When college football came roaring back in September, sticking it to the Faucian fear porn that gathering with fellow fans in stadiums (or with anyone, anywhere) wasn’t “smart,” fans cheered the camaraderie of mass sports gatherings — as well as the lack of politicized messaging, in contrast to the wokeness of pro leagues like the NFL.
Fans made their disdain for the COVID establishment known with chants of “F-ck Joe Biden,” and later the more tactful euphemism “Let’s go, Brandon,” reminding everyone that America loves college football and doesn’t stand for being told not to celebrate with 50,000 of our fellow patriots.
As the college season nears a close, enjoying a game at the University of Central Florida in Orlando last weekend reminded me just how infectious the enthusiasm is — and why, as the NFL (and other pro sports groups like the NBA) lean into empty leftist signaling, I hope college ball never changes.
I had the good fortune of landing on the military appreciation game, which meant patriotism was on full display — perfectly sandwiched between Veterans’ Day and a holiday to remember our pilgrim roots. Red, white, and blue bunting lined the field, camouflage wraps adorned the goalposts, and stars and stripes decorated the home team’s helmets.
At halftime, the huge marching band played “America the Beautiful” before performing each military branch’s song while requesting members of each branch to stand and be recognized. A visiting Marine Corps Reserve band played “God Bless America,” and the Jumbotron displayed a slideshow of students in the Armed Forces.
Following all the anti-American sentiment of the last several years, it felt good to hear “Let’s hear it for … the United States of America!” roll over the loudspeakers, and then to hear a resounding cheer.
After wide receiver Brandon Johnson caught a pass, the corner of the stadium to my right showed its enthusiastic support by chanting “Let’s go, Brandon” — twice. Oh, and I think I saw two COVID masks in the 45,000-seat stadium. Fans ate hot dogs and pizza, and the kids a few rows in front of me tossed a miniature pigskin with their dad in between plays.
It’s no secret that America loves college football, loves its flyovers and cheers and opportunities to show patriotic pride, and doesn’t want all of this tainted by politics.
So far at least, college football has been a reliable old favorite while pro football has waded into political quagmires. After the national anthem protests instigated by former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, some fans drifted away from the NFL. In 2017, the kneeling protests were the No. 1 reason fans watched fewer games, with 26 percent of people citing them as the reason they weren’t watching as much. The NFL’s net brand favorability plummeted from 30 percent to 17 percent shortly afterward.
When former Saints quarterback Drew Brees expressed that he would “never agree with anyone disrespecting” the American flag, the rest of the league quickly dogpiled him, leading to his apology for the patriotic statement.
The NFL also waded into politics and made enemies when it decided in September to play one anthem for black Americans and another for everyone else, and the year before when it turned end zones and helmets into billboards for Black Lives Matter-inspired slogans after banning the Dallas Cowboys from wearing helmet decals commemorating five murdered Dallas police officers. (Or when it decided to declare that “football is gay,” or to ditch the name of the Washington Redskins.)
Instead of pushing politics, the college football world understands that Americans want football from their football — and maybe (definitely) tailgating, halftime shows, military flyovers, and their team’s favorite sacred traditions like “The Wave” or “Jump Around” or “Country Roads.” We want to revel in the team spirit that gives us something in common with perfect strangers, instead of looking at everything through the lens of divisive identity politics. We want the chance, not just to gather, but to experience camaraderie with strangers after a year and a half of being told to avoid each other.
But absolutely, we don’t want politics from our football, and we don’t want lying, shifty bureaucrats telling us we’re not allowed to fill the stands, either. If they keep trying, they’ll be hearing plenty more “Let’s go, Brandon” cheers from the bleachers.