Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy, right, moves to fire Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler (6) in the first half of an NFL football game in Chicago on Sunday, 28 October 2012. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

How did things get this far? I do not know. It was so unfortunate; therefore useless.

— Don Corleone, the godfather

Come on, Chicago Bears, and tell them why you’re wearing the crown.

You are the pride and joy of Illinois, Chicago Bears, go for it!

– Chicago Bears Fight Song

I was working in the garden on a sunny Sunday morning wearing my new Toppling Goliath Brewery Long Sleeve T-Shirt in Decorah, Iowa. It was dark green and decorated with a green and gold “summer camp” theme with the phrase “Hoppy Camper” on the back. I love TG beer and loved camp as a kid, so this outfit seemed perfect. As I pulled weeds and dodged grumpy end-of-season wasps, I savored the sheer pleasure of wearing something new that I perceived as cool.

Our friends Billy and Sue pulled up with their former English Springer Spaniel Walter Payton, dapper in his blue and orange Chicago Bears collar and smiling out the back window. I went to wave and caress Billy’s eyes and he yelled, “Whoa! Is that a Packers shirt? The TG shirt has held a place of shame at the bottom of my pile ever since.

I grew up in South Chicago and one of my most lasting memories is the exact smell of my dad’s clean white t-shirt – an alluring mix of Tide detergent, clean sawdust and a trace of salty sweat – when we sat on the couch on Sunday afternoon watching the Chicago Bears lose. When I was young, they weren’t a winning team; the mad chemistry of the 1985-86 Bears and the “Shufflin’ Crew” came later. The Bears were our north star of sports disappointment, moving predictably through the firmament of the season and providing a surefire conversation starter and safe topic to empathize with other disgruntled fans.

And despite all that, I’m sure I speak for my entire clan when I say we wouldn’t have donned a Packers jacket or a Vikings jersey to cover our nakedness in front of the whole neighborhood following a fire. nocturnal. Even in the years when the Bears downright reeked, the idea that we could have been persuaded to back a different team — and by “different” I mean “win” — is beyond bizarre. Bear fandom is a family trait as personal and enduring as our long bones and dark, narrow eyes. It is a bond that binds us not only to each other, but to all other souls wearing the Growling Bear Badge of the Bears Nation.

“My team, win or lose” is a rallying cry for me and for many. It fuels excitement on game days, brings pride to hometowns, grants instant membership in a passionate club of like-minded enthusiasts, and allows us to experience fierce competition from the comfort of our couch or back seat. stadium, refreshments in hand. The fanatical support of a sports team pleases millions and harms no one.

“My political party, rightly or wrongly” is a whole other story. Wait – don’t go there. I promise this is not a partisan rant of any kind, although I have a favorite party and I assume you do too. But it seems more and more of us are treating our politics and our politicians like sports teams: emblematic of personal identity, demanding unconditional allegiance and normalizing the antagonism (and sometimes outright hatred) of society. other “team” and its supporters. I don’t think it’s complete hyperbole to say that this school of thought is a threat to the country we love and the Constitution we are committed to supporting and defending as new advocates.

Here’s what I think I’m seeing, and why I think it’s important.

The flags were the first clue

Wave that flag, wave it wide and high. – Robert Hunter, “The American Blues”

I started seeing the flags a few years ago, flying from farmhouse porches and front yard flagpoles, and they weren’t American or Iowa flags. They weren’t for any of the sports teams that inspire rivalry, passion, and flags in my part of the world: Iowa Hawkeyes and Iowa State, Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals, Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers. These banners expressed support – and sometimes secular antagonism – for individual presidential candidates.

Weird, I thought. When did we start pledging allegiance to politicians?

We don’t talk anymore

It’s So Funny How We Don’t Talk Anymore – Alan Tarney, “We Don’t Talk Anymore”

A lot has changed since I saw those banners fluttering in the Iowa breeze. Political dialogue, in the sense of a two-way exchange of ideas, has been largely supplanted by the political diatribe – a one-sided and intimidating diatribe. The idea that a Party A fan could admit any of their flaws or weaknesses, or even listen to a Party B fan make that suggestion, is as bizarre and unthinkable as the image of a Bears fan conceding to a Packer Backer that Chicago’s offensive line is weak this year. The balkanization of viewpoints is furthered by cable news channels which provide a steady diet of information acceptable to supporters of one party or the other, ensuring that no one is ever upset by a viewpoint. dissenting or an incongruous fact.

One of the founding principles of this country is that its people should (with few exceptions) be free to speak their minds, so that the truth and the guidelines that best serve the common good are revealed on the “marketplace of ideas”. In the words of Judge Oliver Wendell Holmes:

“But when men have realized that time has upset many warring religions, they may come to believe even more than they believe in the very foundations of their own conduct that the ultimate desired good is best attained by free trade ideas – that the best test of truth is the power of thought to gain acceptance in market competition, and this truth is the only foundation on which their wishes can be safely carried out. the theory of our Constitution.

But what good is free speech when no one wants to listen? It’s as if the marketplace of ideas has closed, driven away by our own rigid and unwavering views.

Politics is not a zero-sum game

There are only winners and losers here and don’t get caught on the wrong side of that line – Bruce Springsteen, “Atlantic City”

Football is a zero-sum game; a victory for one team means a defeat for its opponent. Fans of the winning team celebrate and recount glorious times, fans of the losing team complain about bad calls and wallow in bad moods. The W/L records are adjusted and everyone is looking forward to next week’s game.

Although elections are zero-sum games, politics is not — or supposed to be, anyway. The winning candidate is bound to serve all of their constituents, not just those who cheered them on to victory and showed their colors on game day. A victory for my party should not lead to the ruin of yours. This is and must be the rule if we want to remain “one nation, indivisible, with freedom and justice for all”.

Our form of government only works if we hold our political representatives accountable, regardless of their political affiliation. We cannot offer them the unconditional loyalty that we give to our favorite teams. Their actions and choices have real and profound consequences not just for every American living now, but for generations to come.

If we insist on viewing politics as a game, we must remember that it is a game anyone can lose if we give our politicians a partisan pass and fail to speak out when they step out of line. In the words of FDR: “Democracy can only succeed if those who express their choice are willing to choose wisely.” We owe it to our country and to each other to exercise informed and sensible judgment whether a candidate wears the red jersey with the elephant or the blue jersey with the donkey.

In a democracy, every day is “game day” and we are much more than spectators in the stands.

Karen Erger is Vice President and Director of Practice Risk Management at Lockton Companies. His column is reprinted with permission from the Illinois Bar Journal, Vol. 110 #10, Oct. 2022. Copyright by the Illinois State Bar Association. isba.org