The Myth Of America's TeamS

What is America's team? Does a team that symbolizes blue collar struggle or no-frills democracy best define our nation? Or is it the wealthiest team with the biggest stadium in the biggest state? Or is it possible that this is all bullshit?

Over on ESPN yesterday, there was an image of Uncle Sam (or maybe Mark Twain) in a Cheesehead and wearing a Steelers jersey. He has a Cowboys star painted on his face, and he's standing before an American flag backdrop. The confused Uncle Sam is pointing at you. He wants to know what team you, good American, believe to be the most America's-teamy team in the NFL. And he wants it to fit neatly into one of three categories that will more or less determine your value system.

Gene Wojciechowski says it's the Packers
, because it is owned by the people (like a democracy!) because it's been around for a long time (like our country!) and because, with no cheerleaders and no giant HD televisions at its "perfect" and "unpretentious" stadium, it is rather sans-frill oldschool. Tim MacMahon would counter, however, that the Cowboys are more Amurrican precisely because they pioneered the use of ladies dancing with pom-poms, and because they have two 60-yard HD television screens in their $1.3 billion stadium. See what he did there? He discards the oldschool chaste American argument for the argument that newschool indulgent America is, in fact, more genuinely American!

So if you're keeping score (and if you're a real American, you're definitely keeping score), then there's really only one more American stereotype to work with. We've got the reasonable Midwest folk, set in their ways and their economies, and the thriving Sun Belt millionaire club, content in their oil-rich Texas McMansions. There is only one piece of the American city puzzle missing, and it is Pittsburgh: the blue-collar post-industrial Rust Belt city that is, according to Chad Millman, still "choked" with coal-dust. I mean, it is perfect. I could have written a killer midterm paper for this in my Intro to Urban Studies class a few years back. Richard Florida would be so thrilled.

The idea, though, that a single city and its football team can fill in for every kind of American, needs — to borrow from Millman — "to be destroyed and humiliated, as the Steelers have done to opponents for the past four decades." It's just an unfair pressure to put on a group of 45 random men who happen to wear certain colors and happen to rent luxury apartments in the suburbs of a city with a historical context that usually has nothing to do with its professional sports team.

But it makes for a nice point-counterpoint-countercounterpoint, doesn't it? In his closing, Millman rejects both Wojciechowski's and MacMahon's arguments, explaining, quite elegantly:

As fans we may appreciate the Packers' small-town narrative; we may aspire to live as large and be as brash as the Cowboys; but we are all the Steelers. A ragtag bunch of misfits, underestimated yet undeterred, born in the foundries and rising to the highest peaks.

Ragtag misfits, sure. I've heard that one before. But I don't know anyone who was born in a foundry, and peaks-as-metaphor is almost as played out as the melting-pot-as-metaphor, anyway. Perhaps the more accurate generalization we can use our nation's football teams for is the racial context we all tiptoe around and ignore. In all three of the arguments for America's Team, race isn't mentioned once. There's no simple nod to the fact that "America" generally means a white, passive crowd and "team" generally stands for mostly nonwhite people who are doing their jobs on the field — jobs they would do on any field in any city.

America is, after all, a country with a sports culture that has long earned the reputation for fostering a "plantation mentality." I know that doesn't make for nice metaphors or Uncle Sam caricatures, but the historical image of the white people watching the black people work is a real shared bond (from the Sun Belt to the Rust Belt to the Bible Belt) that we should all make an effort to admit to.

And I mean that in the best, most American way possible.

Steelers are America's real team [ESPN]
Why Green Bay is 'America's Team [ESPN]
Cowboys still own 'America's Team' title [ESPN]