Editor’s Note: This story was written by First Time Father Project Co-Founder Kyle Belanger.
My life and livelihood have been built on the back of sports. As an active member of the sports media and a fulltime faculty member in a collegiate major called “Communications/Sports Journalism,” I have covered (and continue to cover) some of the world’s most visible sporting events.
And it. Is. A blast.
I’m lucky, and I know it.
Over the last several years, though, I’ve been struggling with my sports fan status, specifically as it pertains to the New England Patriots.
I became a Pats fan when I was 10 years old, in 1987, just in time to suffer through the three-win years of Tom Hodson, Hart Lee Dykes and Rod Rust. It was slim times as a preteen New England fan, wearing my shimmery blue Starter jacket and dodging power wedgies from my Cowboys/Raiders fan friends each Monday morning.
If there was a silver lining, it was that the Pats were so putrid, that none of their games were shown in my Western Massachusetts television market. None. Zero. Zip.
As a result, the team’s dynastic rise in the early part of the 21st century felt personally triumphant. As fans, we had suffered so desperately for so long, that we were willing to accept the role of permanent villain. Pats fans had become so used to being the punch line that the transformation from Poindexter to prom king brought costs we were willing to pay.
Then … life happened.
In the 17 years since my Patriots hoisted our first Lombardi, everything has changed.
More specifically, for me, the change began nine years ago, when I became a father for the first time. In that single moment — at 7:31, on a Sunday evening in September, with the Patriots playing the Bills in their season opener, I might add — I readjusted my fanhood.
Sports were no longer “all that mattered.” Losses didn’t hurt as badly, yet wins still felt good. It was a pretty solid time to be a fan, to be honest.
Then, ummmmm, the Era of Trump began.
Early on, there was Tom Brady’s “Make America Great Again” hat, and Bill Belichick’s letter of support to DT on the eve of the presidential election. Later, it was the longstanding coziness between 45 and Pats owner Bob Kraft, and the seeming hostility between the organization and the players negatively affected by DT’s latently-racist policies.
But “Whatever,” right? “It is just sports.”
This is what I kept telling myself, as one season folded into another and the Patriots kept on winning. Brady and Belichick continued to rewrite history. Fact is, it’s so easy to have it so easy.
But it never really felt OK, though.
You see, as the father of a child of color, an outspoken social justice advocate, and a teacher, I can’t just “it’s just sports” my way through this anymore. Not when the Current Resident of the White House continues to dehumanize populations of color. Not when innocent men and boys who look like my oldest son continue to be mowed down by men with badges who look like me. Not when the NFL, itself, is taking a lead from DT and morally criminalizing the mere act of taking a knee.
I finally tapped out in late June, while I was in Lawrence, Kansas, for the annual Sport Literature Association conference. On the morning after the murder of Antwon Rose, Jr., in Pittsburgh, I was already pushed to the edge of tears. Antwon’s smile looks stunningly similar to that of my second-grader. The details of his murder made it impossible for me to pay attention to the morning’s proceedings, which included multiple presentations about blackness in sports.
I stood up from my seat and took a long lap around the building, mopping my cheeks and hoping I’d told my son never to run from the police under any circumstances — whether he’s simply mowing the lawn, playing hide and seek in the neighborhood, or hanging out at the mall. Hoping I’d told him this enough times. Hoping he heard me — like really freaking heard me.
And then, in that precise moment, “it’s just sports” was no longer enough for me.
Sorry, y’all. I’m out.
I need to root for a team that represents who I am as a person — not simply one that represents a geographical area I occupied at birth.
I’m not just taking my chips and walking away from the sport, though. It’d be too easy to do that. For me, I’m making sure that my kids know that there is a franchise that (at least for now) has the backs of our entire family. One that supports and believes in all of us. As a father, I owe that to my children.
(*Editor’s note: This next paragraph was emotionally difficult to write, despite the fact that I’ve been leaning this way for a while. All metamorphoses come with a bit of pain, though. Right? Right?? Ok. Here we go:)
As a result, and because of the declaration made by owner Christopher Johnson, who has said he will pay the fines for any player who wishes to stand up for their rights as human beings, I am officially declaring myself a fan of the New York Jets.
What’s important to note, though, is that this is not a wish for a pox on the House of Belichick. I am not forsaking my previous 40 years and hoping for the Patriots’ demise. I hope they continue winning. I wish them (and their fans) the best. That is one awesome franchise. I am stoked that I got to ride the roller coaster from Steve Grogan to Malcolm Butler. I would do it again in a heartbeat.
For me, though, it just doesn’t work anymore. (It’s not you, Pat; it’s me. Totally me.)
But this isn’t a gimmick. And I’m not taking this lightly.
We’re in this for the long haul.
In modern America, the role of allies matters.
Lookit: This isn’t going to play well with a number of people. I’m anticipating the typical response from Sports Dad Bro. The ire and argument, the name-calling and nonsense. And that’s cool. You do you, Sports Dad Bro and Hot Take Dudes. I’m not going to argue with you, and I’m unwilling to play the “№1 sports fan” game. It’s silly and juvenile.
I get it. My approach isn’t for everyone.
But it’s important to note that I’m not writing for those dudes.
It also serves to note that I’m not writing this for me, either. I’m writing this so that I can reach the small (but very real) population of dads who feel like I do. I know I’m not alone.
You might not be ready to change your laundry, switch allegiances, or relinquish your lifelong ties to a team. It’s all good. We all do sports differently. But know that, when and if you decide to take a stand, I see you.
Championships are good, sure. But even better than watching the commissioner hand the championship trophy to your head coach is handing our kids a world that will be good to all of them.
Team Dad is better off when we are working with the future in mind.