Yesterday someone thought that they were going to provide a unifying sort of example when they said that at least America or the Twitterverse could agree that Atlanta was America’s team. I, of course, loathe the Atlanta Braves. It is one thing that they prevented the Pirates from having a couple of chances to win the World Series while doing absolutely nothing with their own chances those years, but there is a more fundamental reason why I intensely hate the Braves, even if they have not been as dominant in recent years as they were during the 1990’s in the NL East. And that reason is precisely because the Braves’ longtime owner Ted Turner advertised them starting in the 1970’s as America’s team. They are obviously not America’s team, since all but one of the teams currently in Major League Baseball (namely the Toronto Blue Jays) play in the United States of America. The Atlanta Braves are one of 29 American teams, all of which have their own regional base where they are most popular, and even if Atlanta’s regional base is larger than most, it is by no means a nationwide phenomenon.
It is not only the Brave’s that I hate because they are falsely labeled as America’s Team. The same is true of the Dallas Cowboys, who again are one of 32 teams that are in the United States of America and that have their own generally regional base of support. I am not aware of whether any teams in other leagues are called America’s Teams, but I would hate them on the same grounds merely for their presumption in assuming and being marketed as a national team when they were in fact a local team in a large group of other local teams. Indeed, the same general principle would be met if Azteca was called Mexico’s team or Manchester United was called England’s team or Celtic or Rangers (either of them) were called Scotland’s team and so on and so forth. The only teams that deserve to be called national teams of any kind are those which participate in international competition where they represent the best athletes of the nations as a whole. America’s summer or winter Olympics teams are America’s Team. America’s soccer or hockey or baseball teams in various international competitions are America’s teams. The Atlanta Braves and Dallas Cowboys are not America’s teams. Period.
Why does this matter? A great many people are simply uninterested in sports, and do not understand why it would be so contentious that some people would label themselves as America’s teams despite playing in leagues against dozens of other teams from the same country. The essential problem is: team sports are very tribal in nature. Think of them like competing local shrines in various polytheistic religious systems that struggle for dominance in a world where there is nonetheless a great deal of collegiality and attempts at enforcing equality via revenue transfers and luxury taxes that would be highly socialistic in any other realm. Professional sports are a protected realm where people are paid large amounts of money for a short term career of entertaining others and bringing pride to local areas. it is a world where there is an active interest in taking down dynasties that get too successful through the imposition of various limits on their actions where the economics of trying to keep superstars happy past their prime does not do the job well enough to begin with. It is this essentially competitive polytheism that makes spending money on sports teams as well as the devotion of large amounts of time and effort to promoting these games something of a religious phenomenon.
It should also be noted that there is a firm relationship between sports teams and various questions of identity as well. Having been born on the outskirts of Pittsburgh and still identifying with the region despite not having lived there much of my life, I tend to support Pittsburgh’s teams wherever I have lived, even if that can be rather unpopular in some places. In visiting other countries, I have found that the support of various teams has as lot to do with with ethnic and political identity. For example, to support Colo Colo in Chile is to make a statement that one supports the various native tribes like the Mapuche as opposed to the predominant mestizo and criollo culture that has long dominated the country. And there is a sense of comfort in traveling or moving different places and still being able to find people who support the same teams that one does. In quite a few places I have been known by the teams I support, be it USC at one of the restaurants I eat at weekly, or Steelers fan by someone who was an upset Seahawks fan in a particular situation. Nor is this an isolated experience. There is no sports team in a national league that can be considered a national league because in sports, as in everything else, we are divided people being pit against each other in the competitive desire for power and glory.