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Indeed, the heavyweight champs of using sports to score cheap partisan points may well have been Ethel and Julius Rosenberg who, while awaiting their execution for atomic espionage in 1953, still found time to share jailhouse thoughts about the Brooklyn Dodgers. "It is the Dodgers' unconquerable spirit which makes people love them," Ethel wrote to her husband at one point in letters they knew would be published. "The victory of the Dodgers over the Phillies quickly restored me to my customary good spirits." As the great literary and cultural critic Leslie Fiedler observed caustically, such a transparently stagey and ham-handed gesture shifts us "from melodrama to comedy." That the comedy is unintended is besides the point, as was Ethel’s grasp of the proletariat pecking order of the Senior Circuit. If there was a team more worthy of working-man, hang-dog solidarity than the Bums, it was surely the hapless Phils who, despite their recent success, own the world record for total losses in any league of any sport.
But at least Ethel Rosenberg could plead distraction due to a date with the electric chair. In 2000, when the loathsome Yankees squared off against the equally rancid Mets in the World Series, conservative scribe Peggy Noonan unconsciously channeled Mrs. Rosenberg and actually wrote:
The Mets, my Metties, are the team of square, flat Long Island and the striving unchic boroughs—the team of the middle and working class... In a country in which status is everything, the Mets are the team of the nobodies. They are the team of those lacking in status, the ones with no special claims, the people who’ll never be in style. God bless all Met fans, a hardy crew that don’t give a damn....
Such a characterization isn’t simply wrong (though it is that). It blasts common-sense out of the park like a Dave Kingman moon shot circa 1976. As a kid growing up in New Jersey and in a National League household (like the Rosenbergs, my father had been a Brooklyn diehard growing up, though he never once pondered whether Carl Furillo or Cookie Lavagetto supported the Taft-Hartley Act), I saw my first two dozen ball games in the late, unlamented Shea Stadium. And I lived in Queens when the Mets beat the Boston Red Sox in the 1986 World Series, so I have some familiarity both with certifiably obnoxious Mets rosters over the years and, worse, their even more obnoxious fans. Mets fans may never have style, but they have long believed themselves to be a chosen people, an arrogance that even Gary Carter’s poodle haircut, Lenny Dykstra’s rotting teeth, or the Jim Fregosi trade can diminish.
None of this is to say that politics and sports don’t overlap in profound and typically stupid ways. The modern Olympics were political from their start, conceived by a Frenchman as a means to avenge defeat in the Franco-Prussian War; later, they became one of the great Cold War proxy battles, spurring personal and taxpayer sacrifice in pursuit of international bragging rights in shot-putting, race walking, and team-pursuit bicycle racing. Baseball, America’s supposed pastime, translated the nation’s original sin of slavery into sport by banning blacks from competing for decades; the rigged and near-absolute control of team owners over players in baseball provided management with government-sanctioned power that Andrew Carnegie could only have dreamed of. The Edifice Complex subsidies that build stadiums everywhere and by every level of government are first and foremost political issues.
But discussing any of that is as distinct from anointing this or that game as truly conservative or liberal or libertarian or whatever as soccer is distinct from synchronized swimming. As the Super Bowl beckons, word comes that Gisele Bundchen, the supermodel wife of Patriots QB Tom Brady, has conscripted her friends and family via email to beg God to suit up for New England on Sunday. Mrs. Brady wrote:
Pray for [Tom], so he can feel confident, healthy and strong. Envision him happy and fulfilled experiencing with his team a victory this sunday.
Given how beautiful and rich and successful Brady and Bundchen already are, even atheists would be forgiven for asking whatever gods still exist to let the Giants win (even if it means giving yet another triumph to a New York team and another ring on the fingers of the lantern-jawed Manning Brothers, themselves annoyingly successful). But however distasteful Bundchen's special pleading may be—the New York Post called her email campaign "disgustingly sappy"—at least she doesn't mix politics and sport in the way that so many others do.
We politicize just about everything these days, which is surely one of the reasons why there is so little joy in Mudville and even why the housing market first inflated and then popped. Surely, we can get by in our leisure time without reflexively mapping our preferred sports to our preferred ideology. Soccer had no inherent ideology when meatheads were denouncing it as gay or communistic and MMA is not any more conservative than NASCAR isn't. If that small truth gets in the way of whiling away the weekends, well, maybe you're not half the fan you think you are.
Nick Gillespie is editor in chief of Reason.com and Reason.tv and co-author with Matt Welch of The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What's Wrong With America. He hopes both teams lose in the Super Bowl.