When it comes to the NFL, I was raised a New York Giants fan. I’m still a Giants fan, and long before I moved to Boston, I decided—for reasons I’m still trying to figure out—that I disliked the Bill Belichick-led New England Patriots. (I think it has to do with a subconscious need to root for teams that will break my heart. Here’s looking at you, ‘90s-era New York Knicks!) As I’ve watched the Patriots deal with real scandals—like Spygate and whatever gate-type name no one had the heart to attach to the Aaron Hernandez situation—and fake scandals like Deflategate, it got me thinking.
Watching the unending attacks on the Patriots and how fans of the team have had to defend themselves time and again, it reminded me of something I see a lot in my line of work—it looks a whole lot like defending the State of Israel. Now, I don’t want to equate a football team and what they may or may not have done with what Israel has to live with on a daily basis, but there is a similarity there. To help me prove my point, I chatted with my coworker Dan Seligson, who’s pretty much the biggest Patriots fan I know, and who just so happens to also defend Israel as his day job at Combined Jewish Philanthropies (CJP).
Me: Hello, Dan!
Dan Seligson: Yo.
Me: Tell these good people what you do at CJP.
Dan: I have two primary roles at CJP: being the communications guy for our Israel Advocacy program and answering questions about Julian Edelman. This is no coincidence. I had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to travel to Israel with the Patriots’ wide receiver last summer. That’s no coincidence either. In my professional life, it’s all Israel. In my professional sports-watching world, it’s all Patriots.
Me: Do you at all think that defending Israel mirrors how people defend the Patriots?
Dan: Well, first off, let me note the differences before anyone thinks I’m insane for even making a parallel between Israel’s situation and a children’s sport played by extremely large and fast men. The consequences of the Patriots losing a playoff/championship game is a lot of mopey faces around Greater Boston for a day or so, a lot of analysis in the sports pages and thoughts about how to regroup in the offseason and how many years Tom Brady has left.
For Israel, losing a war is not an option. Being the victims of rampant media bias is a major problem, and efforts to chip away at Israel’s legitimacy and/or isolate the country can do great harm. Also, there’s a very real element of anti-Semitism behind anti-Israel activity. Israel is the home of the Jewish people. People can hate the Patriots. The Patriots are my very favorite football team. You want to hate them? Great, that makes me like them even more. I just want to make sure that you and your readers understand that I understand the big differences here, so I had to get that out of the way. But with that disclaimer now made, I think we can focus on the question at hand.
Israel and the Patriots are two examples of exceptional success and innovation that seem to inspire dread, jealousy and hate. Mention it to the wrong person at the wrong time, and you’ll hear about it.
Me: How do you think defending the Patriots is different from, say, defending other sports teams or leagues?
Dan: Consider the striking similarities between Israel and the Patriots:
Patriots: Hey, remember last night when you watched the Green Bay Packers get introduced and they came out one by one as their names were called? Oh, wait, they didn’t! That’s because in 2001 we were introduced as a team, and in the copycat NFL, everyone soon joined in.
Israel: Remember when watering crops involved wasting millions of gallons of water that literally evaporated into the air before it ever touched the soil? We handled that problem. Drip irrigation saves tons of water and puts it right where it needs to be, directly into the soil.
Patriots: We were the team that inspired many others to win the coin toss and then defer, to test the defense early, to focus on the direction of the wind and then go for the half-time double score. And that 5-yard penalty for illegal contact? We were too good on defense. The phrase, “It is what it is” might have been said before, but never to this degree. We could probably say the same about “do your job,” the hurry-up offense and the game-long use of a five-wide set with an empty backfield. Go us!
Me: Israel sounds amazing! The Patriots, less so. They do both have grumpy, dislikeable coaches though. But even I, hater of Tom Brady, with his stupid, perfect face, and Bill Belichick, hater of joy, have to admit there seems to be a lot of coverage and digging into the Patriots for things that probably every other team is also doing. Kind of like how Israel critics ignore blatant wrongdoing by Israel’s neighbors.
Dan: That’s what we in the biz like to call media bias. It seems like ESPN had an entire department devoted to the ridiculous circus of “Deflategate.” I won’t rehash the controversy here. It’s far too boring, stupid and useless. You can look it up. If they wanted a real controversy, maybe ESPN should have looked into why the Indianapolis Colts—the sore losers who started the Deflategate mess—intentionally lost games in a professional sports league to improve their draft position. That’s real cheating and it affects the integrity of the game in a very real way. “Suck For Luck” barely received any attention. It should have.
Then look at Israel. This little sliver of land that is home to eight million Jews can’t stay out of the spotlight, and it’s almost always negative. Media bias is so bad that there’s an entire industry devoted to confronting it. Thanks to our buddies at CAMERA, UN Watch and Honest Reporting for deflating every example of anti-Israel media bias they can find.
The Patriots have their fans watching their backs, contradicting morons at (New York/Baltimore) sports bars who shoot their mouths off about cheating. But the similarity is that the people who bring the trumped-up charges against Israel and the Patriots usually represent and/or root for regimes/teams with far worse records of integrity/human rights/etc. Jesus, this idea is getting awkward. Let’s move on.
Me: I think something that ties sports teams and Israel together is that they’re small segments of their respective worlds and are constantly under attack, both figuratively and literally in Israel’s case, and have dedicated, fervent fans/followers. Right?
Dan: Right. It becomes your thing. You defend the things you care about. You’re probably a little blind to truth at times; I’ll admit that. But you also recognize that excelling at something comes with a cost; namely, the resentment of those who fail to do so.
Also, both exist at the center of the universe. Love or hate Israel, it’s the most important story in the world. (Or at least this former AP reporter makes the compelling case that it is.)
Clearly the Patriots are the biggest story in the NFL and have been for close to nine years, going back to 2007 when the Spygate scandal turned them from America’s darlings into the most reviled sports franchise this side of the Bronx (Yankees suck!). Also, please read this and tell me whether Spygate is the most important scandal in U.S. sports history or whether it’s another effort by Patriots’ rivals to chip away at a dynasty that made their teams into losers for more than a decade.
Both those who love and hate the Patriots, and those who love and hate Israel, are obsessed with it. On our side, there’s very little you could tell me about Tom Brady’s dietary habits, Danny Amendola’s carport or even Chandler Jones’s flirtation with (maybe) synthetic marijuana that would change my opinion of the team. But I understand that they will always be under a microscope based on past infractions, real and imagined. Since around 2001, the NFL has revolved around the Patriots, not the other way around.
Me: And it seems like, based on the past or for whatever reason, the Patriots can get in your head and stay there.
Dan: Yeah. I mean, take Rex Ryan, for example. When he gets fired from the Buffalo Bills next year, I’m sure he’ll try to coach the Miami Dolphins, just so he can play the Patriots twice a year. This guy talks about Tom Brady even when he’s playing a different team that week. His team was absolutely coming unglued, and he was worried about Tom Brady.
Israel has the same effect. Every couple of weeks we hear from Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia, “academics” and Palestinian groups that an Israeli collaborator has been arrested, or that an Israeli drone was spying on them or that the Israel lobby uses American leaders as puppets for the “Zionist regime.”
The fact is, Israel is just a little country with an effective military that is keeping the dream of a Jewish state alive in an incredibly hostile region. As far as we know, they have not developed any “Zionist sharks” capable of monitoring Egyptian activity in the Red Sea. If they have, it would be one hell of a screenplay, and we should work on it together.
As for the Patriots, go ahead and get a former KGB agent to sweep the visitor’s locker room at Gillette Stadium for bugs or tiny video cameras or whatever. The Patriots will instead focus on ways to beat you. And they usually will.
Me: Can the Patriots and Israel do no wrong in your eyes?
Dan: Of course they can. I’m a rabid fan, but I’d like to think I’m not an idiot. Elect to kick in overtime? What? Take off the gas against the Dolphins and lose home-field advantage? Who wants to play a game in Denver? We suck in Denver. But it’s like your kid screwing up or something. You love them despite their (very minor) faults. I thought Spygate was unpleasant, though certainly not that big of a deal. I have issues with some Israeli policies at times, just like Israelis do. It’s the same way I have a lifelong affiliation with my political party but have had issues with some policy decisions and leadership. But there’s blind hate and then there’s constructive criticism. I reject blind hate, in sports and geopolitics. It’s dumb and useless and usually it’s the hater who has nothing constructive to offer the sport—or the world. Actually, forget that. I hate the Yankees. F the Yankees! Go Sox!
Me: Well, we might disagree on Spygate, but I definitely agree with you on blind hate. Blind hate serves no other purpose than to distract and vilify. On the other hand, sports hate is the best, right?! There are few things I love more in this world than hating teams. You know what the Texas Longhorns, San Antonio Spurs, Patriots and Reggie Miller all have in common? I hate them with every fiber of my being!
So there you have it—a discussion about how defending the Patriots is kinda, sorta similar to defending Israel. Agree? Disagree? Did you take us seriously after we told you not to? Let us know what you think in the comments!