For many, American life revolves around the four major professional sports leagues in the United States. You are probably familiar with them.
In glorious months of summer, when all one needs in life is a bag of peanuts and a Papa to “have a catch” with, baseball reigns supreme. Then, as the cool autumn air brings with it pumpkin-spice lattes, flannels and an eventual World Series Champion, the Lord must make room for someone else on Sundays. That special someone is, of course, the National Football League. And during that time, while snow cakes the gridiron and Roger Goodell learns what a concussion is, the National Hockey League and National Basketball Association fill the void presented by the other six days of the week.
Screw calendars and weather patterns. Most Americans can tell you what month of the year it is just by who’s playing on television.
But in 2016, there was a fifth professional sport that occupied our attention. We call it politics.
Like the MLB, NFL, NHL and NBA, the election has both a regular and a postseason. There is no question, though, that it is most similar to baseball — interleague play is rare, and there is absolutely no salary cap.
In the regular season — or, as it is more well known, the primary season — two different conferences, the Republicans and Democrats, pit their most rugged candidates against one another. Die-hard fans swoon towards their favorite competitor, while others try to evaluate each candidate based on his or her respective merits or demerits before deciding to root for someone. Most, though, do not pay much attention at all, and by the time the primary season is over, realize that they hate both of the league winners anyway.
Those who do care adorn themselves and their homes in their favorite candidate’s paraphernalia. Red trucker hats, glass ceiling shatterers and the occasional Jeb Bush guacamole bowl sit alongside autographed baseballs, authenticated basketball shoes and Terrible Towels on the mantle. Grandma’s Jesus trinket unfortunately has to spend a couple months in storage.
Fans wear uniforms to rallies. Those uniforms range from a tie-dye bikini bottom and a malfunctioning vaporizer pen to so much camo that it can only be found through echolocation. It all, of course, depends on whom the fans support.
They plaster “Make America Great Again” or “I’m With Her” on their bumpers. They tune in at 9 p.m. EST on Sunday nights to watch the Debate of the Week. And just like fans of the Big Four sports, they flock to Vegas to toss their money away betting on who will win the Presidency. Most come home empty-handed.
When the postseason comes, the news stations bill the final matchups between each league’s best competitors as the ultimate showdown. Candidates adopt theme songs, spark rallying cries, talk trash to one another and polarize the country. They divide the nation by race, geography and class. Oftentimes, the rest of the “league,” or political party, comes together around its respective champion. Sometimes, it doesn’t.
Experts spend hours weighing in on whom they believe will emerge victorious. Analytics and data narrow the matchup down to a science. Nate Silver stops looking at on-base percentage and instead turns to polling numbers. Somehow, he still finds a way to be wrong.
Then finally, on Nov. 8, a Super Bowl played once every four years kicks off. Everyone across the country glues him or herself to the television to watch the outcome of a torturous election season.
This year’s game began with a surprising first-quarter victory as the heavy underdog won battles in phases of the game he was sure to lose. The experts didn’t panic quite yet, though. It was early in the night, and they had never been this wrong before.
But as play progressed, it became clear that the underdog in fact had this one in the bag, and that it would take a miracle to change the outcome. The pundits were baffled. America was in shock. Some partied in the streets — or more likely on country roads — while others shed tears centuries in the making. And unlike the tears shed six days prior, they had nothing to do with the Cubs.
The media, the political parties and the American public treat the election cycle as though it were a sport. It is driven by money, fanaticism, slogans, nicknames, groupthink, mass participation, mass truancy and gambling. It is everything wrong with the sports industry amalgamated together into one game that is far more important than sports could ever be. CNN became ESPN. Wolf Blitzer became Joe Buck. Nate Silver stayed Nate Silver. Donald Trump became LeBron James.
And the worst part is that he doesn’t just get to take a day trip to the White House. He gets to live there.
Noah Asimow is a senior in Davenport College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .