In a country where sports and politics mix well, we root for underdogs
Originally published on BuzzFlash.com on Wed, 10/22/2008 – 8:33am
Barack Obama is a confirmed Chicago White Sox fan. John McCain likes his hometown Arizona Diamondbacks. And while the White Sox made the playoffs (and lost) and the Diamondbacks finished second in their division, Obama and McCain have a chance to make new temporary allegiances.
Obama needs to do well in Philadelphia to win Pennsylvania. McCain wants to stop that. And oh, by the way, the Philadelphia Phillies are in the World Series that starts tonight. So maybe Obama and McCain will jump in and root for the Phillies.
But wait, the Philadelphia opponent is the feel-good story of the year: the Tampa Bay Rays. A team that has never won more games than it has lost every year of its existence until this year. And the Rays are in Florida, another key swing state.
Jon Stewart exposed us to Obama pandering to both sides, yet also showed Sarah Palin pandering to the Phillies, Rays, and Red Sox (the team that lost to the Rays).
In 2004, John Kerry didn’t have to pander, his hometown Boston Red Sox, snakebit by an 86-year champsionship drought, won the World Series.
Now, Palin’s tagline is intriguing: “[name of area] knows about turning an underdog into a victor.”
Ever since the days of Richard Nixon, one of the biggest sports fans to ever be president, there has been a correlation between sports and the president. Winning teams come to the White House as part of their ritual, and the president gets the cheesy photo op.
The ritual has suffered in the last eight years as some players refuse to go to be seen with George W. Bush. Or the mighty scandal of “inappropriate footwear,” flip-flops worn by the Northwestern University women’s lacrosse team.
I was watching BBC America last night and the reporter, making frequent visits to Culpeper, Virginia, pointed out that one voter thought about the political race in terms of sports.
Since the McCain campaign has, in one form or another, pulled out of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Colorado, they seem to think Pennsylvania is vital to their strategy. So perhaps, McCain and Palin will be Phillies fans for the next week.
While the sports-politics underdog philosophy is an analogy that works well, the fact that the teams involved truly are underdogs lends more credibility to the “root for the underdog” argument.
You hear about how the Boston Red Sox (until 2004) and the Chicago Cubs are cursed. But the Philadelphia Phillies have lost more games than any other sports team in U.S. history. The Phillies have been in fewer World Series than Boston or the Cubs, and have only one championship title, one fewer than the Cubs. The Phillies were the last team from the turn of the 20th Century to win a World Series.
The Tampa Bay Rays have a sad story of their own. An expansion team since 1998, the team has lost at least 90 games (of 162) in every year of its existence until this year. This is the first year above .500, in the playoffs, and in the World Series.
That is a story that can appeal to a longshot such as Sarah Palin. And quite frankly, it also appeals to a longshot such as Barack Obama.
Obama’s White Sox lost to the Rays in the first round, so it was very recently that he was rooting against the Rays. But there is a certain aesthetic that says you root for the team that beat your team.
Either way, a proverbial underdog is going to win the World Series. Either way, we get the first African-American president or the oldest president with the first female vice president. Somewhere in cartoon land, you hear the cry: “There’s no need to fear, Underdog is here.”