Somebody has to be the skunk at the picnic, the kid who spoils the emperor’s fashion show, the morning-after pill, the 13th man. And since no else will, I’ll wear out whatever welcomes I have left in this town and say: The Seahawks Jubilee was a great bender, but it leaves a nasty hangover.
Okay, it was quite the party. Seattle can now claim to be the only city in the country to shut down for not one but two general strikes. The first, which started on this day 107 years ago, was staged over things that mattered: wages, work conditions, workers’ rights, even (in the eyes of a minority of supporters and perhaps a larger share of opponents) the prospect of another American revolution. The authorities brought in troops from Fort Lewis, deployed machine guns downtown and enlisted 3,000 extra police officers and “special deputies” (UW frat boys), but the strike proved entirely peaceful.
The Feb. 5, 2014 general strike wasn’t entirely peaceful or particularly violent; the usual rowdies and vandals carried on. Seven hundred thousand people — the largest crowd in Seattle history — packed downtown in freezing weather. That’s more than 10 times the number who walked off their jobs in 1919. Back then, the rest of the city couldn’t get to work because the streetcars shut down. This time we couldn’t because the trains and platforms were packed to bursting with riders wearing blue and green.
And for what? A football game. A four-day-old sporting event. Eleven youthful millionaires weaving around, passing over and charging through eleven slightly older millionaires. Their team’s owner, the former Rodney Dangerfield of multibillionaires, now gets tons of respect, even love, for “giving” Seattle its first bowl title and second “world championship.” No one bothers to remember how he unctuously (“I can’t do it without you”) extorted a half-billion bucks from taxpayers to build the former Qwest Field. At least MetLife Stadium, where the Seahawks creamed the Broncos, was actually built by the teams that used it. But that’s another era in American sports economics, never to come again.
Okay, I’ll admit, Marshawn Lynch, Russell Wilson, and, yes, Richard Sherman, seem like great guys as well as great players. Pete Carroll may not be such a great guy, but he clearly did a great job. And I did my best to get into the spirit. I skipped the game-day party across town, but I did troop down to the local in Columbia City. I high-fived and fisted-pumped and loved my neighbors, even if I couldn’t match the big guy who was crying with joy. I even prepped for the occasion decades ago, though I didn’t know it at the time, when I got a couple concussions playing backyard football and was just proud that I didn’t drop the ball.
And there’s the rub, or the rub-out — the reason I hadn’t managed to sit through a whole football game in 20 years: It’s a brutal blood sport, and to pretend otherwise is like pretending they’re shooting blanks in Syria and Afghanistan. Even in this relatively clean game you had to wince again and again and wonder, will this young battering ram be a brain-battered basket case in 20 years, if rage or epilepsy or ALS doesn’t kill him first? Football players play a strange dual role in the socioeconomic dance: They’re pampered 1-percenters and sacrificial victims. And we love the game for its mayhem — OK, you do, or they do, ’cause I don’t anymore. The biggest, bone-crunchiest collisions get the biggest cheers. This has got to be desensitizing, an inoculation in violence.
Yeah, yeah, heard it all before, you say — isn’t it still wonderful that we can come together as a “community” like this, share the pride, bask in the world’s envy? But do you really think the world will respect a city of rabid sports fans more than it does the city of Nirvana and Macklemore, Amazon and (more or less) Microsoft and Boeing, orcas and salmon and Cascade volcanoes? All we seem to have gotten is a bunch of snooty Californians and Easterners huffing about how now Seattle may finally shed its (nonexistent) inferiority complex and San Francisco envy.
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