This isn’t easy to admit right now, so I’m just going to come out and say it:
I’m a Vikings fan.
I’ve loved the Vikings all my life. When I was in 8th grade, I wore a Cris Carter jersey to school every Monday and Thursday pretty much all year long. I would have worn it even more if I wasn’t so sure that the wrong people would notice and harass me for wearing the same shirt every day.
I found that purple No. 80 jersey in a box in my parents’ basement in Iowa when we visited after Christmas a few weeks back, and I brought it home to Seattle along with my “lucky” purple Vikings socks. I was wearing the full ensemble yesterday for the first time in almost 20 years as I watched the Vikes get blown out by the Eagles 38-7 in the NFC Championship Game.
It was a genuine heartbreaker. Especially because it had taken a miracle a week earlier to even get this far:
Sunday's Vikings loss was one of the five biggest blowouts in the history of conference championship games in the NFL. But believe it or not, that’s almost beside the point here. This was more than just one bad loss. The Vikings have lost in more and stranger ways than I can even describe here.
Genuine heartbreak is central to the nature of being a Vikings fan.
To be a Vikings fan is to be constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop — and to know that it will drop. This team won’t just lose, they will blindside you with defeat when you least expect it. They always have.
I woke up this morning feeling familiar Vikings feelings: sadness, grogginess, and a sort of low-level disappointment in myself for having gotten sucked in yet again.
Well, we had a good season, right? It was fun to even make it this far, right? Maybe next year.
Next year is a mirage, because we’re not just talking about one year. This is a pattern of pain. It’s habitual heartbreak.
It’s like certain addictions. It’s not the end of the world for most folks to play a few hands of blackjack one day, or to have a drink one night. It’s when those individual acts add up to cyclical, problematic use that they transform. No longer is one drink just one drink, or one bet just one bet. In the new context of addiction, each is irrevocably part of a bigger picture.
That’s how it is with the Vikings. At this point, this heartbreaking loss to end the season doesn’t get to just stand alone. It’s like asking me to just look at one square of a quilt when the whole thing is obviously stitched together. It’s like asking me to ignore the previous 70 years of known inequity in Seattle Public Schools and trust that this time, this year, yeah, things will be different!
(See what I did there? Boom. You thought we were talking about football. It was all just an elaborate setup.)
See, I’ve been realizing that this feeling is familiar in ways that go beyond football. I found myself last night commiserating with friends and family using the same language and ideas that come to mind when I start bellyaching about the racial inequity in Seattle’s schools.
Neal Morton recently wrote in the Seattle Times about the egregious opportunity gaps that exist along racial and socioeconomic lines in our schools. He pointed out that we’ve been talking about these gaps since the ‘50s — and that today, they’re worse than ever. We’ve been acknowledging that things need to change for some 70 years now without actually making any changes.
I keep coming back to the Vikings because it can be fun to cheer for a football team, and it's okay to keep waiting and letting my heart get “broken” because it doesn't really matter. It's a game. One team wins, the others lose.
Real life, obviously, isn’t always like that. Education isn't a game where one group of kids will inevitably beat all the others. We’re dealing with people's lives and their futures, dealing with kids and families, which demands our urgent attention, as opposed to the Vikings' "curse," which really only offers itself to us as a distraction from real things.
Seattle has known that its schools are producing racist outcomes, and we’ve been convincing ourselves that entire time that we’re on the right track. We’ve been convincing ourselves that the big win is just around the corner. That this year is different.
Nobody has closed the gaps in Seattle in 70 years of trying. That's outrageous. Just like no Vikings team, regardless of how many different players and coaches we’ve had over the decades, can seem to come through at that critical moment. At what point do we stop thinking, maybe this is our year?
Am I just being another sad-sack Vikings fan by trusting these schools with my children of color when the system has failed kids like them for so long?