Monday, November 29, 2010

My rage against a dying light

Each year in the week leading up to the UO/OSU football game I protest the rivalry’s name, “The Civil War.”

What's the problem? friends and family ask. Lighten up!

Simply put, I find it abhorrent that a collegiate football game would call itself a war, even metaphorically.

And so I persist in a losing cause.

As far as I can tell, the name for the Oregon rivalry has been around for 80 years, thanks to some long-forgotten sportswriter. No one even thinks about it any more. Except, seemingly, me.

Of course, there’s the play on the word “civil” that softens the name. But at the same time “the Civil War” raises the specter of real civil war. One-hundred-and-fifty years ago our "War between the States" took the lives of a half million Americans. (Matthew Brady recorded the war dead in the trenches at Fredericksburg in the photo shown below. Above, the "Civil War" "trenches" between OSU and UO.)

On Sunday The Oregonian ran the headline “Dark precursor to war.” You’d think the headline was attached to an account of the deadly shelling between the Koreas, but, no, it ran above a story about the upcoming game in Corvallis.

The sports page loves to milch the war image. “Dark precursor to war.” Give me a break.

Civil wars, real ones, are very much with us, in the Congo, in the Sudan, in Somalia, and potentially on the Korean peninsula. There are bombings and shoot-outs in Iraq, China and Mexico with civil war overtones.

We don’t need metaphorical civil wars on our campuses. All they do is amplify the bellicose tone for already violent football games.

My family refers to my annual protest as “Rick’s rant.”

If for some reason I miss a year, they might worry. “Is the old boy winding down?”

Strangers have reacted to past Red Electric posts on the subject with “You’ve got to be kidding!” and “Get a life!” responses from avid Ducks and Beavers. I must seem a timorous lamb. “The Civil War” name to them is as much a part of the game as trash talk, hobbled quarterbacks, brain-jarring hits, and unnecessary roughness.

I’ve tried to take a positive approach by suggesting other names, but none of them expresses the chest-pounding gusto and testosterone rush that “The Civil War” does.

Somehow Stanford and Cal can get by with “The Big Game.” Harvard and Yale simply face off in “The Game” and Auburn and Alabama manage with the “Iron Bowl.” (Hey Oregon fans, how about The Silicon Forest Bowl? The Spotted Owl Bowl? The Visit-but-don't Stay Bowl? The Anti-War Bowl?)

I’m not sure why Oregon needs to invoke war to get its competitive juices flowing. Perhaps it’s to ward off the onset of hibernation. Or maybe it is ignorance of the terrible costs of war on our sheltered campuses. (I wonder what Oregon veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts feel about the name. “War” for them has an indelible meaning that is beyond the comprehension of college undergraduates and "Civil War" fans.)

Maybe the Oregon rivalry’s name persists because Oregon has never experienced a real civil war. Would a football rivalry in Kentucky or Tennessee or Virginia be called “The Civil War”? Would a soccer rivalry between German and Belgium be named “The Battle of the Bulge”? Don’t even ask about “The Holocaust” describing a rivalry in Israel.

So there it is: another year, another rant. Is anyone listening?

In this year of my seniority, the words of Dyan Thomas come to mind:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

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Anonymous Peter J. DeCrescenzo said...

I also find the football game's "Civil War" name -- and the lame stream media's lazy / propagandist / perverted use of the word "war" -- to be offensive and detrimental to building healthy communities.

Thanks for keeping the faith, year after year, Rick. If it makes a difference, you're not alone.

12:26 PM  
Anonymous Kathy Barnhart said...

Yes, I'm listening!

I agree that the war metaphor takes us beyond sports into unnecessary hype. But I've come to appreciate sports (in my old age) as a mostly benign substitute for war. Would that we could channel all our aggressions into sports teams instead of, rather than in addition to, killing thousands of innocent people.
But language counts and the media calling a game a war diminishes real war, just as video war games make war fun for kids and leave us no vocabulary for real war.

Keep up your "battle" in the losing cause of making words count!

2:30 PM  

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