The Community Connection

Politics crossing line to become like sports


In my spare time I coach a youth running team. The boys on the team spend a lot of time talking while they are running together. While sports and video games come up most often, what has surprised me is how often the talk turns to politics, and how they engage in some (occasional­ly very enthusiast­ic) banter. These are third, fourth, and fifth graders.

It is great that they are growing up in families that are talking about politics and government. Nothing is more dangerous to our democracy than apathy, and bringing up a generation that is interested in and thinking about these topics is to our country’s benefit.

Since this is a running team and they talk about sports a lot the team shows how, as a culture, we tend to weave our favorite sports teams into the fabric of our own identities and often indoctrina­te our children at young ages. This can make sports more meaningful and more enjoyable (unless you are from Philadelph­ia, where it tends to make sports more heartbreak­ing).

Being a sports fan can lead to a certain inconseque­ntial bias, though. When the referee makes a call against our team the officiatin­g was bad, the referee was blind. When a call is made against the other team it is a sign of good officiatin­g and fair play. When a profession­al on another team commits a morally reprehensi­ble act — inside or outside the arena — we are quick to condemn, but when a profession­al on our team behaves as badly, we are quick to forgive.

This has been the cadence and temper of sports conversati­ons for generation­s. One thing I have noticed over the years coaching, though, is how these young students use the same kind of language to discuss sports that they use to discuss politics. It is not hard to see why they do so, even at such a young age. They are reflecting what they see from us adults and on television. We are as quick to draw lines, wave banners, and hurl insults over politics as sports.

If the Supreme Court rules against our party’s legislatio­n the officiatin­g was bad, the justices blind. When an investigat­ion is launched against the other party it is a sign of truth and justice. When a politician from the other party commits a morally reprehensi­ble act we are quick to condemn, but when an equally abhorrent candidate is lurking in our party we are quick to forgive, and rather than examining our conscience we rail that attacks on them are politicall­y motivated.

Research shows that the party affiliatio­n of parents has a very powerful impact on the future political affiliatio­n of their children, and that affiliatio­n tends to stick. There is also research that suggests that party affiliatio­n itself can help shape how we view issues, which can lead to an increasing­ly partisan worldview. The parties are every bit as entwined into our identities as the home team.

Sports have no consequenc­es, so being a superfan is fine for sports, but it is not at all fine for setting the course of our nation. The parties’ objectives have evolved over time to remain relevant and capture votes, but while what the parties stand for has changed dramatical­ly over the last few decades, our affiliatio­ns have been much slower to change.

That is what makes the small cracks in zealous party allegiance we have seen recently so notable. More than 20,000 Pennsylvan­ians have switched parties in the last few months — mostly away from the GOP. While this is a tiny fraction of all registered voters, it is an unusually large number of voters to be switching in such a short time.

Our approach to politics becoming more like our approach to sports has led us to a point where litmus tests are required to be considered part of the team, where a vote of conscience can be seen as betrayal, and where precious few are the swing votes who truly occupy the middle. Such a system is a zero-sum game with each side trying to eek out victories for their party rather than for America. While the free market of political ideologies exerts pressure on both parties to adapt with our society, it is down to the voters to look past the team name and place policy over partisansh­ip.

Will Wood is a small business owner, former Naval Intelligen­ce Officer, and a pretty decent running coach. He lives, works, and writes in West Chester, Pennsylvan­ia.

 ??  ?? Will Wood
Will Wood

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States