COLUMN: America, the Underdog

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As Americans prepare to celebrate the 237th anniversary of the ratification of the Declaration of Independence, I am somewhat reflective about who we are as a people and how we honor the memory of those who helped forge this nation, the greatest in the history of the world.

In the year 2013, it is easy to say that Americans are spoiled. Most of us, even those who would fit the criteria to be considered impoverished, have a standard of living far above most of the world’s population. We have freedom of thought. We have representative government. Despite the impediments that come before us, nearly all of us can thrive and flourish as far as talent, ambition and desire can take us.

America is where we all can succeed. As such, it is often said that Americans love a winner. And while I agree with that axiom, I find there is an unfortunate effect that comes with being in a country that values and exalts successful people.

America is a country of front runners.

For all the greatness that has come from this amazing country—a harbinger for hope and freedom—we tend to ignore and ridicule those who fail. Ineptitude, at least as it is seen through the American psyche, is a contagious disease. If you are near it, you can catch it. And if failure latches on to you, then it will afflict you forever.

As that theory prevails, it creates a culture of front running—the act of rooting for, admiring and professing allegiance to individual and groups that are highly successful, regardless if they are of strong character. And where does this credo of “winning is everything” most manifest itself in America? The world of sports.

I find America’s fanatical love of sports to be somewhat disturbing. I love sports. I obsess over baseball. I find the traditions and rituals of college football to be as aesthetically pleasing to the soul as a Beethoven piano sonata. And yet I am constantly reminded of people who love sports to the point that it negatively affects their personality.

For who? For what?

And the most smug of all of these sports fans are those who root for teams that win a lot. Somewhat understandable if you are from the area that the team calls home. For those who root for teams from areas that you do not call home—well, to be blunt, as human beings I think you suck.

When I was a kid growing up on the mean streets of South Philadelphia, it was easy to root for the home teams. All four major league sports teams were winners. The Eagles went to Super Bowl XV. The Phillies won the 1980 World Series. Life was good. Why would anyone from Philly root for a team from another city over “our guys”?

And yet, I knew many kids growing up who were Dallas Cowboys fans. It made no sense. Why are you rooting for the enemy?

Now that I’m older, I know the answer to that question. People root for winners that they have no regional identity with because they feel inferior.

To prove this theory, I point to my current home of Utah. Here in the Beehive State, we have one major professional sports team, the NBA’s Jazz. But, on average, I see just as many kids wearing gear from the Los Angeles Lakers or the Miami Heat than the Jazz.

Utah should embrace their one link to big time sports—-and they do not. Of course, the Jazz currently are not very good. And that is where my theory flourishes into vivid reality.

If people already have an inferiority complex about living in Utah, rooting for the Jazz makes that sad feeling exponentially worse. If you root for the Lakers or Heat, you can have a false sense of confidence.

And the parents of young kids that root for these teams? They condone and encourage it because they also need to take a shortcut to being identified with a winner. I really do believe anyone in Utah who lets their kid root for a team that wins that is outside Utah without any link to that team has serious character issues.

You do not adopt winning. You earn it. That is what we celebrate on the 4th of July. To the cynic, all the Founding Fathers were was a group of rich, white guys who did not like England taxing them. True enough. But think about what England was back then—the strongest military and economic force on the planet.

And yet, the Founders committed treason by declaring themselves free from the reign of King George III. With no navy, a rabble of a militia and 13 colonies spread out over a large area of land, each with their own agenda, a nation was formed in the face of the most formidable odds imaginable.

How many of the Signers would have rooted for the New York Yankees, or the Miami Heat?

Front running is un-American. Rooting for winners because you do not have the fortitude or confidence to stay loyal to the home team spits on the memory of those who did the heavy lifting.

If you really wish to feel the patriotic Spirit of ‘76 that turned an unorganized rabble into the greatest nation on Earth, find a team in your favorite sport that has had their heads kicked in the past few years and start rooting for them.

Proclaim your allegiance to this lost cause, just like our Founding Fathers committed to independence from a tyrannical ruler, and fly their flag proudly above your front door.

In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson wrote, “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”

Those are the words of an underdog fighting against a mighty dynasty. Every time someone puts on a Miami Heat shirt or a New York Yankees cap, the American dream dies a little.