I’m a Patriots fan

It’s only football, only a game.

That’s true, and so of course there’s all kinds of “game” behavior.

And I’m fine with games, fine with competition and showing provincial pride and chest-thumping.  Roaring when your team scores.  High fiving your fellow fans.  All that.

That’s the way it’s always been. It’s what winning and losing in sports is, what you do and how you do it.

Of course it’s childish and silly and just for fun.

And so there are fans, those who root for the team from their place, their city and region.

They dress up in the colors of their teams, wear jerseys with numbers and names on them.

And go out and yell and get rowdy.

And it also happens that some go overboard and get arrested, some even killed because of being too dumb or rooting too hard, however you’d describe it.  For most people it’s an arguably good way to let of steam.

My region is New England. That’s where I live.

I grew up without a team from my area, so I rooted for the Giants.

Y. A. Tittle.  My first NFL quarterback.

I remember the shock of seeing him without his helmet for the first time – the guy was BALD!!

But that’s ok, they were my team before they were called the G-men.

I still like them.

The Patriots? Well, they were mostly an embarrassment in the early years.  The 40 early years. They had their moments, but that’s what they were – moments. Nothing consistent. Nothing that went on for any amount of time.

One of the die hard fans with some money bought the team.  Robert Kraft, you may have heard of him.

And he brought in Bill Parcels came to coach the Patriots. He was tough, and they got tough.

To beat.

Disciplined. Strategic. Tough.

I don’t know if anyone knew back then the contribution to those teams that his defensive coordinator made.

But I’m pretty sure Robert Kraft did. That’s why he went after Bill Belichick when he could. And got him.

They drafted Drew Bledsoe for quarterback. Couldn’t do much but throw. But he was fun to watch when he did that.

As most football fans know, Bledsoe got injured in a game against the New York Jets.

Football’s a tough game. People get hurt. Some find that so objectionable they diss the whole sport. That’s fine if they want to be that way. As the saying goes injuries are part of the game. They’re part of every active sport really. But football has people smashing into each other. Oh, they have pads. But they still get hurt, sometimes really badly.

Some people take that injuring part of the game into their rooting. Under Sean Payton, the Saints even paid a bounty for their team to injure the opposition. Anything to win.

When Bledsoe went down, Tom Brady stepped up.  “Tom who?” we said.

He was handsome, and really, really good.  Not a scrambler but a great in-the-pocket passer.

Honestly, I’d say New England fans were surprised by how well the team did, and has done, with him as quarterback.

And he married a supermodel and now they’re worth a gajillion dollars, to round up.

Now sport is analog. It’s life in a microcosm. Our team’s struggle is our struggle – in life.  They win our victories and lose our defeats. That’s why people watch it. That’s why they get so involved.  Non-sports fans or critics of sport really don’t understand that.  Or its benefit that way.

The Patriots did and have done so well for so long that the resentment has grown so much that it’s full-fledged hatred. No one wants to lose that much. And anyone who wins that much must be doing something illegal. Life can’t be that unfair. The analog takes on a new passion.

And so there was Spygate. Belichick’s minion(s) looking at the signals of their foes.

Now we know how they do it! They cheat! They’ve cheated all along. We knew it!!

There was no living it down either. Every success – and there has been little else than success – falls under the pall of that event.

There is no repenting, no saying you’re sorry, paying your fine and moving on.

No. If you win after that, you must be winning because of that.  Or something like that.

I wanted to write this before Superbowl 49 is played. I did not want to know its outcome as I wrote down these feelings.

The Patriots have been accused now of deflating footballs in the AFC championship game. Like Spygate, their attackers say it was a deliberate act to gain competitive advantage.

It has dominated – not just been a part of – DOMINATED – sports news for over a week.

Their honest proclamations of innocence have been mocked and derided. They’ve been called liars and cheats.

I also wanted to write this before I knew the outcome of that investigation.

Because I’m a Patriots fan. I live in Massachusetts. Most people here are Patriots fans, just like most people living in Indiana are Colts fans, most people in Colorado are Broncos fans, etc.

And you know what? I like those teams. They’re not the enemy. And when they beat the Patriots it’s because they played better football. I like football. It’s fun to watch.

So at the point of the season when a team has achieved major success, has won a bunch of football games and captured their conference title and is heading to the Superbowl, they’re supposed to be celebrated, admired and held in high esteem. It’s part of the analog.

But instead, my Patriots have been maligned, accused and humiliated by people with great word skills. Great acting skills and speaking skills.

They’re supposed to be ashamed of winning because, after all, they cheated.

At this point, I almost don’t care if they did. Almost. It matters greatly that they did or didn’t.  If they’re bold-face lying like they’re portrayed to be then I think that owner who bought the team when it was miserable will do some things.  With resolve, because that’s who he is.

But what matters more is the rush to judgment, the presumption of guilt and outright ridicule of a championship team.

The Patriots aren’t the ones to be ashamed of that.

I think I do understand the pent up anger when a team keeps winning as they have – against your team that keeps losing.  Patriot fans had 40 years of that.  Losing to teams like the Dolphins and the Bills.  Great teams that I loved to watch (Larry Csonka!).

I’ve even read some fans say that Patriot fans would do the same if it was another team that cheated. But other teams have cheated and it hasn’t happened.

I do know that I’ve never seen this level of vitriol, this kind of poison in the air. Not in the analog, game world of sports fandom.

And I’ll call it sick without reservation. It would be sick if I was doing it. It’s sick when others do it.

As fan behavior, what it’s really saying is that the people who are calling the Patriots cheaters have a difficult time achieving in life without cheating.

The Patriots aren’t saints. They’re football players. Really good ones.

And Belichick is a phenomenal coach. This doesn’t exonerate him from what happened at Spygate. But he was fined, and paid it. And then kept winning. And winning against everyone.

See, part of the reason for their success – and if this is cheating then I want to be a cheater in the worst way – is the ability tune out the outside world and focus on the job at hand.  And do it.  Really, really well.  There’s that analog again; it’s why we Patriots love that team.

And if I was a betting man – and I’m not – I would say this whole thing will galvanize the team to win Superbowl 49 convincingly.

Of course, those who hate them will put an asterisk next to anything they do forever, but in so doing they put an asterisk next to their own lives. There’s a pride that they’re trying to recover through juvenile tactics. From grade school I remember if there was someone the kids didn’t like, they made up stories about them. Bad ones. Stories that got them in trouble.

There’s really only one word for that: malice. And though it takes time, it hurts those who practice it worse than their victims.

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Of Tyrants and Thieves – Part 2

I need to pop Robin Hood’s balloon here. I like Little John and Friar Tuck. They’re great guys to have on your team.

And in the face of real oppression, the team is well-formed, -purposed and -led. But it’s only a story. Because

  1. Rich people can be very good people with vital talents. I mean they can be charitable and generous.  And if they lack those attributes then they are at least “good with money”.  Their profits are revenues that someone else once had, but so are monies that go to charity and welfare.  The thing is, they understand a good investment. And a bad one. They tend to be smart and creative. They are good strategists and tacticians.

  2. Poor people can be very bad people. Regardless of income, they can be just as greedy and oppressive as those “over them” in authority and resource. Despite romanticizing Robin Hood, thieves are generally not heroes. They are thieves. In practice, they steal from their own more than from the wealthy.

Now this is no defense or advocacy of leaving the poor impoverished. Poverty is a terrible problem; an ancient scourge on humanity. And its persistence across the generations humbles all who would hope to address it. As Jesus said, referring to the objection of some to a poor woman pouring expensive perfume over him:

Matthew 26:11 The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me.

But the Robin Hood solution will not work. As I wrote above, it’s a lousy projection – the patterns are contrived.  Also, the poor in Nottingham remained poor even after Robin had returned their money. Because that’s often (not always) what happens when poor people – really almost any people – get one-time deposits of money.

So these are brief principles to move towards more effectively fixing things. They have implied action in public policy and yes .. political action. I won’t engage in the nasty banter of the latter here.  Just posit some ideas.

  • Help the wealthy own the problem. I did not say “Make” but “Help”. As in provide an incentive for. The opposite of greed is not deprivation but generosity. One thing we can “make” is to make generosity attractive and in vogue. That would help these best-in-the world problem solvers and investors find ways of developing the human potential of poor people. The trouble is that the rich are not trusted to do anything but make themselves richer. That’s a mistake and a misjudgment. Bill Gates is a good example. He will always be rich, and he stands to gain from some of his investments in human capital. But so what? The guy is trying to cure malaria. Let taxes be paid by hiring and training the jobless. And by investing in civic and human infrastructure in poor communities. Borrow from the Incan mita system, allowing taxes to be paid via service. It can be done; we just have to want to do it. And stop the worthless class warfare.

  • Change entitlements. I did not say “Eliminate”. The poor need help, but Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty made poverty worse, the jury is in. Avoid the right’s equation of all aid being handouts (= irresponsibility). But also the left’s sacred cow of assuaging guilt by spending money. Neither is helpful. Aid needs accountable focus.  The physical operation of the system is archaic.  Waste and fraud need elimination by doing away with paper transfers like stamps and physical vouchers. A single card could be used to provide benefits, say. Tracking and strongly encouraging/promoting life-progress should be a component of any benefit provided. People who can work must work. Slant towards making benefits conditional using the strategic like education and job-skill attainment. Of course there are people who do and can not progress, but that is a particular class of benefit. Clean up and streamline government agencies administering such benefits. Open up competition to such agencies in the private (or faith) sector, if necessary, to make them efficient and diligent where need be. Some of this has been and is being done; do it all the more.

  • Let Friar Tuck help. Bar none, the most efficient and effective charities are both faith-based and Christian. I make no apologies for the plug. And I advance the conviction that “faith-based” is neither a negative term nor one laden with any toxicity. The Salvation Army already receives government funding, for example and they preach the gospel. Values-based exclusion of the contribution of faith groups to helping the poor is ignorant. It shows the projection of other stories (than Robin Hood) onto the landscape. Inaccurate and unfair. And values are ALWAYS being advanced when aid is given; it’s only a matter of whose.  Indeed, Robin Hood was a friend of Friar Tuck for a reason – it even legitimized his work.

  • Involve the people. I mean all the people, not just those in “government”. Class-ism is as bad or worse a problem as poverty, since it destroys a nation. Anti-immigrant people need to know an immigrant family. Anti-poor need to know one that’s impoverished. Anti-rich need to have spend time with those who own yachts (plural) without money on the conversation agenda.

Sherwood Forest is pretty but not a good place to stay warm and dry. And though we may find evil tyrants and heroic thieves, there’s a whole lot more people who really care out there.

I don’t just believe that, I’ve seen it. Psalm 112 is recommended reading.

Of Tyrants and Thieves – Part 1

The rich history of the legend of Robin Hood is a study in itself. Legend has its foundation in history. And in historical pattern.

So there was, in this story, a tyrant, King John, the evil brother of good King Richard who was away His minion, the Sheriff of Nottingham, exacted taxes for the royal coffers that financially crushed those who were already poor. Robin Hood righteously rebelled against the Sheriff and King John. He organized a group of colorful, wonderful followers who lived in the woods and raided (stole from) the royal treasury anyway they could. They returned the money to the poor. Robin fell in love with a lady of high social standing, Marian. She secretly helped Robin in his just endeavors. Eventually, King Richard returned and justice was restored to England.

It is the pattern of this story that I want to look at in this post. Its archetypes and rehearsed morality. And there are basically two active character types here.

  1. Tyrants – King John has all the goods he needs. Yet he is greedy and wants still more. In his merciless oppression, he forcefully takes from those who can least afford to give. People hate him, except for those in his employ. Those people enforce his rule by violent and ruthless means, because they stand to gain from its bounty. Or they are afraid to cross the king, and that is an important distinction.

  2. Thieves – Given the oppression, stealing is believed to be a righteous act. Robin Hood is a hero as he leads a band of rebels to recover what was stolen by the tyrant. In many accounts, his means of seizing the tax revenues are ingenious and humorous and non-deadly. He’s a good thief, even to the point of enlisting the blessing of the only cleric in the story, the lovable Friar Tuck.

While this is hardly the only story in Western Civilization with these themes and archetypes, it is a prominent one. And I’d say some in the culture repeatedly go to some lengths to project it onto the modern landscape.

Here’s what I mean – I hold these to be provably false:

a. All rich people are evil tyrants. If someone 1) makes a wage above a certain level, or 2) has property above a certain threshold, it’s because that person is greedy and selfish. Any effort to protect wealth is further evidence of these attributes. Everything such a person does is tainted by his/her having too much. Even world-changing charity.

b. All poor people are noble victims. Every crime committed, every dysfunctional aspect of life is caused by deprivation of the goods it takes to live well. Therefore supplying those goods will make the problem of poverty go away. All poor people would be happy and will be happy with more money.

Maybe you look at those and completely agree with them. Maybe you scoff at it and say “who believes that?” Or maybe you’re somewhere in the middle.

To be sure there is a Biblical proverb that covers the sentiment that lionizes Robin Hood:

Proverbs 6:30-31 Men do not despise a thief if he steals to satisfy his hunger when he is starving. Yet if he is caught, he must pay sevenfold, though it costs him all the wealth of his house.

In other words, a thief is a thief. He has broken the law. But isn’t this “good stealing”? After all, isn’t Robin Hood just doing God’s work?

Psalm 35:10 My whole being will exclaim “Who is like you, O LORD? You rescue the poor from those too strong for them, the poor and needy from those who rob them.”

Yes, and a tyrant is a tyrant. That person has also broken God’s law of love when it was in his/her power to be generous and supportive.

To be sure, there is justice here. And recompense. It can be said at some level that God used Robin Hood.

The trouble happens when people fall too much in love with the pattern of the story. When we superimpose it onto every instance of rich and poor we find.

More on that in part 2.