At least once a week, I scoop up my work laptop, grab my gym bag, kiss my wife, a kid or two, grab a banana, and walk out into darkness. By the tim I crank the car, drive through the gate, I realize I have forgotten something important for my day. A check, my work ID, money, or a piece of clothing and I turn around towards home. A few times I have made it all the way to work with brown shoes on and a black belt on. Renee Gork did this the other day. She lost her job.
College football is a cultural phenomenon in the southern United States. People from all walks of life put their emotional well being into what their alma mater, or who they wish was their alma mater, does on a Saturday afternoon. I went to college in such a place; Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Next week will mark 22 years since I set foot on the Capstone for the first time. Before I got there, I saw people turn themselves into knots over the rivalry between Georgia Tech and Georgia. It extended beyond sports. Where you went to school or where you wish you went to school determines your social circle. Forget gangs, the colors of Universities are more embattled.
Last week, sportscaster Renee Gork got her two kids ready for school, ran her errands, forgot to do her hair, and threw on a University of Florida baseball cap. She graduated from the Gainesville, Florida University, fell in love with a man from Arkansas, and moved to Fayetteville and raised a family with him. Gork found work with an Arkansas radio station and on a hot, August, morning she was set to cover a press conference with University of Arkansas head coach Bobby Petrino. She asks the notroiously curt, ill personalitied coach a question. After getting an answer, Petrino shot back to her, "And that will be the last question I answer with that hat on." Gork realized she'd screwed up. Her busy, bad hair day working for a radio station that calls itself Hog Sports Radio (the nickname ofr Arkansas is the Razorbacks, a type of Hog) has just turned into a major problem.
I sympathize with Gork on two levels. If she was working in North Dakota or Colorado or Maine, no one would have probably cared if she was wearing another school's gear. I have made a similar mistake. When I was 20 years old, I overslept, rushed out of the house without a shower, threw on a Georgia Tech sweatshirt and went into my University of Alabama owned and operated radio station to do my sports report and work my morning shift. I got some good natured ribbing, and realized that had I run into an Alabama football player or a rabid, drunk fan, I may have been punched or worse, and kept my Georgia Tech gear in Georgia. Gork, though, has made this mistake before. She also made it in a more public setting. Gork had used her facebook and twitter accounts to profess her love of Florida and her desire to work there again, one day. She has gotten into arguments with other reporters and media types over Florida versus other SEC teams in press boxes. Gork defintely crossed a line. For sake of this blog, we'll concentrate on Hatgate.
The rabid nature of college football fandom and allegience of people to their alma maters is scary but real. Cars are stickered, people factor in season ticket money along with their mortgage and the kids' school bills, weddings are rearranged around football game and basketball game dates. Petrino could have been a little more professional and just ignored Gork's choice of cap. He could have spoken to the mistake prone radio reporter privately. Long ago, I stopped trying to "get" while people are so wound up about their college team. It's part of American culture, especially in the south. What is so profound is how people justify their extreme reactions and subsequent incredible behavior because of their allegiances.
My alma mater, Alabama, won the college football national championship in January. I bragged to a few friends, cheered loudly in my house, and felt some pride. I neither played in the title game nor did I know anyone who did. I react the same way when my other sports teams play well or win something. Then I kiss my kids, go towork, and forget my driver's license or shoes. Renee Gork is unemployed. Bobby Petrino is villified, probably unfairly, and more people will crowd into a college football stadium on a Saturday in a couple of weeks, than voted in my district for Governor. The people who matter the most in this culture are unpaid, student-athletes who will see people twice their age drink themselves into a frenzy wearing their jerseys. There will be internet arguments over who is ranked where. Talk radio will be verbal warfare. When it's all said and done, Alabama will be the national champion in football again, because they're awesome and people from that school are better than anyone from any other school ROOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOLL Tide!
Crap. I did it too, didn't I. Hope Renee Gork finds a job soon. Hope I remember to wear pants to work tomorrow.