On my kids becoming sports fans. Plus: This week's writing and podcasting.
The Charles C. W. Cooke Newsletter
0057 January 20, 2023

Good morning,

Well, I missed a couple of weeks of this newsletter, because I got caught up in the Jaguars remarkable end-of-season run and started following the team around the country. I went to the game in which they beat the Titans. Then I went to the game in which they beat the Chargers. And then, courtesy of a friend of mine who lives there, I went to Kansas City for the game in which they were beaten by the Chiefs. Had they won that game—which they almost did—Id now be in Cincinnati for the AFC Championship Game.

But, alas, they didnt win that game. So Im back in Florida, and back to doing all my work on time. At least, until next year . . .

As you all know, Im a big sports guy, but Ive never actually got to the point before at which Ive reflexively said yes each time I’ve been asked if Ill be at the next game. In the 1960s, my Dad followed Manchester United around the U.K. so religiously that he didnt miss a game for something like five years. Ive never been that person—in part, perhaps, because Im not much of a joiner. When you apply to become a U.S. citizen, you have to list all the countries youve been to in the last ten or so years; list all the addresses you’ve lived at; and list all the associations you’ve joined, or of which you are currently a member. I had lots of countries, lots of addresses, and . . . one association. It’s just not something I do. 

Prompted by the Ivan Provorov contretemps, I wrote last week about my aversion to wearing clothing that could be construed as a full-throated endorsement of a given cause, group, or politician, but noted at the end that my one exception to the rule is sports. I couldn’t wear a t-shirt with the president’s name on it—or a t-shirt that expressed negative sentiments toward the president—because I’d constantly feel obliged to tell people that while I agree with him (or dislike him) in most cases, I have a real problem with his policy on tariffs or whatever. The same rule goes for issue groups and even for charities, which, in effect, makes me Kramer from Seinfeld

Obviously, though, this doesnt apply to sports. Nobody looks at a guy wearing a 49ers jersey and thinks, ”wow, I guess that guy liked it when the tight end dropped the catch at the end of the fourth quarter and blew the game.” The whole point of sports fandom is that you’re in on a completely tribal basis, and that being so is innocuous—and, perhaps, even virtuous.

For most of my life I’ve had a vague theory that sports fulfill a crucial role in a liberal democracy, because they satiate our (probably) hardwired desire to join clans and kill each other. Having kids has only made that suspicion stronger. Occasionally, people I know who don’t like sports will point out to me how odd it is that I care so much about the outcome of a game that has no substantial connection to my personal wellbeing, wealth, or prospects; in which I’m not playing; and in which I know none of the participants on a personal basis. And, on a purely rational basis, theyre right: Given all that is going on in the world, it’s bizarre that I still wake up at night thinking, Myles Jack wasnt down. But, on an observational level, it’s they who are the odd ones out. Look around the world. Pick any country you like. You’ll find sporting competitions that require hundreds of thousands of people to pick a side and root for it against its opponents. It’s seemingly innate. 

Until the last few weeks, my kids were largely indifferent to sports. When I was watching something on TV, they’d ask me which team I liked and then inquire as to whether that team was winning. And, because I’m their Dad, they’d say that they hoped my team won. But, this month, something changed. Because the whole Jacksonville area got so heavily into the Jaguars, both kids became fans, and—and this is the important part—they picked up all of the traits you’d associate with fandom. They asked for clothes with the team’s logo on it. They wanted to know which teams we didn’t like—and why. They started shouting at the TV. And, when the Jaguars lost in Kansas City, my eldest became utterly inconsolable.

I wasn’t there, of course: I was in Kansas City. But, soon after the clock hit 00:00, I received a photograph on my iPhone showing him in floods of tears—real tears, that only stopped once I’d called him from the parking lot to tell him it was okay and my brother-in-law had called him to tell him how many times he’s been upset by the New York Giants.

To some extent, this is learned behavior. If I weren’t interested in sports, he might not have gone through that gate in the first instance. But it’s not entirely learned, is it? Despite my personal preferences, I have not pushed my kids into caring about professional sports any more than my Dad pushed me into caring about Manchester United. It just . . . happened. I can remember being around seven-years-old, and suddenly being a fanatic. One moment, it was an interesting background distraction—something my Dad paid attention to on a Saturday and that I mostly ignored; the next moment, I started to watch too; and, suddenly, before I knew it, I was so bought in that I felt depressed if the team lost, became nervous before the games, and thought about it at school when I should have been concentrating on other things. Sure, my Dad welcomed this development. But he didn’t teach me how to do that, just as I didn’t teach my six-year-old to burst into tears at the end of the fourth quarter. It was already there in me somewhere.

Which is all a long way of saying that I think that we profoundly underestimate the importance of sports in our culture. I am often told—by progressives and post-liberal conservatives alike—that the classical-liberal worldview that I hold is too hollow to survive because, while it creates space for different sorts of people, it doesnt believe in anything itself. I disagree with this assessment for many reasons, but the most important among them is that it spectacularly misses the point. The American system of government is not supposed to be the source of meaning in people’s lives; it’s supposed to provide a framework within which people can find meaning without being subjugated by the predilections of other people. That being so, the threat is not that the government will remain assiduously neutral and bore everyone into totalitarianism, but that, having been given the chance to take part in a host of unmolested institutions, the citizenry will politely decline to do so. When figures such as myself are asked which institutions we have in mind, we often rattle off a familiar list: families, churches, charities, book clubs, etc. But, perhaps because it sounds frivolous, we tend to leave out sports. We shouldn’t. Sports are a key source of meaning, and, more important still, they serve as a safe outlet for some of the least pleasant sides of human nature.

They even attract the non-joiners.

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On Monday, I asked how President Biden could possibly have handled his classified documents scandal less deftly:

Who among us can say that he is surprised? Since Biden became the Democrats’ nominee in 2019, many in the press have felt the need to pretend that he is a competent, moderate, lovable, grandfatherly figure, whose steady hand on the tiller has reminded a starving nation what good, old-fashioned proficiency looks like. But Biden is no such thing, and he never has been. He’s a dime-a-dozen partisan blowhard, with an impression of his own abilities that has always been at odds with reality. Can Biden really have acquiesced to the searching of a former president’s home without checking first to ensure that he was not guilty of precisely the same crime that search aimed to find evidence of? Of course he can. What in the man’s entire political history would have suggested that he’d proceed otherwise? He’s a bungler, a braggart, a malarkey salesman whose sole redeeming quality is his longevity. Some people have talent; Biden has seniority. And seniority is no guarantee of results.

And no, it doesnt matter that Trump did the same thing:

Yes, yes, yes — I’ve heard all the apologias. I agree that it is helpful for Biden that Donald Trump did the same thing he’s done. I agree that Trump has been unwaveringly impenitent, while Biden has pretended to be surprised. I agree that Trump’s infraction was materially worse, and that, if Hillary Clinton had been prosecuted for her own classified-information mishandling, the case for indicting him would be strong. But, all of that to one side, this is quite clearly not where Biden wanted to be. “He did it, too” is the sort of plea that one offers up from a position of weakness, not strength. What Biden wanted was the moral high ground: “I am good,” he hoped to propose, “and the guys on the other side are bad.” Now? Now, he’s merely less bad than his opponents. Now, he’s parsing culpability. Now, it’s “he took them on purpose” while “I put them in my garage at home because I have limited control of my effects.” There’s a gap there, sure. But it’s a lot narrower than the one Biden wanted to run on in 2024.

On Wednesday, I confessed to being confused by the presss implication that parents and state legislatures are interfering in public schools:

Okay. As opposed to what? Public schools are created and run by state governments — or by the counties that those state governments have created — and they are informed by the parents who use and pay for them. Unless you don’t believe that we should have public schools, those schools are inevitably going to be subject to “scrutiny” from parents and state-level legislators. We can debate what policies that those parents and state-level legislators should set, but, unless we want public schools to represent a fourth branch of government for which taxpayers are responsible financially but over which they have no control, there is no way of avoiding public influence. If parents don’t like progressive ideology being smuggled in — which most don’t — then both they and the state-level legislators and school boards that they elect are going to balk at having it in schools.

Also on Wednesday, I took a dive into Donald Trumps Truth Social account and found that, despite being the only candidate who has officially announced his bid, Trump is:

well, ranting like a deranged hobo in a dilapidated public park. No, don’t look at him — he might come over here with his sign.

There was a point in time at which Trump’s unusual verbal affect and singular nose for underutilized wedge issues gave him a competitive edge. Now? Now, he’s morphing into one of the three witches from Macbeth. To peruse Trump’s account on Truth Social is to meet a cast of characters about whom nobody who lives beyond the Trump Extended Universe could possibly care one whit. Here in the real world, the border is a catastrophe, inflation is as bad as it’s been in four decades, interest rates have risen to their highest level in 15 years, crime is on the up, and the debt continues to mushroom. And yet, safely ensconced within his own macrocosm, Trump is busy mainlining Edward Lear. Day in, day out, he rambles about the adventures of Coco Chow and the Old Broken Crow; the dastardly Unselect Committee; the (presumably tasty) Stollen Presidential Election; the travails of that famous law-enforcement agency, the Gestopo; Joe Scarborough’s wife “Mike”; and other unusual characters from Coromandel. “Where the early pumpkins blow / In the middle of the woods / Lived the Yonghy-Bonghy-Bò / Who STOLLE THE ELECTION / Don’t you know?”

Its a mess:

These characters come and go as the world passes indifferently by. But Trump’s heroism remains the one constant. It is the dream of any artist to play both performer and critic, and, on Truth Social, Trump is living the dream. At times, his penchant for self-elevation makes God’s declaration in Genesis “that it was good” look positively bashful. Apropos of nothing, he will declare to himself: “‘TRUMP WAS RIGHT ABOUT EVERYTHING’ One of [sic] most often used current phrases or statements. Wow, such a magnificent compliment. Thank you!” Other evaluations are equally gushing. His appraisal of the social-media company of which he is the sole potentate: “TRUTH SOCIAL IS SOOO GREAT!” His review of his golfing abilities in a competition that, astonishingly enough, he managed to win despite missing its first day: “Competed against many fine golfers, and was hitting the ball long and straight,” which “in a very real way . . . serves as a physical exam, only MUCH tougher.” His assessment of his presidency, and of the 2020 election that he lost by millions of votes: “I did a GREAT job as President, maybe the best.” And then: “I Ran twice, did much better the second time (Rigged Election!)” I tell ya, Charley, I coulda been a contender.

Last Tuesday, I took issue with President Biden’s repeated insistence that there is no point in the citizenry owning rifles because the government has fighter jets:

This is a grotesque thing for an American president to say. Happily, there is no need at present for the American citizenry to fight its own government. One hopes there never will be. But this is not the sort of thing about which a sitting president should be brooding. Having been written by a group of successful insurrectionists, the U.S. Constitution is, in effect, a hybrid document. In some places, it establishes the powers that the national government may exercise; in others it ensures that, if the government oversteps its bounds, the people have the opportunity to resist. By declaring that the public would and should have no chance against a tyrannical American government, President Biden was implying that the Declaration’s central promise — “that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it” — has been rendered moot.

In so doing, Biden was inadvertently channeling George Orwell, who proposed in 1945 that, “Ages in which the dominant weapon is expensive or difficult to make will tend to be ages of despotism, whereas when the dominant weapon is cheap and simple, the common people have a chance.” Orwell, unlike Biden, did not consider this prospect to be either salutary or dispositive. “Tanks, battleships and bombing planes,” he wrote with palpable disgust, “are inherently tyrannical weapons, while rifles, muskets, long-bows and hand-grenades are inherently democratic.” And what should people do about this? They should remember that, however badly the citizenry might now be outgunned, the mere fact that it is armed at all raises the cost of oppression. “That rifle on the wall of the labourer’s cottage or working class flat,” Orwell wrote during the darkest days of World War II, “is the symbol of democracy. It is our job to see that it stays there.”

Orwell was correct. Indeed, Orwell is still correct, for to believe with any confidence that a population armed with AR-15s could not resist a government armed with F-15s, one needs not only to ignore the last 50 years of American foreign policy — which, in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan saw cave-dwellers armed with AK-47s outlast the world’s sole hyperpower — but also to assume that the U.S. government would be more aggressive with its own people than it was prepared to be with hostile foreigners. Would it be? That seems highly unlikely. During the American Revolutionary War, many prominent figures within the British parliament were openly skeptical of the King’s position, which by 1781 was being described by no less a figure than William Pitt as “most accursed, wicked, barbarous, cruel, unnatural, unjust, and most diabolical,” and by 1782 was broadly considered to be unsustainable. Would this tendency be more, or less, pronounced, if the tyranny were here at home?

Last Thursday, I submitted that “in the future, everyone will remember where they were on the day NHL player Ivan Provorov said nothing:


I was at home when the news first broke, and, like many others, I simply couldn’t believe what I wasn’t hearing. In my shock and my horror, my mind flitted chaotically between urgent questions. How does one write down what Provorov was conveying by declining to participate in a Philadelphia Flyers LGBT pride event? Is it “” or “. . .” or some even fouler third option? Can the punishments that have been floated for Provorov — including a million-dollar fine and deportation to Russia — really be considered sufficient given the unusual vacuousness of his crime? What will happen if, at some point in the future, another professional athlete stays quiet while others are affirming what they believe? The prospect is almost too terrifying to consider.


Worse still, nobody seems to care about my grief:


Alas, too many of us remain in a pre-Tuesday mentality. Commenting on the atrocity, the coach of the Philadelphia Flyers, John Tortorella, insisted that, while his franchise agreed corporately with Provorov’s critics, there was value in creating room for those who disagree. “With Provy,” Tortorella said, “he is being true to himself and to his religion. . . . That is one thing I respect about Provy, he is always true to himself.” The NHL, meanwhile, submitted that “players are free to decide which initiatives to support.” Both of these statements are too clever by half. Superficially, the notion of “respect” may sound attractive, but, if we desire to make real progress, it cannot be meaningfully applied here. At a moment such as this, “respect” is not a luxury to be accorded to those whose convictions run afoul of the majority, but the means by which such people must be sedulously brought into line. By demanding that people of different perspectives be treated cordially instead of as pariahs, Tortorella, Provorov, and the entire NHL have weaponized American forbearance against the most vulnerable members of our society. We will be paying for their mistake for years to come.


I also explained why, irrespective of the cause, Im not wearing your damn jersey:


I have no religious beliefs, and I am in favor of gay marriage. But I wouldn't want to wear a Pride jersey because, although I agree with some of the movement's aims, I consider most of its key players to be institutionally illiberal.


This aversion is not limited to Pride. Frankly, I don't like any political or social movement enough to wear its jersey in public. By disposition, I'm not much of a joiner -- in no small part because even when I agree with a lot of what a given outfit has to say, I invariably have profound problems with the rest of the baggage that goes along with it.


One of the greatest tricks that professional advocates have pulled in recent years is to pretend that their organization represents the pure distillation of a given cause -- gay rights, black equality, free speech, conservatism, whatever -- and that if anyone opposes it for any reason, they must oppose those things per se. But that's nonsense, isn't it? Sometimes those groups say things I like, sometimes they don't, but I'm no more going to endorse them in full by wearing their clothes than I'm going to pledge fealty to a given politician because I like his approach toward taxes. If I want to show blind loyalty to a given outfit, I'll stick to following professional sports -- which, now that I think of it, would be a good idea for the NHL, too.


For my full archive at National Review, you can click here.

The Charles C. W. Cooke Podcast

Since I last sent a newsletter, Ive released three new episodes of The Charles C. W. Cooke Podcast. On episode 14, I reflected upon the alarming sight of politicians and activists discussing issues theyd never considered until yesterday as if theyd been working on them for 50 years straight, talked to law professor Jonathan Adler about the limits of federal power, and discussed the newfangled Jacksonville Jaguars, who are now in the NFL postseason.

On episode 15, I riffed on the case of NHL player Ivan Provorov, whose decision to sit out a Pride event provoked many sports writers to call for his head; talked to Reason magazines Billy Binion about the disturbing case of Geraldine Tyler, a 94-year-old Minnesota woman who had her house stolen by the government; did another Q&A; and, finally, delivered this weeks Jacksonville Jaguars Update.

And, on episode 16, I began by talking about the Republicans doublespeak on the debt: they insist that they want to balance the budget, but they don't want to touch any of the programs that are necessary to do so. Then, in the spirit of the hour, I talked to Vic Matus about his book Vodka: How a Colorless, Odorless, Flavorless Spirit Conquered America.

The Editors

I was on two episodes of The Editors this week, and two the week before.

This week: On the first, we discussed the ongoing investigation of Biden’s classified documents cache, leftist academia’s attempt to sneak queer theory and critical race theory into high schools, and much more. On the second, we talked about the delivery of tanks to Ukraine, the Democratic outcry over Speaker McCarthy’s committee membership decisions, and the Mexican standoff over the recent College Board announcement.

Last week: On the first, we discussed the latest round of Obama-era classified papers discovered at President Biden’s home, Governor DeSantis’s changes at Florida’s New College, and the latest meeting at Davos. On the second, we talked about discuss Nikki Haley’s VP chances, the woke melee in the NHL, and the mishandling of the SCOTUS leaker search. 

You can subscribe to The Editors on Apple PodcastsGoogle PodcastsSpotifyStitcher, and more, or listen online at National Review.

The Megyn Kelly Show

I was on The Megyn Kelly Show last week, along with Rich Lowry. We talked about Bidens lawyers finding more classified documents in President Bidens home, the media spinning on behalf of Biden, and Bidens team hiding the details for months; MLKs legacy and impact on America, racists who dishonor MLK in the '60s and today, an MLK statue that looks like a body part; and whether theyll ever catch the Supreme Court leaker.

The Ricochet Podcast

I was a guest on The Ricochet Podcast this week. We were joined by Dan Crenshaw. We talked about the Intel Community; the rising temperature of the conflict in Ukraine; and our very own border, which, you may have heard, has its own problems. Then we moved onto football, Ron DeSantis, and chivalry.

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