Having a Wisconsin-football identity crisis

By Aubrey Klein

Along with changing leaves, falling temperatures and the return of the Pumpkin Spice Latte, fall brings with it the start of football season. Wisconsinites rally around the Packers more so than many other teams. The cult of football is strong with Wisconsinites, and marks a sort of pride that is as unique and quirky as the Cheeseheads worn by fans.

I am a born and raised Wisconsinite who grew up in a family that loves football. I flaunt my love of cheese (fried or otherwise) and the Wisconsin State Fair openly, and am never embarrassed to mention my home state. By all accounts, Packer pride should be running through my veins — green and gold instead of red.

But there’s one problem: I don’t like football. I feel no particular attachment to the Packers, or any other team for that matter. This feels like an exceptionally offensive sin of state pride since I come from Wisconsin.

It’s not that I’m ashamed of my status as a Wisconsinite, but I do feel like there is an essential part of my state pride missing. I’ve tried to fall in love with football and the Packers, but I have accepted that it will never be fun or entertaining to me personally. It still stings a little bit though, because not connecting with this deeply ingrained football culture leaves me feeling unable to connect to the bonding and socializing that comes along with spectator sports.

While my family gathers around the TV to watch football, I read or work on homework because they won’t talk to me or even look in my direction until the game is over. If I get lucky, they might grant me a few sentences at half time. The other day, I walked into my room to find my roommates gathered around the TV, two avid Packers fans and one Bears fan who still watched the game for the sake of rivalry.

So if I don’t like football, why do I feel like I’m missing out on something? While I am probably one of the least qualified people to be writing about sports, I have since reframed my thinking about spectator sports. I have come to understand watching them as an event that is more than people yelling at a TV while shoving chicken wings in their mouths, even though it looks a lot like that on the surface.

Even though I previously brushed football off as unproductive and juvenile, I realize now that watching spectator sports is a cultural phenomena that is deeply tied to identity — especially when it comes to football in Wisconsin. Watching a football game brings people together for a common event.

Even though all of my siblings are out of the house now, whoever can make it back gathers at our house to eat appetizers and homemade soup, which has become a tradition in our house. Everything else is forgotten until the game is over. Packer games can literally bring families together.

I think that sports affiliations and team pride can also bridge the gap between disparate personalities. Whether you’re a Democrat or Republican, Catholic or Jewish, or any number of different identities, if you’re a Wisconsinite, you can leave all other discussions on the table and connect over a shared love of the Packers. I’ve been to many Packer parties that are more accepting than lots of other family gatherings.

Additionally, Packer fans have a unique sense of ownership of their team. The Packers are the only non-profit, community-owned major-league football team in the U.S. The fact that the Packers are based in Green Bay, which is not the state capital or even the most populous city in Wisconsin, also contributes to the mythos of the Packers and stamps the team with a particular small town “Wisconsin-ness.”

I think this is what I feel like I’m missing out on: a sense of membership in an exclusive club that automatically connects me to a network of fans and Wisconsin pride. However, the fervor for football hasn’t been completely lost on me. While I may never be considered a Packer super-fan, my experience of growing up in Wisconsin among Packer fans has enlightened me to what is so exciting and culturally important about spectator sports.