I am a big New England Patriots football fan (US football, not soccer). I grew up outside of Boston and have maintained ties to the local sports teams wherever I have lived. Football is the quintessential modern sport where it’s all about winning the big prize, the Super Bowl, with over 100 million viewers. The politically correct way that the coaches and athletes speak about football is to focus on how their team is going to win – any deviation from that script often results in a firestorm.
A little context. Last weekend the Patriots lost a lead but then came back to win in overtime. It was perhaps symbolic of the season so far, in which the Patriots were big favorites and almost lost – arguably the team is not playing as well as was forecast. The Patriots have been right at the top of the league for more than a decade ago, and just missed another title in last year’s Super Bowl. This year’s team is a “mortal” 4 wins and 3 losses.
I follow the local media coverage and participate in some of the online fan forums where we can talk about the teams and games. I have noticed a seemingly “over-the-top” negativity about the team. To the point of downright hostility. Fans are angry that the team seems to be under-performing and are questioning not only the abilities but the character of the coaches and players. Some of this always goes on, but it seems more intense than ever.
After last week’s game, star quarterback Tom Brady was quoted as saying: “Maybe we just spoiled some people in the meantime, cause it’s hard to win man, it’s hard to win.” Well, you can imagine that this was like kicking the hornet’s nest. Brady, as a star player, is mostly beloved, but even he is under scrutiny by many. His quote provided ammunition to his detractors that “his head is no longer in the game” or “he no longer cares about winning” and so on and so forth. He was politically incorrect in suggest that the other teams are pretty good, and the other guys are trying pretty hard (the audacity!).
It caused me reflect a bit on Brady’s evolution (from a fan perspective). Earlier in his career, I would say in his strong “modern values” phase, he was lauded as being the “first one into practice and last one out” and working extra hard in the off-season. He would often be seen on the sidelines “fired up” and emotional, perhaps yelling at teammates to get them going or throwing his helmet. He was 100% committed to football – there was nothing else in his life that mattered. A perfect profile of “modern” values centered on achievement (see ConsumerShift)
And he and the team enjoyed great success. As he matured his range of interests expanded and while his interest in football was at the top of the list, he got married and had a child and then re-married to the supermodel Giselle. In his press conferences, you could hear someone taking a more balanced view on life. I think his quote about the maybe spoiling the fans is completely accurate and fair and that it is equally fair to note that it is difficult to win (only 3 teams in his conference have winning records). And on the sidelines, we see less of the “maniacal” fire. But still an extremely high level of performance.
I would say that Brady has moved out of “modern” values as his primary orientation. Does that mean he does not care? Not at all. As we move out of a values phase, we don’t lose our ability to access it. A postmodern or integral person can tap their “modern” when the life conditions (a football game) are there. They just won’t stay there, and in the press conference after the game, out comes the postmodern/integral — to the horror of the modern fans.
I think of the contrast in how we teach kids sports today. In Little League baseball, the modern parents and coaches get hyper-competitive and obsessive about their kids winning these games. The postmodern parents focus on participation and are behind the schemes to get everyone a trophy just for playing. The Integral perspective would see sports as an opportunity for one to “test their mettle,” but with an appreciation for “the other team” and an enjoyment of the process (the game) and not overly fixated on who wins or loses and see it as a enjoyable and an opportunity for learning.
I don’t expect the modern context of sports to change anytime soon. I do expect the postmodern phase to be rather quick. The Integral phase, in balancing individual and group needs, strikes me as “workable.” I can imagine a fan base that appreciates the beauty of the contest, the effort of the players, and has a perspective that “life goes on” if we lose. But maybe that is a distant forecast? Andy Hines.