By Leigh Pomeroy
As the Minnesota Vikings exit Mankato for perhaps their last training camp here, I am torn among several thoughts.
My wife and I have never been big football fans. Having grown up in Colorado, she has always been partial to the Broncos. I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and was a 49ers and Stanford fan back from the days of Y. A. Tittle and John Brodie. Pro football was fairly low-key then, when salaries weren’t extravagant and some of the players might even be your neighbors. In fact, my brother dated Jill Soltau, daughter of 49ers All-Pro receiver Gordy Soltau (interestingly, a native of Duluth). She was very down-to-earth and not at all on a pedestal because of her father’s standing.
I celebrated when the 49ers dominated the NFL with Joe Montana and Jerry Rice. Joe bought his cars from my brother’s friend’s VW dealership, and later, when Joe had retired, I would cross paths with Jim Plunkett, who had taken over the quarterbacking slot, running in my neighborhood.
Football has changed a lot since then.
Players are bigger and beefier, as are salaries. There is also a certain hero worship. Maybe that was always there, but decades ago it seemed a lot less prevalent.
Newspapers still devote a full section to sports endeavors. I wonder why this is, given the declining readership among younger generations and the question: Does the remaining, obviously older, predominantly male population actually read anything?
Life is full of questions like this, such as the obsession du jour of today’s media: the presidential election.
When the media bring up the subject of whether Hillary Clinton will do this or Donald Trump will do that if elected, there is never the disclaimer: Warning! Congress actually makes the laws!
We have seen in the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations examples of “executive power” by which the president acts when Congress fiddles. In some cases, this is good for the American people, in others, well, not so much.
And then there is the Supreme Court, which in 1803 under Chief Justice John Marshall, declared itself the final arbiter on the constitutionality of laws — not the president or Congress. Both President Thomas Jefferson and Congress accepted this, as have subsequent presidents and Congresses, so here we stand today with the Supreme Court able to make extraordinary decisions using powers it was not expressly given in the Constitution based on individual justices’ unique interpretations of that document, existing law and subsequent court decisions, too often by a razor thin margin of just one vote.
So what does this have to do with the Vikings training camp?
Very little, and here’s why: First of all, this piece will appear in the opinion section of the newspaper, which I’m sure heavy duty Viking fans rarely read. And even if it did show up in the sports section, would it get any traction there?
Second, rabid Vikings fans — God bless ‘em! — probably look at the constant noise and thrum about the presidential election as the rest of us do: the never ending parade of he said/she said sound bites that in the long run mean very little in terms of what really will happen.
Third, compared to the direction of the country and the world, the Vikings training camp means nothing. I look at the parade of big honker SUVs coming in and leaving from the training camp and think: How does this relate to what really matters, like national security, feeding the hungry, disease prevention, clean water, quality education, health care, the environment, wealth inequality, climate change?
I would like to relate the Vikings training camp to these challenges, but I cannot. The camp is about beef and brawn and winning (and hopefully not losing) and probably just taking minds off everyday challenges of work and raising a family.
Perhaps that’s good, as facing such challenges can rightfully make us depressed. On the other hand, concentrating on the ins and outs, comings and goings, successes and failures of a sports team may take us away from Thomas Jefferson’s concept that an educated and engaged citizenry is necessary for the full functioning of a democracy.
As I watch the parade of monster gas-guzzling SUVs come and go from the training camp, I have to caution myself: At one time this kind of lifestyle I thought to be just fine. Thus, should their drivers be blamed for spending their leisure time this way just because I find it unimportant and wasteful?
I think not. Siddhartha in the ancient Buddhist tradition, who gave up his control of kingdoms and riches to become a ferryboat driver, never blamed others for not following his choices. Those of us who have gone beyond the worship of football (or any sport) should do the same.
With coaxing and enlightenment, perhaps one day those Viking fans/SUV drivers will return to our town to ride our bike trails, partake of our cultural events, visit our farmer’s market. And then, perhaps, once their children have grown up and left home, and they don’t have so many bodies to cart around, they’ll be driving Priuses or even electric cars instead.
Leigh Pomeroy lives in Mankato and could easily walk to the Vikings Training Camp if he wanted to.