A disease is haunting Oregon — the disease of cultural infantilism. All the powers of old Oregon's intellect and reason have entered into a holy alliance to defeat this disease. They have utterly failed.
The disease is exhibited by adults in connection with the fortunes of the University of Oregon and Oregon State University big-time athletic programs, namely football. And infantilism it is, naked, bawling, obnoxious, and crushingly boring to witness. I would ignore its irritating presence if I could but I cannot because it constantly invades my cultural space. It is no joke when I say that I pine for Oregon circa 1983 and the Civil War football game score of 0-0, when no one talked about college sports and most men didn't carry the 50 extra pounds they do now.
At its most primitive level, the infantilism manifests itself in the green and gold and black and orange flags decorating the tricked-out strollers — I mean, trucks and SUVs — of infants on their way to the playpens formerly known as Autzen and Parker Stadiums. What they have been corporately renamed these days, I have no idea.
The next place to see the infantilism in action is at any garden variety meeting of more than five adults. In the past months I have attended several of them and had to endure one banal comment after another from speaker after speaker about his or her Beaver or Duck affiliation or the fact that another speaker was a Husky or Cougar or whatever. Hey, I don't give shit! I never did. I never will.
Oregonians, can we talk about something else? Like how the state's salmon hatchery program perpetrates a massive ecological fraud? Like how rock-and-roll died? Like how a man who never voted wants to become Oregon's governor? Like how the school district I teach in is cutting 12 days from the school year because the state can't provide enough funding?
Hey, what about the weather? Or even our respective sex lives, assuming of course, that the middle-aged adults (i.e., men) who normally talk about college football all the time have one left to discuss anymore.
Undoubtedly, the greatest manifestation of this infantilism comes in the form of the various conspiracy theories propounded by UO and OSU fanatics (many of them with advanced degrees) describing how the other university is favored by the local and/or Eastern media. It's so obvious! Can't you see? The officials are in on it too! I hear these delusions all the time in the various taverns, sports bars, and faculty meetings where I do most of my writing and depressing cultural observation.
And then, of course, there exists the specter of Phil Knight, whose huge donations to the Ducks elevate the Beavers into a state of conspiratorial fever on a level with those who just know the moonwalk was staged in a Hollywood studio and President Obama observes Ramadan. The Ducks have their own special paranoid fantasies too, but nothing comes close to what Knight does to OSU folks. They need a Twin Towers-inside job of their own.
Do not assume my irritation with the infantilism means I disdain sports and the important lessons playing them imparts. I love participatory sports and especially loved playing and coaching adolescent football. There is nothing quite like, as I experienced in my youth, getting knocked out returning a punt, separating another player's shoulder, or winning or losing 50-0 to teach something worthwhile. But big time athletic programs don't teach spectators anything. The last time they did, Bear Bryant had to integrate his all white cracker Alabama football team and Woody Hayes lost his mind on the Ohio State sideline during the Gator Bowl and punched an opposing team's player.
I have no problem with college students going nuts at the tailgaters, in the stands and dorms. Swallow Everclear Jell-O shots and make merry, I say, and learn the good undergraduate lessons of trying to get laid and how to recover from a pulverizing hangover. But if you are an adult, can you at least scale back the immaturity over the Ducks and Beavers? There are kids around, you know, who might get the wrong idea that all your attention actually means something important.
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Matt Love is the author/editor of 10 books about Oregon. He lives in South Beach and teaches creative writing and journalism at Newport High School. His latest book is Of Walking in Rain.
Books mentioned in this post
Matt Love is the author of Of Walking in Rain