It’s this: A fair number of West Siders apparently believe we live in a bumpkins-infested backwater.
That may or may not be an accurate reading of reality, but it’s a little insulting nonetheless. And it raises a question.
Why do people in Spokane root for Seattle sports teams?
Sure, sure, they are the closest big-league franchises. But how many times do you have to hear someone from Seattle refer to our “Inbred Empire” before you start to take it personally?
Instead of locals getting all ga-ga about a certain Seattle football team, as has been amply reported by this newspaper, wouldn’t at least some Spokane area residents be more inclined to adopt a blasé attitude about today’s circus maximus in Arizona?
Not necessarily, said Adam Earnheardt, lead author of “Sports Fans, Identity and Socialization: Exploring the Fandemonium.”
“Call it geographical identity,” he said.
Fans of professional sports can feel a desire to attach themselves to teams in their region. That does not mean the face-painters have to live in the city that is the home base for the team in question, said Earnheardt.
He is chairman of the Department of Communication at Youngstown State University. He still remembers walking into the first class he was going to teach 10 years ago at the northeastern Ohio college located just a few miles from the Pennsylvania state line. “Half the room was wearing Browns jerseys, the other half Steelers.”
Retired Spokane real estate executive John Schreiner put it this way. “Regionalism trumps all, especially in warfare or sports.”
So as the two teams in today’s Super Bowl are based at opposite ends of Interstate 90, perhaps it only makes sense for Spokane residents to pull for the one that’s about 500 exits closer – even if some there enjoy characterizing us in unflattering terms.
Of course, Spokane’s connection to the Seahawks goes back a ways.
“The Spokane area developed some strong ties to the team years ago when they trained here at Eastern,” said Dave Meany, media relations director at Eastern Washington University. “Folks around here could actually see the players and coaches in person and meet them – forming a bond. While that is gone now, I think the relationship has definitely carried on in terms of the passion we are seeing now.”
Moreover, a case could be made that the arrival of big-league sports in Seattle in the 1960s and 1970s was an affirmation of the Northwest’s rising national status that was embraced far beyond the borders of King County.
So even if you were, say, a Spokane Valley Republican who now feels his vote is irrelevant in statewide elections, you still might have taken pride in having Evergreen State-based teams in the National Football League and Major League Baseball.
While there might not be a Cascade Curtain when it comes to rooting for the Seahawks, some Spokane fans surely have noted that the NFL franchise is a decidedly Seattle-brand product. Unlike teams such as the Arizona Cardinals, Minnesota Vikings and Carolina Panthers, this region’s hired gun crotch-grabbers are not known as the Washington Seahawks.
There is no denying, though, that Spokane and Seattle share countless connections.
Many who now live here grew up over there. Countless Spokane area families have relatives who reside on the West Side. And occasionally visiting the Northwest’s biggest city is a cherished part of life for many of us here in Near Nature Land.
And, to be fair, it is worth noting that an untold number of Seattle area residents have nothing but good feelings about Spokane and would never act surprised that some of us here often wear shoes, visit a dentist and approve of book learnin’.
Though in some cases, they might have to pull our studded tires from our cold, dead hands.
Of course, there is nothing unprecedented about the idea of sports fans in the hinterlands rooting for teams in the nearest big city. It is an American tradition. There are numerous examples of basking in reflected glory from long-distance.
So maybe cheering for a team from a city that constantly overshadows yours is not really an act of self-nullification. Maybe it’s not about learning to stomach the Emerald City’s superiority complex. Perhaps it is just a matter of getting excited about undeniably impressive on-field success.
“Winning matters,” said John Nelson, who works for the Spokane branch of a legal firm headquartered in Seattle. “It is much more attractive to adopt a winning team than a losing team.”
Sure, it is a lot of time and energy devoted to a pursuit with no inherent value. But what’s the harm?
Perhaps rooting for the Seahawks is a way of thanking the West Side for sending tax revenues this way.
Besides, do we really want to be a city that can’t take a joke? Do we want to be boo-hoo hothouse flowers about a few insults from smug idiots?
Maybe football is just football.
“I think sport fandom is about being able to identify with a team, to feel part of a group,” said Nicole Willms, a lecturer in the department of sociology at Gonzaga University. “So, without a local NFL team, many ‘Spokanites’ become ‘Washingtonians’ when it comes to professional football.”
Spokane lawyer Tom Keefe put it this way. “Pro sports mania is a temporary treatment for parochialism.”
That sounds like a good thing. It sounds like healing.
The allegiances and loyalties attached to college sports are a more complicated story. But maybe this might be the right time to invite even self-impressed West Siders in expensive sweaters to climb aboard the bandwagon when Gonzaga makes its NCAA run this spring.
You know what they say. The more the merrier.
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