Every religion has its followers. And so does every television show. Religions have a day where those followers come together to worship, and so do television shows. Religions have people that will blow up if their religion is insulted, and so do television shows. The parallels go on and on. So where in this do sports fall? Can they be considered a religion, or are they just entertainment, like any other TV show? Michigan football answers the question.
The University of Michigan Athletic Department is going through a rough stretch of time. The football team is its driving force, and while it is sad that the team’s hard times are overshadowing the success that others are having, this is simply how it is. And if the lack of success on the field wasn’t enough, the department’s leader is facing a storm of criticism every day.
On October 16th, the university’s Board of Regents met to discuss numerous topics, none of which were as publicized as the future of Athletic Director Dave Brandon. Many believe it is just a matter of time before the money-grabbing leader is fired, due to his alienation of students and fans, controversial ticket policies, poor handling of the aftermath of Shane Morris’s concussion, and general treatment of one of the most prestigious universities in the country like the pizza company he used to run. If the 11,310 people that have signed the petition to have Dave Brandon removed of his duties have their way, he will not be with the university for much longer.
In A. Bartlett Giamatti’s piece, “Take Time for Paradise” he argues whether sports fall in line with religious followings, due to “the intensity of devotion brought by the true believer, or fan,” and “the widely shared, binding nature… of American sport,” or if they are just “industrial… [and] are mass entertainment,” and the only reason they became such an integral part of society was because they came about with the development of the Industrial Revolution as a way to occupy the masses.
Giamatti thinks that sports can be viewed alongside religion, “in the sense that the most intense feelings are brought to bear or in the sense that sports may mirror whatever avowedly ‘sacred’ concerns Americans do share.” While common sports characteristics like competition, hard work, and a pride for winning, the parallel comes from our deep attachment to them and the emotional feelings we get from our team winning or losing.
It is hard to think of sports, especially football, at the University of Michigan as just mere entertainment. As Bob Ufer, longtime Michigan football announcer famously once said, “Michigan football is a religion and Saturday’s the holy day of obligation.” We worship Michigan football. Our church, synagogue, mosque, or any other place of worship is the Big House.
If you are trying to find evidence that Michigan fans are intensely devoted to their school, look no further than the attendance from last Saturday’s game. 113,085 people turned out to see Michigan play Penn State in the middle of one of the most tumultuous seasons in school history. Even though it was the most anticipated game of the year, people could have sold their tickets long ago, avoided what many expected to be a blowout, and watched from home. But those fans didn’t and in spite of a hopeless season, they came out to support their team; their devotion cannot be questioned.
If an American sport must bind its fans and followers together to be a religion, then the fact that thousands of block M’s can be found around the world at any given time proves that Wolverines are more closely knit than nearly any other school. We are all bound by the block M. People can say that the logo represents the entire school, and not just athletics, but our university is mainly driven by its sports’ reputation. When we see it, we yell “Go Blue!” and do not shy away from identifying with other Michigan fans.
Numerous protests of the team have been discussed recently, and people are growing tired with the lack of success. If the unrelenting support of Michigan is not enough proof that Michigan football is a religion, look at the current uprising of students, fans, alumni, and even some faculty against Dave Brandon. Students wouldn’t hold a protest on the Diag and march on President Schlissel’s house if Michigan football was just a three-hour show each Saturday that served as a break from studying. People don’t sign petitions to get entertainment, like television programs, off the air; they simply don’t watch. It is not merely a form of entertainment to occupy the attention of the masses when they are not working, as Giamatti claims it could be; it is what people live for. No one lives for TV shows.
Having considered these things, I find it difficult to see how University of Michigan athletics are merely entertainment. This fanaticism that comes proudly wearing your school’s logo around town, paired with the joy that good times bring and refusal to leave when times are bad, represents a certain religious quality that cannot be disputed. Michigan football fans will continue going to the Big House, just as Catholics will go to church, Jews to synagogue, and Muslims to mosque when their religion is facing scrutiny. They will not turn away, just as followers of a god do not turn against their religion in hard times.
Perhaps Dave Brandon wishes Michigan football were mere entertainment, because then he may be able to quietly exit the university. But the sheer passion shown by its fans is proof that it is a religion that Wolverines will not turn away from. Brandon is our religion’s leader, and the majority of his followers are fed up. They will do what it takes to overthrow him, and get the religion of Michigan football back on track.