Readers may remember that when the NFL St. Louis Rams moved back to Los Angeles last year after twenty years in the Midwest, I wrote an essay for Sport in American History outlining my personal connection to the Rams and the political situation that had been brewing for years which allowed for the Rams to move back to L.A. About a week ago I was invited to contribute some more thoughts on NFL franchise relocation for a new roundtable discussion the website proposed in reaction to news of the San Diego Chargers moving to L.A. and the Oakland Raiders getting closer to moving to Las Vegas. You can read this roundtable discussion here.
I have some pretty strong thoughts on this topic and I enjoyed reading the thoughts of the other participants in the roundtable, who come from a wide range of impressive backgrounds in history and sports. There are times when we agree but also times when there are interesting tensions in the way we answered the questions given to us. I argued that the Rams moving back to Los Angeles was one of the most significant relocations in NFL history for reasons I explain in the discussion, but another participant dismissed it as rather insignificant. I encourage you to read the roundtable discussion and decide for yourself.
Last week the National Football League decided the St. Louis Rams would now be the Los Angeles Rams. The talented scholars at Sport in American History let me put my sportswriter’s hat on and submit a piece for the site, which went live today. I wrote about my disappointment as a St. Louisian who loved Rams football and made the case that the Rams relocation to Los Angeles sets a bad precedent for future NFL relocation crises. Writing this essay was simultaneously sad and liberating. Check it out here and let me know what you think.
The past is all around us. It shapes the places we live and visit, the people we interact with on a daily basis, and how we personally view the world. The significance we give to places like “Alabama,” “Massachusetts,” “Ireland,” and “Russia” is partly shaped by our understanding of the history of those places and, in some cases, our own past experiences there. Sometimes we stay in and maintain toxic relationships for no other reason than the mental comfort we feel when reflecting on a past time when the relationship seemed perfect.
The past is a part of us, but we cannot live in the past. We can give new meaning to the past by reassessing commonly accepted narratives and adding new layers of history through our own words and actions in the present, but we cannot go back to the way things were in 1850. We are participants in the present and observers of the past, and our participation in the present does much to shape our understanding of the past, much as we’d like to understand the worlds of Julius Caesar, William Shakespeare, Abraham Lincoln, Susan B. Anthony, or Martin Luther King, Jr, from their own vantage point.
As participants in the present who experience the world in ways that can be strikingly different from our ancestors, we run the risk of abusing the past by saying things about it that are more reflective of our own perspective than the way things may have actually been. On one side you have the perspective of someone like Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, who infamously equated the NFL’s labor practices to “modern-day slavery” in 2011. Peterson attempted to criticize the way he and other professional football players were being treated by NFL owners, and some may say that he has a valid complaint. But in finding a vocabulary to express his displeasure, Peterson relied on a poor comparison to chattel slavery that minimizes the actual horrors of slavery, both past and present. On the other side, the recent riots in Ferguson and Baltimore in response to the killing of unarmed black men by local police forces has elicited a wave of white racism that invokes the myth of “Irish slaves” in the New World to argue that chattel slavery–and more specifically the enslavement of millions of Africans in the Transatlantic world for hundreds of years–wasn’t so bad. And because chattel slavery wasn’t so bad, blacks should “get over” this history and stop using it “as [an] excuse for crap life.” (Liam Hogan of the University of Limerick has a paper on the myth of “Irish slaves” that can be viewed here).
One perspective argues that slavery exists all around us and limits our freedom to live the way we want to and earn a fair wage for our talents, even if we make millions of dollars. The other perspective argues that we must get over slavery (and, by extension, all oppression) because it is long gone and irrelevant to the present. Both perspectives reflect a shoddy understanding of history and a lazy attempt to make historical comparisons across time and space. And both perspectives rely on an irrational hierarchy of oppression that foolishly attempts to rank groups of people by how much they’ve suffered from hardship and oppression, whether that be Irish laborers, African slaves, or NFL players.
Lines like “my suffering is as bad as a slave’s” and “my ancestors were slaves before yours were and my life is great now. Get over it!” are tactically used by these people to shut down debate and invalidate the perspectives of others whose experiences differ from their own. I believe we can acknowledge the tragic victims of oppression–whether that be serfdom, chattel slavery, the Holocaust, or anything else–on their own merits without assessing who’s suffering was the worst. But such comparisons are made anyway because the one making those comparisons believes that he or she’s own suffering is unique and unacknowledged. And going beyond yourself to acknowledge others’ suffering means that one must come to terms with his or her own power and social status today. Not everyone is ready to reckon with that privilege and the implications of its potential loss.
Update, 4/27/16: Comments have been closed for this post. Too many people want to personally attack Liam Hogan rather than engage in the actual argument I’m trying to make here.
Wow, what an exciting Super Bowl! The Baltimore Ravens defeated the San Francisco 49ers by a score of 34-31 in a game full of ups and downs, a controversial no-call on a possible holding penalty at the end of the game, and a power outage.
Now I am not one to gloat, but I would like to point out that yours truly predicted yesterday that the Ravens would win 35-31. If only there was money involved…
We’ll return to our normally scheduled blog posts on history-related matters tomorrow. In the meantime, take care and enjoy your life to the fullest.
I would like to see the Ravens win and think that they will be able to do so in a highly offensive game, 35-31. I think Joe Flacco, Ray Rice, Torry Smith, Michael Oher, and coach John Harbaugh are all class acts. It’s not that there aren’t any classy players on the 49ers squad, but since I’m a Rams fan, I just don’t like the 49ers, plain and simple. Even if the Niners win, it is great to think that the only team they couldn’t handle this year was the lowly St. Louis Rams!
There has been an interesting back-and-forth dialogue between former Rams star Marshall Faulk and several retired players from the New England Patriots over the past week. The issue at hand is the 2002 Super Bowl, or the mysterious ways in which the Patriots may or may not have taped the Rams walk-through practice before the game, and how that may or may not have given the Pats an advantage in their 20-17 victory that day. The Patriots have had many problems with videotapes over the years, so there will always be some suspicion as to what happened in 2002.
I’m interested in why we even need to have a discussion about 2002 eleven years later. When we look at the dynamics of remembering versus forgetting, wouldn’t this be something worth forgetting? It’s just a game, right?
I would argue that this game has been much more than that. It has had strong implications for the entire course of NFL history, as a matter of fact. For the Patriots, it was the beginning of a dynasty: five Super Bowl trips, three championships, and the emergence of perhaps the greatest quarterback in NFL history, Tom Brady. For the Rams, it was the beginning of a gradual decline into the league’s doghouse, something that has only begun to change over the past year. Our memory of the game and its consequences would be different if the two teams would have had different fates over the past decade. If the Rams would have remained an elite team, one that would have won at least one more championship, we probably wouldn’t remember 2002, or at least the cheating part. If the Patriots became a bad team, we probably wouldn’t have made such a fuss when it was discovered that they had been videotaping other teams in subsequent years, because it wouldn’t have worked. If both teams were good or if both were bad, 2002 wouldn’t matter, or at least as much as it seems matter to us today.
Am I over the loss? Yeah, I’m over the loss. But I’ll never be over being cheated out of the Super Bowl. That’s a different story. I can understand losing a Super Bowl, that’s fine . . . But how things happened and what took place. Obviously, the commissioner gets to handle things how he wants to handle them but if they wanted us to shut up about what happened, show us the tapes. Don’t burn ’em.
Even though Faulk tried to focus on the Rams 2000 Super Bowl victory during this interview, the interviewer just had to ask Faulk about 2002, which was effective from a journalistic standpoint, because now people like me are talking about and linking you to his article.
Former Pats offensive lineman Matt Light had this to say in response to Faulk:
We lost two [Super Bowl] games horribly and I wouldn’t look at those games and say anything other than we missed our opportunity. We didn’t get it done. And it didn’t have anything to do with anyone else. Honestly to hear a comment like (Faulk’s), it’s disappointing to me, that a guy like Marshall — who has had such an incredible career and what he’s done post-football and all of the things that he stands for — would continue to go back to something like this. It shows a lot of disrespect from a guy that I’ve had a lot of respect for. And an organization that has done as much to promote this game, and this league, as anybody else. From that standpoint, it’s disappointing.“I understand what it’s like to lose a Super Bowl, and how you can have some ideas in your mind and other people can say things and you can get caught up in those. But ultimately when you look at it there’s no mistaking the dedication, the time, and all the effort that’s put into it by Bill Belichick and his staff and organization — what we did, we’re very proud of.
Former Linebacker Willie McGinest responded by saying “we were a smart football team… we didn’t make any excuses,” and that the Patriots weren’t “aware” of any cheating going on, whatever the hell that means.
What is stated by the former Patriots is equally interesting as what isn’t said. It seems to me that what they are arguing is for Faulk to get over it. We lost Super Bowls as well and we didn’t blame it on anyone else or make excuses for ourselves. We did a lot for the league and it’s disrespectful to even bring up this mystery of 2002. Be a man and get over yourself.
Under different circumstances, I would agree with Light and McGinest. Yet neither one of them came out and said “We didn’t cheat.” Light tries making a ridiculous argument about all the good the team did over the years in bringing fans to the league (ones that hated the Patriots and their cheating ways, I’m sure). McGinest says no one was “aware” of any cheating rather than saying that no one cheated, which seems like a cop-out. Neither one addresses the NFL’s actions in burning the confiscated tapes and neither one seems to understand that losing a game fair and square is one thing, but losing by the hands of cheaters is another. Perhaps the Pats didn’t cheat in the 2002 Super Bowl, but it is extremely disappointing that the tapes were burnt by the NFL when they concluded their “investigation.” It seems that if there was nothing to hide, then the tapes would have been made public, just like the Gregg Williams “Boutygate” tapes last year, and the Patriots organization would have been front and center, calling for the tapes to be publicized. Fifty years from now, historians of the NFL will never have the opportunity to fully understand what actually happened before that game thanks to these tapes being burned. It just goes to show that transparency is an important key to success and good relations with your cohorts, no matter the field. There is something to be said about forthrightness and honesty in a world that sometimes makes us question whether those qualities are still valued. Unfortunately, I don’t know if the Patriots, the greatest NFL team in the past 15 years, can be considered as such. I’m biased, but I know I’m not the only one who’s been thinking along these same lines.
Rant over. Until next time…