Super Bowl Showdown: Family, Feminism, and Football’s History

Side note: Welcome to my mind. It wanders. This was written during the Super Bowl. I went from family to football to racism in football to coaches to female celebrities to objectification to communication strategies to somehow, maybe (?) tying it all together. But, I did this essay today! Mission accomplished. Day 2 done. Enjoy the crazy musings of my mind AND some great articles about the history of football. Also, because football, in English, is about FEET, and it makes me laugh to hear Spanish speakers say “Fútbol Americano” because yes, fútbol, or soccer, is the real foot sport, I’ve put my feet here. In cat socks. Meow On.

Today has been a day of three unanticipated themes: family connection, celebration of the female force, and belonging. It started with grand intentions: a day of self love: small tasks, my thirty day yoga challenge, farmers market shopping, buying a tincture of mushrooms, cleaning up the dishes, care taking the cats I’m watching right now (and hopefully getting to pet one for longer than a minute) and then, everything shifted. BAM! I was NEEDED!

Family Love, Bro

My little brother lovingly called me and asked if I could come pick him and his girlfriend up in Phoenix, two hours away from Tucson. I sat with it a split second, contemplating how much I wanted to have my self-time, and yet, at the same time, I realized that if the situation were reversed, I would so hope my sibling would come get me even if it was two hours away. That is, after all, what I hope family means in my life, but a hope is very different than an action. That is a constant reminder. When someone asks me what I value, family usually ranks toward the top of my list. But what does the action behind this value actually entail? For me, it means calling siblings and parents, helping when your mother when she needs you, hiking with your father, treating friends like family, and, in this case, it means picking up your sibling if they need you. Mission accomplished, with some highway jams and good convo. Flash forward six hours.

Super Bowl Sunday! AGH!

My family is celebrating the Super Bowl…right now. I am sitting here typing this as we watch The Chiefs play. The Chiefs are part of the Lewis-Gage bloodline, the legacy of my mother and my Kansas City roots. It is the team that my grandmother worshipped so dearly, along with her mother, along with all of my cousins who I’m sure are cheering madly. Right now, we are fighting in the face of possible doom. Interceptions and famous twenty-four-year olds, angry finger pointing of coaches, shiny white, gold and red, commercials of wiggling mustaches and stories to appeal to the heart in thirty seconds. When I was in the farmers market today speaking with a friend, he warned me to be careful driving up to Phoenix today.

“Super Bowl Sunday. There’s some crazy energy in the air. Aggressive.”

I don’t believe that football is the best use of my time right now, but I do believe that being with my family is pretty important, and so, I am here and not here, laughing and participating, but also doing it in my own way. I suppose this is what it means to grow up a little bit, to see how belonging does not mean doing the same thing as, but rather, being with, and trying to be present (not something I’m actually doing right now but let’s face it, they’re in the world of “Running at the 20, made by Richard Sherman, welcome back to the broadcast, this game is far from over, history should tell us…” )

Hips Don’t Lie…Or Do They?

Something that I did love, however, was both the show of and commentary around the Halftime Show. Shakira and J.Lo were the stars, and Jay-Z helped produce the show. A married duo helped with the production and planning, and another female choreographer guided J.Lo’s set. As we were watching, my parents wanted to know what I thought — the dancing, the outfits, the sexuality of it all made them just a pinccch uncomfortable. My dad conveniently kept stepping outside, kindly grilling some veggies for me so I’d have something to eat other than the hot dogs. So, what do I think about 43-year-old and 50-year-old Latina women dancing, celebrating, and dominating the stage?

I thought it was beautiful, and sexy, and not objectifying, as my dad wondered: “What does this mean about how women are viewed?” I love that he asked the question, and I also think it’s different when women are in charge of the image they create. Shakira, and J.Lo seemed very much in charge of the image they wanted to send out to the world. Shakira appeared in her natural flow, enjoying every second of the performance, rocking shiny gold shoes, smiling and shaking her body in a way that took me back to sorority girl days when friends and I would attempt to mimic the She Wolf dance moves. And J.Lo was pole dancing in front of millions of people! That is amazing. Part of their dominance is that they have both been titans in this industry for decades, and that staying power is worth admiring, celebrating, and, at times, questioning.

Go Coaches!

Side note: Just seeing Katie Sowers as a coach — “not trying to be the best female coach, but trying to be the best coach”– is important. And I’m glad that I’m watching the Super Bowl right now for that. Ok, back to thoughts on the Halftime Show.

What Even Is Football?

And yet…before I say that I believe the Halftime Show was total perfection, but I don’t think it was, I’m curious about what happened behind the scenes…how much control did these two performers actually have in all aspects of the show? The Super Bowl is, of course, the greatest symbol of The Man, of consumerism and capitalism at its utmost, at using the health and physical strength of men to entertain, to inspire, to create a sense of community. The Super Bowl is, for many, patriotism — a great unifier of people who can come together around a city, a quarterback, a defensive lineman, a rookie of the year — and yet, there is so much pain, injury, insanity in this sport.

From a mental health perspective, it scares me to see all of the damage that can be caused to players. From a racial perspective, while athletics can be an equalizer in some aspects of monetary and social power, I fear that sports like football still typecast POC* and, specifically, African American men, as skilled in just one arena–sports– rather than the all-encompassing, complex, talented individuals they, like everyone else, are. Movies like the Blind Side show how race and white saviourism are constantly intertwined in football, seeing the character Michael Oher as special only because of his ability to play a game.

From the perspective of this country, I didn’t even know the history of indigenous men in football until I listened to a RadioLab podcast about the Carlisle School . The school itself has its own deep history, like many of the Indian schools, that requires lifelong learning. Even the name The Chiefs…how it was picked is its own story worth reading. The logo is an arrowhead, and the tomahawk chop is used by fans even though it’s been called offensive by Native peoples. In pictures of games, many fans wear headdresses and paint their faces red! All of these reasons make me pause when contributing my viewing choice, my economic power, so to speak, to the massive amount of people watching football. Ok. So. Clearly I have a complicated relationship with this sport, even though most of my family members love it, and I love them. And so I return to the Half Time show, what got me in the first place.

Shakira and J.Lo: In Control?

Shakira and J.Lo knew they’d be watched by millions and millions, the first joint Latina team to hold the stage in Super Bowl history. But, even after feeling the power of their performance, of dancing around the kitchen and singing songs I haven’t sung in ages, I wonder about what was happening behind the scenes. Just like with football, what is the story behind the story? How much of their act did they plan? Did they still feel objectified? Did they feel the pressure to use their bodies to impress, to uphold an image that maybe they didn’t feel as comfortable with? I can never know this, not entirely. As a viewer, I can only see and think through my own lens, a lens of my upbringing. I want to see two women who seem to have had a say in how they performed: in their clothing, in the movement of their bodies, in the celebration of their culture.

It makes me think about how there’s often no alternative, especially if you’re that famous– you step into the spotlight, and do the best you can, and know that it won’t be enough for everyone, so you try to stay true to yourself. I was reading how Jay-Z used that same framework to explain why he’s working with the NFL even though he detested how they treated Colin Kaepernick and the movement to kneel during the national anthem. He said he would work with the NFL because he wants to change it from within. It made me think about something I learned two weeks ago in my NVC (nonviolent communication) workshop.

Football is Like Communication: Do It with People who are Your Enemy

One of our trainers was a black therapist, woman, mother, teacher, writer, and listener. She said that some of the most challenging part of this work — learning how to empathize with others and understand their needs, especially the needs that are not being met — is how to do it with people who are so very far different from you. It is easy when you’re with folks who want to sit and practice empathy, but what does it mean to practice empathy, to sit and deeply listen, to be present with someone, who believes something fundamentally different than what you believe? For her, she posed the question to us — what would it mean for her to go to a KKK meeting, to sit there and practice empathizing with people who plan and plot for the subjugation of her race? She says that is, in a way, the ultimate aspiration- to sit with those who are the other extreme of you. It could be the Trumps if you’re a Bernie supporter, the white supremacists if you’re a POC or ally, the rapists if you’re pretty much anyone–the ones whom you think you cannot possibly understand, from whatever your point of view is. Can you sit with them, and try to understand that they, too, are crying out from a place of deep need?

Hmm…Actual Life Lessons in Football?

This, connecting with folks across differences, is not easy. This is not always safe. This is not comfortable. Doing this breaks down the mold of so much that we are taught, and sold, in this country — us vs. them, right vs. wrong, you vs. me. A sense of us, and other. And yet, to change things, in the slow, relationship-based way that change happens, takes immense courage and takes commitment to people. Like Jay-Z wanting to be part of the production of the Super Bowl, like Shakira and J.Lo using their power, voices, bodies, strength to inspire women and rewrite a narrative of objectification. It is important to be in the middle of things, to put yourself out there, to be in the thick of it. Football, I suppose, could be seen like that — bringing people of such differences together to cheer for a common goal, a vision, a unifier, a representation of pride in one’s city, and therefore, perhaps, oneself? I don’t know. I can’t figure all the things I dislike about it (see above) and yet, I may be a little too happy watching this because the last touchdown of the Chiefs just happened and my whole family just burst in cheers!

Go Chiefs!? (What? Did I Just Say That?)

So I’m in room my mother decorated red (including a red hand-knitted sweater that my grandmother made) and my brother and his girlfriend, my mom and dad, even, perhaps, our dog, are all cheering and giving me air high-fives so I am going to let this all be the lesson for the night, the second lesson of my thirty for this thirtieth year — being with family, belonging, even through and with differences, is important to me. Be it with people who have different beliefs, or who see the world differently, or who support other teams, or whatever it may be, there is something powerful in the trying. So I’m celebrating some KC blood in my veins, and watching the last forty seconds unfold. Go Chiefs? (purposeful question mark). Go Chiefs! Go family! Go Kansas City! Now we’re all sending out photos of this evening to one another and my uncles and aunts are all texting and ok…I feel it. Even me, a skeptic of football for so many reasons, can totally feel this sense of celebrating, of joy, and of belonging.

Vocabulary

POC: Person of color. This term is used a lot nowadays in the U.S., and encompasses anyone who defines themselves as a person of color, or someone who is not white or of European parentage. This applies to African Americans, Latinx (Latino/Latina/gender non-binary Latinx), Asian-Americans, Indigenous peoples, and SO MANY OTHER groups of beautiful, complex, stunning people on this planet.

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Kristen Sawyer

Kristen Sawyer

Writing to remember and to understand.

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