May I log on to the past for a moment? Ever since the 1830s, people in the Western Hemisphere have been told that technology was making the world smaller, the assumption being that only good could come of the shrinkage. When the railroad locomotive first came into use, in the 1830s, people marveled and said it made the world smaller by bringing widely separated populations closer together. When the telephone was invented, and the transoceanic cable and the telegraph and the radio and the automobile and the airplane and the television and the fax, people marveled and said it all over again, many times. But if these inventions, remarkable as they surely are, have improved the human mind or reduced the human beast's zeal for banding together with his blood brethren against other human beasts, it has escaped my notice. One hundred and seventy years after the introduction of the locomotive, the Balkans today are a cluster of virulent spores more bloody-minded than ever. The former Soviet Union is now fifteen nations split up along ethnic bloodlines. The very Zeitgeist of the twenty-first century is summed up in the cry "Back to the blood!" The thin crust of nationhoods the British established in Asia and Africa at the zenith of their imperial might has vanished, and it is the tribes of old that rule. What has made national boundaries obsolete in so much of Eastern Europe, Africa, and Asia? Not the Internet but the tribes.
What Wolfe wrote should come as no surprise, of course. We knew already that the virtue of the internet is that it is a dumb network; we knew already that sports fans are devoted to their favorite teams more so than to their sport as a whole. These givens are so self-evident that they are the unspoken assumptions underlying The Blog-ifesto and SportsLine managing editor Peter Madden's opening declaration in C.B.S.'s 2006 college football preview that "[t]here is no sport more regionalized than college football . . . [s]o while college football may not truly qualify as a 'national' pastime, when you combine the passion of the countless regional fan bases into one eclectic, dedicated group of hardcore followers, the result is one enormous faction of pigskin junkies."
In short, what Tip O'Neill said of politics applies equally well to college football loyalties; they're all local, to an extent that simply is not true of other sports. As a North Georgia native, I have lived my whole life in the vicinity of a major league baseball team that made its home in Boston and then in Milwaukee before relocating to Atlanta, of an N.F.L. team whose owner threatened to move the franchise to another city if he did not get a new stadium, of an N.B.A. team that often is the subject of contraction discussions, and of an N.H.L. team now known as the Calgary Flames. The reality of franchise free agency is a critical dividing line separating the nationalization of professional athletics from the localism of college sports.
The inherent tribalism of college football is so deeply ingrained that it not only can make us root for rivals against outsiders, it also colors the commentary even of the most conscientiously national of observers. Every Day Should Be Saturday is the blogosphere's most decorated source of eclectic observations . . . yet Orson went to the Gators' spring game as an unabashed Florida partisan, jean shorts and all. Sunday Morning Quarterback is as in-depth an analyst of the sport as a whole as you will ever find at any level, amateur or professional . . . yet even he struggles with his homerism.
As a general rule, of course, I have no problem with this. Virtually in every instance, I will choose the nearer over the more distant, as I prefer to keep governing bodies and elected officials closer to home in the political realm and I would rather concentrate on beating historic rivals and winning conference championships in the athletic arena.
Nevertheless, time spent in the blogosphere can provide even to the most ardent localist newfound respect for other webloggers and other conferences, encouraging efforts to seek consensus and, amid the din of the clarion call identified by Wolfe ("Back to the blood!"), recognize fellow fans as blood brothers.
Why do I find my thoughts turning to such mundane matters at the end of a day of national tragedy? Such notions began rattling around in the back of my brain after I read what Dave and Doug and Joel and Nestor and Orson and Peter and SMQ had to say about it and I kept coming back to what Mike wrote, because that's how I found out about it.
He wrote: "We're All Hokies Today." Had you given me a word-association test 24 hours ago, my response to "Virginia Tech" would have been "Peach Bowl," but today's events have put into perspective the notion of sports loyalties imbedded in our cultural D.N.A. and provided a chilling reminder that people may be bound by blood through catastrophe as well as through kinship.
Days like today remind us that Wolfe was wrong as well as right. It is true that, wherever human beings are gathered together, we will find "virulent spores more bloody-minded than ever," but it is false to assert that there is "one thing the Internet does, and only that."
The network itself may be dumb, but those connected by it are not. At their best, they are---we are---kind, compassionate, intelligent, and decent souls who share the pain felt by the Virginia Tech alum who was moved to proclaim:
That's not the place of absolute beauty in a fall day
Of Hokiestone buildings, mountain settings, students and of course
Football, basketball and all the social events
That we remember so well
I will remember the loss, the hurt and pain, forever
I will hope for a memorial, different but hauntingly beautiful
Like the War Memorial
So we can remember those lost and wounded both physically and mentally
I will not forget to cherish the life we have to live
To hold my children dear in this world of no safe place
But I will not let this un-comprehensible disaster ruin what I hold on to
THAT'S NOT MY SCHOOL!
My school is a place of hope, acceptance, sharing and learning
My school is a place of honor, dignity, fairness and reward for hard work
My school is a place where 'doing it right' is more important that 'win at all costs'
My school is a place where we will remember our past,
And have high hopes for tomorrow
My school is a place to see the future in the faces and people that walk the campus
My school is Virginia Tech
And I am proud to say 'THAT'S MY SCHOOL!'
For most of us, it is literally true that Virginia Tech is not our school, but we, too, will remember the loss and we, too, will not forget to cherish the lives we have to live and we, too, have high hopes for tomorrow . . . and we, too, if only for this moment, will say: "My school is Virginia Tech."
May the grace of God be upon all the people of Blacksburg and upon everyone affected by this unspeakable tragedy.