This piece isn’t about my reaction to the alleged sexual assault (which is awful). This piece isn’t about my reaction to how the University has handled it (which is also awful). And this piece isn’t about my reaction to U of M football players boycotting team activities (I’ve experienced a range of emotions on that).
This is about my reaction to being a fan of this mess.
Information about this situation has come at us in varying ways at random times. It’s been long. It’s been drawn out. And it’s been a little bit of a roller-coaster. There have been moments of “ugh… again?” And there have been moments of “oh thank goodness it’s over.”
As I’ve considered the possible scenarios of what might come next, there are very real moments where the thought runs through my mind: “Can I keep doing this? Is this football team something that I want to continue to hitch my wagon to?”
Look, I have other hobbies. I have other interests. But the thing that has been most startling to me through this entire situation, and really through this entire season, is just how much of my life I have tied up in this football program.
From a sports standpoint, I don’t follow any other team or sport nearly as closely as this one. Don’t get me wrong, I watch Vikings games, I watch TWolves games, I watch Gopher basketball and hockey, and I dabble in Twins baseball. But I experience those teams when it’s convenient.
Gopher football isn’t a convenience for me. I never miss a Gopher football game, and if I do, it’s a major situation.
I’ve skipped the weddings of two of my wife’s friends to attend Gopher home games, and I’m currently in negotiations with a third couple who is threatening to have a wedding next fall. September 23rd would be best. I would also begrudgingly accept October 7th. Outside of those dates, all bets are off.
Once in awhile somebody will ask me why I cheer for the Gophers. Why do I care? It's hard to explain to people that in the same way you don't get to choose your family, I didn't choose this team.
You're born. You grow up. Your family is there. They are just there. They are a part of your life since before you even knew what your life was. They are there. They are part of it. That's Gopher football for me.
I’ve got family that is tied up in this football team and the team comes up in conversation at every gathering. One of my biggest wishes is for my uncle to see us play in a Rose Bowl in his lifetime. I think I'd be more happy for him than for me.
The friends that I speak to most often are people that I experience Gopher games with.
My mood shifts depending on what is going on with this team.
I legitimately cannot conceive of a life where this football team isn’t a massive part of how I go about it.
And then comes the guilt.
How can I care about a football team so much?
How can I put this much energy into something that is actually so meaningless?
Why am I completely open about the fact that I will cry my eyes out if the Gophers ever beat the Badgers again?
I heard economist Stephen Dubner say that he actually thinks it’s a GOOD thing that people get so caught up and emotionally invested in sports because as a society it may very well be keeping us from acting out in other ways that would be more problematic.
So that made me feel a little bit better for awhile.
But that was before this week happened. And now I’m questioning myself again.
Suddenly last week's angst of talking about whether or not our current football coach should still be our current football coach is akin to the memory of a warm, fuzzy blanket.
The reason I can’t think of my life without this team is because it’s not just about the team for me. I have trouble thinking of my life without this team because I have trouble thinking of a life without the people I interact with about and because of this team.
Gopher football is the thing we talk about. It’s the thing we have most in common. It’s the thing that we rally around and the thing that we commiserate over. It’s the thing that we get together for.
And in many cases, it’s the only reason we know each other.
Last night my wife and I had dinner and drinks with people who, quite literally, I would have no idea even existed if it weren’t for Gopher football.
During that dinner there was a brief discussion of what you would do with all of the time, energy and money if you weren’t spending it on Gopher football. In hindsight, that discussion ended abruptly. I’m not sure we had it in us to really consider that something like that could happen.
If something super drastic happens, and for some reason we are forced to have a life without Gopher football, I feel pretty confident that I’ll continue to be friends with these people. And of course, my family is always my family. They aren’t going anywhere.
I just don’t know what the hell we’ll talk about.