04 December 2009

Bonfire and Football

Look, I get that Aggies like to pretend they care about "their own." And so the anniversary of the bonfire evokes genuine emotion, even though none of the students on campus today knew the students who actually died ten years ago. However, this is one of those sanctimonious traditions, designed to make Aggies feel holier-than-thou and superior to those "other" universities, where (understandably) the only people who care that students die are, you know, people who knew those students. So, like silver taps, it annoys me a little. I care about people's lives, but I'm not going to pretend to get choked up a military ceremony for someone I don't know, and I'm not going to pretend that the bonfire was such a tragedy that we need to, instead of waiting for litigation to be resolved and agreeing to have the engineering department overlook the planning, have our own damned "unofficial" bonfire every year.

Mostly, though, I'm irritated with the tone of this "tradition." There's a tone to this story about the football players helping with the bonfire rescue effort that makes some sense. The immediacy of a tragic event does make people feel awfully serious about it, and it is likely that these players at least knew of some of the people trapped. It is a tone, however, that has not gone away, and the real problem with it is how all the Aggie traditions are so intertwined that the football players who had just helped dig dead people out of a collapsed bonfire felt so much pressure to win a football game. I want you to reflect a little on the relative importance of those two actions.

From the story:
"It was one of those things where you didn't have to state the obvious," McCown said. "The look in everyone's eyes; everyone knew what had to happen on the field that day."

As the game commenced, the Longhorns quickly took the lead on two drives led by freshman quarterback Chris Simms. The Aggies trailed 16-6 going into halftime.

"The whole time I coached, I've never more felt more pressure to win a football game." Slocum said. "I just felt like we absolutely had to win that game. We just had so much sadness, and that week had been so hard that we didn't need any more hardship."
Seriously? Seriously.
"The fact that they won meant so much to the Aggie family," Groff said. "The team felt like it was just something that they could do for their fallen comrades."

Slocum said the team and the A&M family were closer that week than ever before.

"Everyone was all in one mental state at that time," Slocum said. "We all were feeling the same hurt, we all felt the need to win the game, but we all recognized the relative importance of the game compared to what had taken place that week."

McCown said the win and the support from all sides showed the character and spirit of Texas A&M University.

"It really shows a testament to the fortitude of being an Aggie," McCown said. "That in the hardest of times, we will not be shaken and we will not give up."
They say they realized the relative importance of the game, but it sure doesn't sound like they did. The players winning a football game after helping the rescue effort shows the "fortitude" of the players, not "of being an Aggie." And winning the game didn't make them fucking heroes, helping with the rescue effort did.

Anyway, I wasn't going to write about the bonfire,because I'm swamped with seminar papers and also because I didn't want to be stoned on campus. However, this story just set me off this morning. At the UT game this year on Thanksgiving, after the Longhorns won, their "cheer officer" ran their flag up and down the field. And apparently offended everyone. So he was forced to issue an apology:
Our two universities have utmost respect for each other and our individual traditions. My decision to wave the flag at midfield following the conclusion of a very high-spirited game has been a traditional symbol of a Longhorn victory at a rivalry game. I was acutely aware of the importance of the 10th anniversary of the Bonfire tragedy and the sacredness of the formal memorial and the hallowed Bonfire ground. I was unaware of the sacredness of the 50 yard line logo at Kyle Field at this Thanksgiving Day game, nor had I been advised of any regulations regarding postgame entry onto the field. I should have been more sensitive and let conservative discretion rule my actions and judgment on this special and somber anniversary day for the A&M family.
No offense, A&M, but a football game is not an appropriate place to hold a bonfire memorial, nor is it appropriate to expect other teams to know that if they don't do their duty and lose, they also have to not celebrate. You don't get to be the goddamned Catholic Church and sanctify any damn thing you want (a logo, really?) and call persecution when others don't respect your stupid holy objects.

I guess that's really what bothers me here. The traditions have the sanctity of religious objects. Saying "howdy" is like crossing yourself, the Aggie ring is like wearing a cross (guys, they cost $500!), and Sul Ross a saint to which you can pray. And it irritates me more when these traditions are wrapped up in what are actually serious things, like people dying. Traditions are stupid, and often pointless. People's lives actually matter, and it cheapens them to "remember" them by sanctifying a logo on a football field. I've said it before and I'll say it again: I really hope I never die at A&M, because the thought of being "remembered" at silver taps makes me sick to my stomach.