What He Said

When it comes to dealing with tribalism, Windsor Mann says football is the answer:

As strange as this may sound, people become fans in order to become part of a tribe — each with its own customs, chants, costumes, and idiosyncrasies. America, like Iraq today or Scotland centuries ago, is still a tribal society, but a highly sophisticated one. Sectarian conflict still exists, but it is artificial and superficial and, thankfully, governed by officials. We no longer fight with weapons; now we fight with footballs. Instead of fighting to the death, we play until sudden death. Unlike our brethren in the Middle East, Americans have learned how to channel their tribal aggression. That channel is ESPN.

The beauty of team sports is that they allow us, as fans, to identify with a large group of people — mostly strangers — who partake in a common heritage, cheering on players we will never meet. In this way, being a fan is no different than being a tribesman. Singing the fight songs, donning the colors, and investing one’s time, money and emotion in a team’s success — these are the ways of the athletic clan.

When the teams represent significant blocs of society, sports can serve as a medium for enmity between rival factions within a country. More often than not, domestic obsession with team sports is a positive sign; it suggests that war-torn rivals have found a safe venue in which to settle the score.

It is worth noting that American football became popular in the late 19th century — after a war that had divided the nation against itself and pitted brother against brother. Writer Jim Weeks suggests that in those volatile postwar years, football emerged as a substitute for war. “In an era concerned with reviving the Civil War virtues of self-sacrifice, courage, discipline, teamwork and public spirit, football appeared to be the panacea.”

That the teams in the NFL and NCAA represent major cities or states shows how civilized and harmonious American society has become. Better for Carolina and New York to face off on the gridiron than in civil war.

As a born-into-it member of one of the fiercer tribes, and eager chronicler of the fiercest of the tribal wars, I’m left with little to add but, “Well, yeah!”


12 Responses to “What He Said”

  1. ed Says:


    Here are the two tribes from Sunday’s game.


  2. Kathy K Says:

    And as one who is little interested in either tribalism or sports (and thusly watches both from the outside), I’d like to second that:
    “Well, yeah!”

    I might add that Europe’s ‘football’ performs much the same function.

  3. nk Says:

    Eh? What did he say? I need two more whiskeys to understand him. Just kidding. I am already pretty sure that he had a hundred monkeys typing on a a hundred typewriters for a hundred days to produce this.

  4. Calvin Says:

    This isn’t about football. It is about the Muslims. I’m getting weary hearing the lefties rant about how we should try to understand people of persuasions different than ours. What I do want to know is why all those moderate law abiding decent citizen Muslims are being so damn quiet while the KILL-THE-INFIDELS-NOW-IN-THE-NAME-OF-ALLAH branch of the religion is raising all the hell nowadays. Why aren’t the moderates telling the militants to shut up already?

  5. Steve Skubinna Says:

    Because the moderates have been marginalized, Calvin. If not numerically, psychologically. A handful of extremely violent psychopaths can cow a much larger population. If estimates are accurate that that “only” ten to fifteen percent of the world’s Muslims are in agreement with the Islamists, that’s a big handful. People who aren’t interested in hacking off infidel heads are lilely to be silent if speaking up attracts attention from the head hackers.

  6. KG Says:

    Kinda explains LA/SF…

  7. pmfh Says:

    The legend of the “Steeler Nation” has been talked about overmuch lately, but it is in fact a real thing. The absolute best exposition of the phenomenon is probably Scott Paulsen’s Nation Building from just a few weeks ago. It’s a hyper-local diaspora, it’s a regional cult, it’s a hobby run amok. But it does do all those things. (Except for eliminating violence, in the Steelers/Browns rivalry…)

  8. Ardsgaine Says:


    I was born in AL to fervent Alabama fans. I grew up believing that Bear Bryant was God, and when I died I was going to Tuscaloosa. I don’t remember anyone ever suggesting that Pat Dye ought to be beheaded though. In fact, my parents always had a great deal of respect for Auburn, and seemed to enjoy the rivalry more when both teams were doing well and playing their best.

    Hell, my dad even likes Notre Dame.

    I think what he really likes, though, is the game itself and those players who play it well, regardless of which teams they are on. It’s a different way of enjoying the game that has nothing at all to do with tribalism. It’s not just a difference of degree with the Islamists, it’s a difference in kind.

  9. great unknown Says:

    Could it be that the underlying cause of the over-the-top hate-everything-American loony Left phenomenon is that they are not sports afficionados?

  10. pezanne Says:

    Good article explaining that as National Review Online stated, “Iraq needs the Super Bowl” or some such similar sporting venue in order to release their tribal hostile agressions.

  11. Jon Says:


    All I can say is War Damn Eagle!

    And to keep the wife happy Go Steelers!

    Auburn ’92

  12. Julie Says:

    Calvin, the moderates are speaking up. It even makes the news if you can find it between all the other bits.

    It’s sort of like trying to find good news about our efforts in Iraq. The reports are *there* but the media doesn’t emphasize them. The pictures that go with the story, even if it’s about voices of reason, are pictures of burning embassies.

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