Crisp cool nights mean one thing: Football. As a native New Orleanian, I love my Saints, which by default means that I hate the Falcons. But I can and often do sit in a bar and trash talk a Falcon fan (28-3) and still buy them a beer. We are first and foremost fans of the sport itself, where at the end of each game, regardless of what happened on the field, the players shake hands, hug and laugh with each other before the winners celebrate and the losers regroup for the next battle.

Politics used to be akin to sport. The Constitution: its rule book. The president: the commissioner. The legislature: the governing bodies. The Supreme Court: the referee. Political parties: the teams. Elected officials: the players. And we, the people: the fans.

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As in football, so too in politics, there have been bad laws passed and bad calls made and reversed. There have also been bad players on both sides. And, on those rare occasion when the entire system was threatened — Nazi Germany, Pearl Harbor, McCarthy Hearings, Watergate, 9/11 — everyone came together to make sure the country survived.

There would always be tension in and among the teams and the fans as they tried to gain the upper hand, but affiliation wasn’t the full measure of any person. I am a Democrat, but I am also a mother, a wife, a scientist, a reader, a lover of music, a farmer, a world traveler, a Peace Corps Volunteer, an educator and a Saint’s fan. Just as there are Falcons I admire, so too have there been Republicans I admire – people whose presence makes the country better for their service.

It used to be that when an election was lost, all was not lost. The players would shake hands with a telephone call, then the losing teams would regroup to find better players or a better strategy. The losing fans would begrudgingly put up with the gloating of the winners - which would soon dissipate — because what comes around goes around.

This was all possible because, despite team affiliation, we were all lovers of the sport — or rather the country.

However, something has shifted. It is no longer two teams playing a game that all love. It is blood sport. Total annihilation is the goal. It’s the Gladiator ring, the Bloods and the Crips — a fight to the death.

Insults are exchanged rather than ideas. This is not politics; it is playground, preschool and peewee. Who would pay to watch Drew Brees throw insults instead of balls?

When the Baltimore Colts packed up and skipped town in the middle of the night, their fans didn’t rush out and buy new Indianapolis Colts jerseys. They broke longstanding emotional and intellectual ties to the organization they loved and cherished. Many changed affiliations. Others boycotted the game altogether. All waited in a sports desert until the Ravens came to town.

We, as a nation today are Baltimore on the morning after the Colts left — suffering in a political desert. Our teams, the Democrats and Republicans, have left us. They have chosen to take small bands and set up in the far corners of the political landscape compromising the center which has held the country together.

What do you do if you aren’t one of the huddled few shouting from the corners? Do what Baltimoreans did after the Colts left: Start over. Take a fresh look at the political landscape. Maybe change teams. Don’t judge a player by their colors (red/blue). Go deeper. Be courageous enough to break ties with a person in power who does not play by the rules — even if they are on your team. Be even more courageous and buy a person wearing a MAGA hat or a Planned Parenthood T-shirt a beer and find out something you have in common. Like our sports affiliation, our political affiliation is a part of the whole, not the whole. Because if we bring the game back to politics then we all win.

Bronwyn Mitchell-Strong (bronwyn99@hotmail.com) is a writer, environmental educator, farmer, foster parent and child advocate.

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