Photography by Stephen Dyer
by Eric Zrinsky
January 22, 2018
Last night on Broad Street, it was damn near utopian.
Frat boys and sorority girls with solo cups and facepaint high-fiving. Septum-pierced hipsters in Kelly green throwback crewnecks. Homeless people shout-singing “Fly, Eagles fly” along with business types in suits. People in cars honking their horns—not to intimidate or encourage anyone to get the fuck out of the way—but to offer mechanical cheers of solidarity to all of the pedestrians clogging the street. Color ceased to divide us. At least for tonight, we’re all black and green.
I can hear the groans of those unexpectedly reading something about sports in a literary publication.
You’re not alone.
A lot of my artist friends tend to view sports as a thing to mock—something enjoyed by mindless meatheads and unthinking cavepeople. I won't even try to recount the number of “sportsball” comments I saw on social media leading up to the NFL Conference Championship games on Sunday.
That may very well be the sentiment elsewhere, but it’s different in Philadelphia.
The artists, the musicians, the jocks—we’re all the same here. We’re like some kind of modern American melting pot where it’s ok to be multifaceted and enjoy things that are seemingly at odds with one and other. Much to chagrin of many of we “high-thinkers,” it’s possible to appreciate the beauty and syntactic elegance of iambic pentameter while also reveling in the sheer ballet of an effectively orchestrated Run-Pass Option.
I’ve seen countless photographers host openings at my art gallery unironically wearing 76ers gear. I’ve played and attended shows at venues all across the city with innumerable fans in Phillies hats. It’s a grand social experiment where all of the lunch tables in highschool got thrown into the Large Hadron Collider and we all emerged with pieces of interests from everyone else.
Full disclosure: I’ve never considered myself a jock—probably the complete antithesis of whatever that distinction may mean to you. I grew up skateboarding and playing in punk bands and celebrated a “can’t fucking tell me anything” attitude well into my 20s. But still, sports found a way into most of my formative years. I played Rec soccer until I reached high school and even found myself going out for the freshman football team.
Hell, maybe I’m a poor example, but Brian Heston and Malik Abdul-Jabbaar (two of my favorite Philadelphia poets) certainly aren't. Brian’s work gracefully depicts the struggles of working class violence in the Kensington section of the city during the high-crime 1980s. His language is vivid; it’s heartbreaking. It’s good fucking poetry. And aside from winning several awards for his writing, he knows how to dissect an Eagles defensive performance over a couple of shitty beers better than most people I know.
These are thinking, complex people who make beautiful art.
Last night, I saw people laughing and crying in joy. I saw strangers hug one another and, just for a moment, forget how different they looked or where they would be tomorrow morning. I saw a city come together, if only temporarily.
I heard a collective voice.
Nota Bene: I would like to comment and recognize that the NFL is far from a perfect organization— very very far from it. Concussions and the effects of traumatic brain injuries are often largely unaddressed and underreported. Economic and political disparities between primarily white owners and primarily black players remains an ongoing and very real and significant problem. Domestic abuse committed by players against their loved ones frequently goes under-punished, or not even commented on. The unfair treatment of a brave man exercising his constitutionally protected right to protest is a prime example of racial inequality and the upholding of white privilege and supremacy.
Many players take a vested interest in the communities they represent. I’m instantly reminded of all of the great work that Connor Barwin’s “Make the World Better” Foundation did for underserved communities in Philadelphia while he was an Eagle or the incredible efforts of J.J. Watt in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. The National Anthem protests helmed by Colin Kaepernick and followed-up by NFL players of color have effectively brought racial inequality, police brutality, and other racially charged issues to the national stage - the management of these issues within the organization is an incredible letdown in the face of the bravery of Kaepernick -- as they continue to uphold white privilege at the expensive of a skilled athlete’s career and courage. Within the Eagles organization, Malcolm Jenkins - assisted by Chris Long - entered into long discussions regarding the racial inequality within the league and the treatment of black players - both as athletes within the NFL and citizens who routinely feel unsafe as a result of police brutality. [Jenkins has also been vocal about criminal and social justice reform, his guest to the Super Bowl is Kempis Songster]. Having these conversations: attempting to honor the excitement while acknowledging the bad is what we’re trying to do: as artists, as individuals, as sports fans and as activities. These voices and these conversations remain an important vehicle for the arts; and are essential in dissecting the intersection between the arts and athleticism; and we believe that attempting to understand both is important to the mission of Meow Meow Pow Pow Lit.