UGA game of­fers win­ning life les­son

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution - - OPINION - Kyle Wing­field

SOUTH BEND, IN­DI­ANA — Check out most any list of the most hated teams in all of sports, and some­where near the top you’re bound to find Notre Dame foot­ball. Like the New York Yan­kees, the Dal­las Cow­boys and the Los An­ge­les Lak­ers, the Fight­ing Ir­ish are one of those squads that, with its na­tional fol­low­ing and his­tory of suc­cess, is re­viled by most ev­ery­one else.

So when I and about 30,000 other Georgia Bull­dogs fans ar­rived for last week­end’s game, we came loaded for lep­rechaun. And we promptly found our­selves among ... well ... just about the nicest peo­ple any­where.

There were lit­tle old men in green blaz­ers stop­ping us to ask if we had ques­tions or needed any­thing. A cam­pus cop of­fered tips for tour­ing the basil­ica. A wait­ress at a sports bar­remarked—af­terwe’dleft the tip — about how “snazzy” the visi­tors from Georgia looked.

And the fans: They were out early Satur­day morn­ing, set­ting up tail­gate spreads for all. There were flags, corn­hole boards and the big­gest bot­tle of Fire­ball whisky I’ve ever seen. Ev­ery­where you looked, there was so­cial­iz­ing be­tween Bull­dog red and Ir­ish blue or green. In­side the sta­dium we spoke af­fa­bly, in be­tween scream­ing for our play­ers to drive theirs into the turf.

I’m sure oth­ers among the as­sem­bled thou­sands could tell of less friendly en­gage­ment, but I nei­ther saw nor heard of any.Some Georgia peo­ple at­trib­uted it to the fact we’re not long­time ri­vals with Notre Dame — it was only the se­cond time the teams have played — or that it wasn’t an SEC game. Per­haps. Cer­tainly, en­coun­ters be­tween South­east­ern Con­fer­ence cousins have pro­duced uglier scenes over the years, though I’ve been to games in Auburn and Tuscaloosa and Knoxville and Jack­sonville, and never wit­nessed much that was out of step with what I saw in South Bend.

No, I don’t think the lack of con­tempt at Notre Dame owed to a lack of fa­mil­iar­ity. I chalk it up to the fact we were face-to­face, not swap­ping nasty­grams in the sep­tic tanks that on­line mes­sage boards can be.

If you think this is where I pivot to politics, you’re right.

My father-in-law is fond of say­ing life is a con­tact sport. You need to get out there, shake a hand, look an­other in the eye. Turns out, it’s re­ally hard to hate the other guy after that.

My work puts me in both the com­ment threads and the halls of gov­ern­ment, and what I’ve no­ticed is how much more am­i­ca­bly Repub­li­cans and Democrats get along in per­son than on­line. The ha­tred exists chiefly among those who en­gage only from their key­boards — or are paid to keep the fires of out­rage stoked.

This is not a mushy call to bi­par­ti­san­ship or “work­ing to­gether.” Amer­i­cans hold real dif­fer­ences of opin­ion on the is­sues, and fight­ing for our views to win elec­tions and pol­icy de­bates is just as le­git­i­mate as last week­end’s strug­gle on the field. The red horde didn’t con­vert any Ir­ish fans to our dawgma, any more than we turned into Notre Dame fans. But I do think we’re killing our­selves by ac­tu­ally hat­ing each an­other, by writ­ing off any­one with a red MAGA hat as ir­re­deemably racist or safe-space­seek­ing stu­dents as hope­less snowflakes.

Above all, though, when the Notre Dame nation re­turns the trip and comes to Athens in 2019, let’s show them the hospi­tal­ity they show­ered on us. Like most Democrats, they’re not as bad as you’ve heard.

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