The Language of Packers Love: On Fandom and ‘Going Clear’

By Rob Casper

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Let’s consider the religion of football and its legion of zealots.

Adam, I think you make a good point in your post about those who commit heinous acts in the name of their religion. Which reminds me of the surprise I felt reading the epilogue of Going Clear. First there was Lawrence Wright’s takedown of Joseph Smith for The Book of Abraham, followed by arguments how Scientology resembles other religions new and old — for instance, the “clinging of absurd or disputed doctrines,” “alternative ways of healing” and attacks on “mainstream medical practices,” and “the practice of disconnection, or shunning.” Wright is probably the only writer to connect the Amish/Mennonites to David Koresh and the Branch Davidians. I find this line of thought/argument compelling, for the way it challenges the line between norms and transgressions.

coverI can’t help but extend Wright’s argument further, to include the religion of football and its legion of zealots. And why not turn to Scientology’s scapegoat, psychology, which Wright says “cannot honestly claim to be a science, either.” This article in The Seattle Times, at a time when the Seahawks were the dominant team in the NFL, seems to cover a lot of ground. It also includes this amazing quote: “Laundry matters to us quite profoundly. We get a ton out of it in ways that are deeply emotional.” An article on The Huffington Post, also featuring Seahawks fans, argues for the benefits of fandom in five points:

  1. Fandom gives you built-in community.
  2. The community, in turn, boosts your sense of well-being.
  3. Fandom gives us a common language.
  4. Fandom is a safe space.
  5. Sports fandom allows others to experience success.

I have to say, based on both Against Football and the comments of my fellow Football Book Club bloggers, number five seems like a stretch. And when I think about the Green Bay Packers, I think of success in terms of anxiety. This year’s Pack are — after week four, at least — at or near the top of the various power rankings, and Aaron Rogers keeps getting more and more hype. But there’s only one thing that matters…and, as I continue writing for Football Book Club, it’s: obsess over our chosen books, not the sports pages. Let that burning desire to win another Super Bowl, and increase our lead (over the Bears, no less!) as the NFL team with the most championships, burn out — before a rash of injuries, or bad plays, does its damage. And, most importantly, don’t forget about the real damage — hidden by helmets and time.

I didn’t do well this week with the above, though. My mom and stepdad, and my dad and his girlfriend, went on a double date to the Monday night game. That’s right, you heard me correctly! I admire my parents in many ways, and the way they have created a larger family by staying connected to each other is a big one. It seemed perfect that they went to see the Packers — makes me think of number one above, in the sense that Packers games are about celebrating a shared sense of identity, a history. We all speak the language of Packers love, the language of great victories and heartbreaks and downright ugly moments and moments of redemption, forgiveness (and I could just be talking about Brett Favre).

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My mom and stepdad, and my dad and his girlfriend, went on a double date to the Monday night game. That’s right, you heard me correctly!

Here’s another great thing about my parents: I talked to them both about Football Book Club and its larger point, and they were sympathetic. My dad even pointed me to an in-depth profile of former Wisconsin Badger Chris Borland, who retired after a successful rookie year playing with the 49ers (sorry Ryan!). My parents are still die-hard Packers fans, of course — and here’s something funny: on Monday night I really wanted the Packers to win, for them. I wanted to celebrate their enthusiasm for the sport, and their experience as a family, as they supported me in my newly open criticism of the sport’s dangers.

Image Credits: Flickr, Rob Casper.

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