Have the Seahawks killed Seattle nice?

I hope so.
Crosscut archive image.

Hey, that's not nice.

I hope so.

The Seahawks, rather than an alien barbarian culture in a civilized city, reflect a new civic ideal. They exhibit confidence, toughness, intelligence and grace.

Football is barbaric — and that's a good thing. If you reconsider the image of barbarians. The old-school image of a hairy, ignorant horde was shaped by the images we have of the "fall" of Rome. But recent scholarship reveals that the barbarians were in fact underdogs, outsiders looking for respect. They were smart and educated and many of them considered themselves more Roman than the Romans. The Visigoths believed they were the true heirs to civilization, not its destroyers.

In football, the only sacking is of the quarterback.

The Seahawks have quickly become civic role models. What about a new police chief who's a team rebuilder, like Pete Carroll? What about citizens who excel in preparation and studiousness, like Russell Wilson? Perhaps Ed Murray could use a talent-spotter like John Schneider? Wouldn't it be great if we could replace Bertha with Marshawn Lynch? Perhaps we could learn to balance chest-beating rhetoric with the ability to back-up it up with talent, like Richard Sherman.

Seattle Nice is a recent invention, a community fiction developed as a way of breaking with certain corrupt practices in our past, and with the culture of contention that people found dysfunctional in the old cities "back east."

But Seattle was not built on nice. We were born as a city not only unafraid of competition, but one that embraced it. When denied a railroad by the robber barons, we set about building one ourselves. When a Gold Rush broke out, we seized the opportunity to fleece the Klondikers; we fanned their fever and used it as civic rocket fuel. When the chance came to fill the sky with state-of-the-art warplanes, we built an economy on it. Microsoft, Amazon, Boeing. They did not become what they are by being "nice."

And the list is long of Seattle civic crimes in which niceness was nowhere in sight: the Chinese exclusion riots, Pioneer Square lynchings, our horrific vice districts, the Japanese internments, the opposition to open housing, a tradition of bare-knuckle politics. Our police department is not under a federal decree to reform its penchant for excessive violence because we are too nice.

"Nice" was once a declaration of our break with the past. It was a way to declare urban maturity — a city of sober adults.

But now we can see a path forward for a post-nice Seattle. One that is more openly competitive. One that has the resources to solve its problems. One that can handle more rigorous debate and should be able to tackle its biggest problems like the Hawks handled the Broncos.

We should speak the truth without worrying about hurt feelings. We're a city where city council members can be held more closely accountable to the people via district elections, a city that doesn't constantly quest for respect, but takes it for granted — and respects itself.

Seattle is also a city built on youth and impatience, a do-it-now philosophy. Niceness is nice, but it shouldn't be primary. Energy is important too.

By any standard, Seattle will continue to be a nice town. But if we follow the Seahawks model, maybe we'll be a little less so, which is a relief.


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About the Authors & Contributors

Knute Berger

Knute Berger

Knute “Mossback” Berger is Crosscut's Editor-at-Large.