By Steve Halpern
Like many young people growing up in the world, I was, and continue to be, a sports fan. As a young person, what could be a greater aspiration than to develop the skills to be physically active in a game that you enjoy?
To be honest, I wasn’t always a fan of the Philadelphia Eagles. Call me an opportunist, but this team won me over for several reasons. So, this blog is an attempt to tell the story of why I’ve become a fan of the Eagles. I will also write about why I think working people have found so much joy in this team.
Most people gravitate to cheering on the team of their hometown. In my younger years, baseball was a more prestigious sport and many people from my hometown of Newark, New Jersey were fans of the New York Yankees. Clearly, in those years, the Yankees won most of the World Series Championships and there was a lot of cheering going on.
The San Francisco Giants
However, for me winning all the time and being a team located one hour away from my home wasn’t enough to make me a fan. My team was the San Francisco Giants and my hero was Willie Mays who will go down in history as one of the best who ever played the game.
Willie played with style, grace, and he always appeared to have a positive attitude. The Giants of those days were a largely Black and Latino team. Along with Willie Mays, there was Willie McCovey, Jim Ray Hart, the three Alou brothers, El Torrito (The Little Bull) Olando Cepeda, and on the mound was one of the best pitchers of all time, Juan Marachal. In those days, this team gave me reason to be a fan because they always appeared to be consistent in playing their best.
Years later when I grew up I discovered another reason why my support of this team was well deserved. Most people are aware of the fact that Jackie Robinson became the first Black person to play for what is known as a Major League team in 1947.
Most people are unaware of the fact that between 1947 and 1965 Major League Black players were not allowed access to hotels and restaurants the caucasian players frequented. So, for many years, most of the players on the Giants team needed to use the only restaurants and hotels that would accommodate people who were Black. Yet, these same people were some of the best athletes in the history of baseball.
In fact Willie Mays started his baseball career in the Negro Leagues because there was a time when Black players weren’t allowed to even play on the same team as caucasians. So, when I used to see the positive attitude of Willie, this reflected the fact that he had overcome many of the seemingly insurmountable obstacles in his life.
The Williams Sisters
I happen to have been raised with an appreciation for the game of tennis. The first time I saw Venus Williams play, she lost her match. However, I saw a potential in her game that I felt could dominate women’s tennis. I also heard that she had a sister who might even be better than Venus. Her name is Serena.
Serena Williams was the first Williams sister to win a major tournament at the U.S. Open. Then, it was Venus who won Wimbledon. Then, for seventeen years the Williams sisters dominated the sport of women’s tennis.
Years after I became one of their many fans, I read the autobiography of their father Richard Williams titled: Black and White – The way I see it. In this book I learned that Richard Williams was born and raised in Shreveport, Louisiana. His mother picked cotton and did the laundry for her employer. They lived in a shack with a roof that leaked and were amongst the poorest people living in the area.
Richard Williams learned to run fast in order to escape from racist mobs. Three of his close friends were lynched by racists. He first left Shreveport to Chicago and then moved to Los Angeles where he married Oracene Price.
One day Richard Williams was watching television and viewed a Tennis match where a woman received about $40,000 for a tournament that lasted four days. Although Williams knew nothing about the game of tennis, he became obsessed with learning the game. Before the Williams sisters were born, he wrote a 78 page proposal outlining how he would raise two daughters who would become tennis champions.
There are many parents who spend a lot of money sending their children to tennis academies in the hope that one day these children might become professionals. Usually these parents coerce their children where they expect nothing less than absolute excellence.
Andre Agassi was a tennis champion who was raised in this kind of environment. Agassi resented the pressure cooker climate he was raised in, and wrote about this in his autobiography Open. Agassi acknowledged that he dealt with this enormous pressure by using methamphetamine.
Richard Williams knew something that was missing in these tennis academies. He knew how his mother raised him in abject poverty and prepared him to confront the extreme difficulties of his life. Richard Williams and his wife Oracene used this knowledge to create a nurturing atmosphere where his daughters decided on their own that they were willing to do what was required to become professionals at the game of tennis.
Tennis is an international game. The Williams sisters are two of the few players from this country who are fluent in foreign languages. They also developed their competitive edge by playing against each other. As a team they developed one of the best records in women’s doubles tennis.
In writing about these two stories, I’m attempting to show the kinds of athletes that have made me a fan.
Why to workers cheer for the Philadelphia Eagles?
Football is different from tennis in that it is a sport based in the working class. Oftentimes when I talk to my co-workers about tennis, there is little knowledge of the game. When I talk to a co-worker about football, oftentimes it is like opening up an encyclopedia of knowledge about this game.
So, in order to understand why working people are so enamored with football, I need to look at what it means to work for a living in this country. The pro-capitalist news media rarely reports on this reality.
Workers toil for long hours under conditions where corporations are driven to increase production and cut costs. Corporations purchase advertising worth hundreds of billions of dollars every year claiming that they produce top quality products. However, the drive to cut costs and increase production means that their top priority has always been a drive to maximize profits.
While workers do the necessary jobs that create all wealth, the owners of corporations reap the immense profits that allow them to live lives in opulence. Workers barely earn enough to pay our bills. The penalty for not working might be jail time, homelessness, or not having enough food to eat.
Adding to these problems is the institutionalized discrimination in this country. One of the ways corporations maximize profits is to run an economic system where there is routine discrimination against women, Black people, Latinos, immigrants, and Native Americans. Certainly, no one has control of the circumstances of their birth. However, those circumstances can make life more difficult for people in order to support the continual drive for corporate profit.
Understanding these conditions we can see why many workers are alienated from their jobs. When I worked in a factory, this alienation was expressed by workers in the profanity that seemed to be apart of the environment.
One would think that capitalists would be satisfied with the enormous wealth they have. This is not the case. I worked for fourteen years in a factory that shut it’s doors in order to move and cut costs. I happened to be one of the hundreds of millions of workers who experienced the elimination of jobs. Many of these jobs moved to places where workers are paid between two and ten dollars per day.
In order to escape these conditions, workers from around the world immigrate to this country where they might be paid seven to ten dollars per hour. Several of the recent Presidents of the United States have made it their top priority to deport millions of these workers. However, without the labor of the twelve million immigrants in this country, entire industries would shut down.
Children see this environment in the alienated faces of their parents. While many parents attempt to create a nurturing environment, it is difficult to hide the day-to-day problems working people routinely face. It is under these conditions that many children naturally gravitate to becoming sports fans.
Hundreds of thousands of people attended the Philadelphia Eagles parade celebrating their Super Bowl victory. Jason Kelce, the center for the Eagles gave perhaps the most moving speech at the conclusion of the parade.
Kelce listed many of the players on the Eagles team who were told, in effect, that they just weren’t good enough. In fact, several players who were starters at the beginning of the season were on the injured reserve in the Super Bowl. For these and other reasons the Eagles relished the role of underdogs throughout the post-season. The fact that team members had been ridiculed enraged Kelce, and he used profanity to express that anger.
My opinion is that these slights were not the only things that enraged Kelce. My opinion is that the game of football gives working people a chance to achieve true adulation. In an environment where alienation is the norm, this is truly a reason to celebrate, and to ridicule those who have argued that we just aren’t talented enough.
In Boston they call Tom Brady the GOAT. This means Greatest Of All Time. Well, the Philadelphia Eagles now have something to say about that. Football is a team sport and no one can win a game alone. The Super Bowl determines what team is the best in a given year. This means that today every member of the Eagles team can justifiably say that they are among the Greatest Of All Time.
Today there are numerous corporations in the Delaware Valley who are attempting to gouge out more profits by riding the wave of the Eagles victory. I’m talking about clothing outlets, supermarkets, as well as furniture stores. Well, my opinion is that the Eagles weren’t motivated to win the Super Bowl so some very affluent people could have even more money. No, I think they did this to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that working people are capable of performing in a way that we are indeed talented enough.
One day I believe that working people will have political power. When that day happens, we will be the ones who profit from our labor. When that day comes, all workers will have the right to engage in all sports activities throughout our lives. When that day comes we won’t need to prove that we are talented enough. We will participate in sports for the fun of the game.