financial considerations: the same unhappy comingling of athletics and academics is rampant in American high schools as well.

2) Your class-analysis of LeBron et. al. is a bit thin. Someone who knows more Marx than I will get the analogy just right, but this year's Heat are no revolution of the workers but rather an assertion of something like the bourgeois. For that, though, the Heat deserve to be America's team, inasmuch as America glorifies some 1950s myth of itself.

Posted by Oliver Lewis on 08/27/2010 at 5:34 PM

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