More than two decades ago, I watched future NFL Hall-of-Famer Emmitt Smith land awkwardly on his neck in a game against my beloved Chicago Bears.

Some people in the stands cheered, knowing the injury would cement a victory over reigning Super Bowl champions and possibly cause them problems in the playoffs later in the year. But as much as I wanted to see my team win, it was a disturbing thing to hear.

Even though Smith quickly healed and rushed for more than 1,200 yards that year, it looked quite serious and dangerous at the time. The thought of finding good in that just because he was the “enemy” was both abhorrent and embarrassingly tempting.

That old memory went through my mind last month, when we got the news of the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Regardless of how you align your politics or how it could affect our lives in the coming years, a person’s death should never be something to celebrate. It should not have been something to celebrate in 2016, either, when Antonin Scalia died months before another big election.

But if you are not a dead-on centrist or completely ignorant of politics, you probably had a feeling one way or another about how each of those would affect our country in the ensuing four years. Those two were as polar opposite politically as it gets, and both became huge political footballs and inspired strong emotions in people on both sides.

We all know the reason people cheer or scream at news like this. It’s because politics has unfortunately become a sport to many people.

In sports, there are winners and losers, and you shake hands and meet again another time. And there’s an entire spectrum of how people pay attention.

Some are critical of their team but always devoted and willing to spend money for their team. Some follow whatever suits their interests at the time. Others ignore it all or theorize that it’s all rigged for the TV audience.

Those who blindly follow their “side” will cheer each advance and lament each loss, yelling at the news or pontificating on Facebook about how their team is great and the other team sucks.

So what if our QB beats up his wife, he’s our guy! As long as our star point guard wins that playoff game, I don’t care that he’s got four OWIs!

The day we found out Ginsburg had died, I had a conversation with somebody who was very upset. I asked her if she was thinking about the woman’s family or whether she was in pain, and she admitted she wasn’t.

No, it was about winning and losing. Ginsburg dying in 2020 was a huge loss for the left.

Of course, I am just as guilty at times and often in need of taking my own advice. I’m a pretty big sports fan, after all, and I can get jacked up over politics, too, at all levels.

Sports was once simply entertainment. But eventually, as so often happens in our language and culture, “fanatics” became shortened to “fans,” and being outspoken and unwavering was not only normal, but almost expected.

Politics seems to be headed the same way. But politics is not sports, and that’s a dangerous path.

People’s lives and livelihoods, these things are at stake with each election. And not just the once-every-four-years presidential election, either.

If watching, analyzing and teaching people about local politics closely for the past 15 years has taught me anything, It’s that we should all have a respect for the gravity of every decision, for the weight on the shoulders of every decision maker and for the importance of our votes.

It’s not just looking for the D or the R or the single issue that we care about, whether that is abortion, gay, race or gender identity rights, taxes, immigration, city planning or in-person schooling.

It all makes a difference. Make sure you go out there and vote, and not just next week, but in April and in August. And make sure you’re informed.

That’s the best way to make sure we all win.

Jim Ferolie is the general manager of Unified Newspaper Group, which publishes the Verona Press, Stoughton Courier Hub, Oregon Observer and Fitchburg Star.

Recommended for you