Sunday, August 29, 2010

One Nation, Under Two Kinds of Sweat

After a week spent reading college football previews in my day job, it occurs to me de Tocqueville got to America about 170 years too early. In my experience, you can forget about separating this country by red state or blue state, or by coasts and flyover country, or even by north, south, east and west.

There are two Americas, and we all live in one of them. You either live in a place where people care a lot more about professional sports than college sports, or vice versa. No exceptions. You tell everything else about a town, suburb or city, right down to what its residents most like to eat, from that one first principle.

Demographics don't matter. Boston is the world's biggest college town, but this is pro sports city and always will be. Even what kinds of teams are available to root for don't matter. Los Angeles is a pro town without an NFL franchise, and football is America's most popular sport. What to do? Create USC, one of the best professional franchises around, that's what.

It's not that people here don't follow college sports (we have too many colleges to create a huge fan base for any one) or that people in Birmingham, Alabama don't like baseball or the NBA. They do. It's just that one is a true love, and the other is a seasonal fling if there's nothing else good on TV. One is a person's identity. The other is, well, only sports.

(It is significant that the biggest sports event in our country contains elements of both worlds. The Super Bowl is a professional sports event. But the idea of bowl game is a college sports concept, one that predates the NFL by many years.)

And without even realizing it, life in a pro town or college sports town makes you unfit for life in whichever Americansportsland isn't yours. Austin, Texas is by all accounts one of the best places to live in the U.S. Food, music, business climate, golf opportunities, you name it, Austin has it. I could never live there. I could never imagine living there. I grew up in a pro burg, and I've spent my adult life in a pro burg, and the idea of existing in a community where Mack Brown is a big deal, no, make a respected sage, fills me with horror. I'm sure that an Austinian (is that right?) who came to Boston for a summer weekend in the middle of one of our really top-notch incidents of Red Sox mania (like the Manny trade), would feel exactly the same thing in reverse.

As social divides go, the sports divide is about as benign as it gets. It does no damage to our nation if millions of (in my opinion sad and deluded) souls want to obsess about National Signing Day. But when I'm in college sports territory, I am always and forever an outsider. How can these otherwise delightful people waste their time yakking about the Heisman Trophy when they could be scanning waiver wires or productively bitching about the nearest big league bullpen?


At 10:02 AM, Blogger CarolynT said...

You are so right. I've been missing his words since he left the Daily News last year. It's a loss. Did you see they named a race after him at Saratoga? Nice tribute.


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