August 26, 2009

Ruminations on the Many Sports-Related Meanings of ‘We’

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A noun, the simplest form of grammatical constructions, is constantly reminded of how replaceable it is with pro-nouns. But having fallen in love with so many pros myself — i.e. Jose Lima, a model of professionalism — I ask why pronouns are so elevated above those they antecede? I’ve yet to find a “you” or “him” paid for his services, and certainly not “I.” What makes pronouns pro, like the pros we call heroes in the world of sports?
The pronoun that has caught my attention lately is “we,” and we the people of the sporting world deserve an explanation as to the true meaning behind this two-letter word. It is so beautifully simple, yet has so many levels of meaning.
I used to hate when my friends would talk about the latest deal their favorite team made and excitedly proclaim, “Did you hear we just picked up Jose Lima! Omar Minaya is a god!” You guys picked him up? Did you sign him before or after AP Physics? I used to get frustrated when I heard people associate themselves with a team, until we — Cornell’s men’s lacrosse team — made it to the national championship, and I became a part of us, we the fans, our team, and all of you.
After the Red’s heartbreaking loss in the waning minutes of the championship, my friend from the Syracuse Daily Orange texted me the following pronoun-laden message: “Wow! I can’t believe we beat you guys. But you played a great game.” I mean; I thought I played alright, but by the end my legs were pretty tired and — Wait! I didn’t play a great game! My legs weren’t tired at all. Who am I to take credit for the wonderful 60 minutes turned in by Seibald, Glynn, Pannell and the rest of my fellow AEM majors!
But what about Forman’s 92 minutes of finding ESPN while vacationing in South Carolina; avoiding sisters’ attempts to switch to reruns of America’s Next Top Model; fielding texts from ‘Cuse Model; fielding texts from ‘Cuse fans; and missing a lunch that included bacon. Does that not merit some credit? I responded to my friend’s text after the game;:“Even with the loss, I think we showed a lot of people who we really are.” But more importantly, it showed me who I was — I was we.
The players don’t mind if we are part of the team. “We couldn’t have done it without the fans,” they say. That’s our invitation to be part of the “we.” The players have recognized the critical role we play in the competition. Imagine the hockey team skating on fresh ice in Lynah to dead silence. Without the fans, there is no Lynah Faithful. There is no $28,000,000 contract. There is no excitement over all four of Lima’s starts in 2006.
Some people may not be ready to accept this. And some people are way too overexcited about it. But it’s true. The fans are part of the team.
So here are the ten levels of “we” in sports. [They begin with the most basic, but with simplicity also comes the strongest connection to the “we” each team is comprised of.]
Level 1 – On a little league team: the introduction to what it means to be part of a team; part of “we.” “We didn’t win, but we still get pizza because we did the best we could.”
Level 2 – On a high school team: we’re still in it for fun, right? Competition heats up a bit, but in the end, we play for our teammates — not money or the spotlight.
Level 3 – Recreational adult leagues/intramurals: see level one. Replace “pizza” with “pilsner”.
Level 4 – Collegiate athlete: for the first time, you’ll get nagged by a reporter. Be kind to him. He’s just doing his job. And hey, he chose the Sports Section instead of Arts or News, so he’s a cool guy.
Level 5 – Professional athlete: You are the “we.” But you’re paid to be the we, so you’re not quite on the same level as those doing it for free.
Level 6 – Professional coaches: Your use of the phrases “we just have to play our game,” “we fought hard out there,” “we liked what we saw,” etc. have given you a lifetime pass into the “we.”
Level 7 – Franchise front office: you pay level five and level six. In America, if you finance “we,” you’re more than welcome to be we.
Level 8 – Retired athlete: You were once the “we.” Please move on to level ten of sports-we and stop doing Just For Men commercials. Please.
Level 9 – Student-fan: I go to class with Riley Nash. Riley Nash is a junior on the hockey team. Transitive property, anyone?
Level 10 – Fan of the pros: You cried — just a little — when Luis Gonzalez hit the weakest World Series-winning hit of all time. For your devotion and willingness to take the pain with the glory, you have been welcomed into the we.
I once tasted the first and second levels of sports-we — actually being on the team — and I took it for granted. Now, appreciating being part of level nine, I want to thank the men’s lacrosse team for welcoming me into the ninth level. The agonizing pain I felt in the final minutes of this year’s championship was probably not as strong as the pain you all felt, but that’s why you’re on level four and I’m on level nine.
We did a good job, we played a good game, and hopefully we’ll all be there again next season.