In our recent podcast with George Bozeka about the Pro Football Researchers Association’s new book on the 1966 Green Bay Packers, the conversation inevitably rolled around to Vince Lombardi.
Bozeka spoke about Lombardi the man. When Lionel Aldridge was going to marry a white woman — practically unheard of at the time — then-Commissioner Pete Rozelle tried to intervene. In a matter of words, Lombardi told Rozelle to take a leap.
I pointed out to Bozeka that the world needs more Vince Lombardis. You know what? The world needs more Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers, who stayed up “really late” watching the results unfold, showed you don’t have to take a political stand to send a powerful message.
“That’s why I’m so tired today,” Rodgers said on Wednesday. “I went out and voted, and I knew it was going to be a historic night either way. You have an outsider winning or the first woman to be president. So, I thought it was an important night to our country, and really a message to the establishment, if you’re looking at it from an objective point of view. I hope as a country we can now come together and work a little better with each other. Obviously, there were some people who were – rightfully so – worried about the direction of the country now, but I think it’s an important time for us that we come together and figure out how to work with each other.”
This is a divided country, with the people in power preying on those divisions in an attempt to drive the wedge even deeper. Rich vs. poor. White vs. black. And so on and so on. The divisions aren’t new. They’ve just been amplified by those trying to make political gains from the nation’s pains.
Maybe it’s a fairy-tale land, but perhaps sports can be a solution. Let me tell you something from my experience. I grew up in Burlington, Wis. It’s Chocolate City USA but the population was whiter than white. To that point in my life, I had zero interaction with minorities until I arrived at UW-Whitewater for the start of fall football practice a few weeks before the start of school. You know what I learned about blacks? They’re people. It sounds like a silly thing to say but football made a huge difference in my life. The guy in the locker to my left was black. His mom had cancer. My mom had MS. It was a bond formed when two strangers actually talked to each other.
Maybe sports can do something similar for our nation. The divisions in this country are bitter. They won’t be fixed anytime soon. But instead of being so pissed off by politics, let’s yell at each other — with a smile on our face and a beer in our hands — about how much your sports team sucks and my sports team is better.
Jackie Robinson helped tear down — or, at least, partially tear down — the walls of race. I’m not saying there isn’t racism in locker rooms. But in team sports, it’s people of all colors pulling together in one direction. Wouldn’t that be something if our country could pull together like that? Donald Trump’s message was “Make America Great Again.” If the rest of the world could learn from a bunch of 20- and 30-year-olds in a locker room, that would truly make America great again.
If nothing else, maybe sports can help tear down so many of the barriers that have been put up by the people who, frankly, don’t give a crap about you and are using those divisions to feed their need for power and money.
“I think that’s what sports can do,” Rodgers said. “It doesn’t erase anything that (are) big events that have happened. I think when you saw President Bush throw out the first pitch after 9/11, I just remember that was a powerful time for our country to say, ‘Hey, we’re moving on. We’re getting past this.’ Sports can do that for you at times. As a country, you saw last night, there wasn’t a 50 percent majority winner. It’s a two-party system. There’s binary systems that are built up in this country all over the place to divide us, and I think it’s important especially in this time with our election that we learn how to work with each other. Sports can bring people together and break down the initial barriers. Obviously, it’s on a way different scale. You’re talking about running a country compared to providing entertainment for people, but we love the opportunity to do what we do and inspire people, and hope we can all move forward together and get this thing going in the right direction.”
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.