Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Sports Apathy in the City of Champions

My husband and I used to be fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers. We both grew up in Washington County (south of the 'Burgh). We made an annual pilgrimage to training camp in Latrobe. We waived a Terrible Towel. We knew most of the roster.

In March of 2005, we had a baby. By the 2005 football season, she was six months old. We put her in our living room and tried to watch the games. She did not like anything that distracted us from giving her our full attention.

The following year, she was walking. We had to blockade the TV so she couldn't turn it off. We tried desperately to entertain her in the living room. She wanted to go in the play room. Eventually, I gave up the games and interest in the Steelers faded. Family time became precious and we lacked the fortitude to force our daughter into fandom.

Wearing her first Steelers apparel. Not watching the game.

All these many years later, I can name only one current Steelers' player. Julia has a collection of Steelers' t-shirts because her school will have black and gold day almost every Friday in the fall. My Terrible Towel is on a shelf with a discolored commemorative bottle of Heinz ketchup that marked the day Heinz Field was supposed to hold its first game. After the NFL games were cancelled that weekend due to 9/11, new ketchup bottles were released with the correct date. Someday I'll take that ketchup bottle on Antiques Roadshow.

Hockey and baseball never captured my interest. I no longer own any black and gold clothing. Occasionally, I check to see if any of the sports teams are playing in town in an effort to avoid traffic.

Our anti-fandom caused us to feel quite out of place when we visited the Fort Pitt Museum of all places. Just one week after the Stanley Cup victory parade, we assembled in the lobby of the museum for a docent led tour. The docent appeared ten minutes before the scheduled meeting time. She was dressed like a giant Stanley Cup.

I'm exaggerating.

But this woman, bubbling charm and enthusiasm, was wearing a floor length black skirt, a black long-sleeved Penguins shirt adorned with wide diamond cuffs on both wrists, and a shiny silver wide-brimmed hat with a homemade Stanley Cup champion ornament glued to the top. She mentioned the Pittsburgh Penguins fifteen times while we waited and started her presentation with a survey.

"Who here is a fan of the Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins?" She bounced with each syllable. Most of the museum guests raised their hands.

"Who here is a Steeler fan?" More hands raised.

"Who is a Pittsburgh Pirate fan?" Now every hand had gone up except for our three. Why didn't we just lie?

The docent spun toward us and asked, "so where are you from?"

"We're from Pittsburgh," I said. "We just don't follow the sports ball."

"That's all right," she says. "We love you anyway!"

The Fort Pitt Museum tour included a long discussion of the city's three sports teams including the controversy surrounding the Penguins change from blue and white jerseys to black and gold in 1980. Eventually we determined that nothing really happened at Fort Pitt, but it's a great place to wander around before a Pirate game. That must have been what George Washington* had in mind.

The docent's enthusiasm might have spurred some return to interest sporting world. She was ecstatic for her team and the camaraderie and all, but I don't miss having my well being tied to the performance of a group of highly compensated sportsmen.

For all the talk of a shared pursuit that helps humanity put differences aside, there's a very dark undercurrent of despair. Especially for the Steeler fan. A local radio station used to call it "Steelers Schizophrenia." The mood in an office on Monday morning is directly related to the performance of the team on Sunday. I recall being in the dumps for weeks after the Steelers lost in the final minutes of an AFC Championship game against the Colts. Sure it's great when they win, but the losses are brutal.

That shared humanity is fickle too. When someone finds out I'm from Pittsburgh, they're afraid to tell me they're from Cleveland. Or Baltimore. Or Dallas. When did it become okay to have these built in rivalries that show us who to hate? I'm not even sure which cities the Penguins have issues with. Maybe all of Canada?

And so I persist in passive pride for our City of Champions. My happiness isn't tied to their victory. Game time gives us a fine window of people-free grocery shopping, park strolling, and any other activity that's not tied to a television. In this case, apathy is a good thing.

*George Washington visited but did not build Fort Pitt. I did pay attention on our tour!