It is said that there are two subjects about which one does not talk about–politics and religion–because they can cause such hostility among people, but we ought to add sports to this. Sports, and the sorts of teams that we support, are evidence of the sort of tribal identity that we have. By necessity, any tribal identity assumes that there are a great many other tribes in competition with it, sometimes even in hostility to it. By and large, I tend not to be bothered by the tribal identities of other people unless people are either insufferable braggarts about their own identities or their own teams or they are hostile to my own identity. Barring those two things, I am remarkably tolerant about the identities that others have when compared to mine, given the realization that such identities are necessary and diverse in nature.
But it so happens that a great many people are hostile to the identities of others and insufferable braggarts about their own identities. Sports is a notable place where different identities compete with each other and where victories can be celebrated and defeats can be chalked up to bad officiating or some sort of corruption. Sports, by their nature, tend to be competitive, and since sports are focused on provincial identities of some kind, be it nation or city or region, then that competition takes on a provincial tone. City and regional governments pay for stadiums and the supporting infrastructure of hotels and restaurants and convention centers and what not only partly for the hope of monetary gain, but even more so because of a desire for that city and that region to receive glory through the athletic success that a given team achieves. There are only so many playoff spots, only so many championships to be won, and those places must be gained at the expense of others. Most often, each individual game or match is a win-loss affair, although sometimes there can be ties, and at every point competition is involved with others who are at least temporary rivals and enemies for the same accomplishments.
All of this encourages a certain provincialism in the eyes of the people who support such teams. Fortunately, people can retain a sense of pride in the accomplishments of local teams for a long time. If one remembers glory days for a given team, glory can always be attained through remembering those days, even if the team has not been successful for a long time. And those who seek to attack others through making fun of their teams can expect hostility and perhaps even violence for attacking so strong a foundation of one’s own identity. Indeed, loyalty to one’s own team can lead one to have all sorts of hostility not only to rival teams, but even more serious regional divisions based on perceived biases against a given area. Certain regions of the country, like the West and Southeast, have particularly fierce thoughts about the biases held against them by other parts of the country and a tendency to lash out when their narratives of regional biases are questioned or attacked.
To what extent is it worthwhile to overcome these provincial identities. There are notable gains that one can have with regards to provincial identities. One can instantly have positive interactions with people if one can perceive a shared identity with them. By and large, anything that can serve us to connect us to others and others to us is something worth appreciating. Yet there is clearly a tendency for provincial identity to be carried to excess when it leads us not into connection with those of a shared identity but hostility to those of other identities. Even those who have no innate hostility against another’s different identity can be put off by the bumptious attitude of people of particular identities, and that is also a strong negative. How are we to avoid causing unnecessary offense to others who we might wish to befriend as part of larger coalitions? Avoiding offenses of this nature comes best when we remember that just as we have identities that we are deeply tied to, so do other people, and our desire for our own identities to be respected and at least tolerated indicates that we need to behave towards others in a reciprocal fashion. If we do not desire other people bragging about themselves at our expense, we can turn it around and behave less arrogantly in turn, recognizing that all people and all groups have things indeed to be proud about, and things about which they would prefer others not to harp on about either. As in so much else, a little bit of reflection, wisdom, and restraint go a long way.