Opinion: Reaction to Garth Brooks’ Barry Sanders jersey shows viral spread of ignorance

It’s not a coincidence that in the same week some Garth Brooks fans accused him of hating America because he sported a Barry Sanders jersey at a recent Detroit concert, a poll revealed nearly a third of us won’t touch Corona beer because of … Coronavirus. 

And here I thought it was because the beer tastes like water. 

This is where we are fellow citizens. So wrapped in realities of our own making that we struggle to see what’s real.

Yes, we can forgive Brooks fans for not knowing Sanders is a Hall of Fame running back. But to conclude that Brooks was wearing the No. 20 jersey to support Bernie Sanders, the presidential candidate? Even if you don’t follow football, that’s a leap. 

These days, we’re itching make the jump. Anything to bolster a world view.  

Garth Brooks performs at Ford Field in Detroit on Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020.

It’s been that way forever in sports. Bend the truth to fit the narrative, especially with college sports, where identity shapes how teams are viewed.  

Take Thursday night’s game at the Crisler Center, where Michigan lost to Wisconsin. The Wolverines were without starting shooting guard Eli Brooks, who couldn’t play because of a broken nose. 

Because Brooks isn’t regarded as a star, and because he was a bit player on last year’s team, it’s easy to underestimate his importance, particularly if you’re a fan of a rival school looking for a fight on Twitter.  

Brooks’ injury hampered Michigan’s defense. He’s the team’s best perimeter defender.  

Therefore, it stands to reason that Brooks’ absence might have been the difference in winning and losing. Every metric suggests this. And yet, after positing this in a column Thursday night, my inbox was full of those dismissing Brooks’ absence as a blip.  

Or, worse, as an excuse. 

This isn’t to pick on Michigan State fans or other non-Michigan fans or even angry Michigan fans who didn’t want to hear about Brooks not playing. All fan bases take this leap. 

Cognitive dissonance is part of being a fan, perhaps even a requirement. It’s why Ford Field fills up most Sundays in the fall, despite decades of losing. Faith — and belief — overrule empirical evidence.  

But cognitive dissonance isn’t just a refuge for sports fans anymore. And it’s corroding our public life.  

In sports, an argument based on emotion and identity isn’t keeping us from fixing roads or improving healthcare or figuring out more equitable ways to spread education resources.  

But in life? 

This way of thinking and communicating is keeping us from thinking straight. And listening. And not assuming the worst about someone with a different opinion or philosophy. 

Yeah, it was funny to watch the reaction when Brooks — the singer — posted a photo of himself donning the jersey of Sanders — the former football great. Brooks and Sanders even joined in the fun, suggesting they should run as a pair in the presidential race.  

Yet there wasn’t much fun in seeing comments that Brooks hated America because he wore a jersey some of his fans thought represented Bernie Sanders. Whatever else you say about the senator from Vermont, it’s a good bet he doesn’t despise this country. 

He just has a different idea about how it should be led. So does President Donald Trump. So does former vice president Joe Biden. And Sen. Elizabeth Warren. And Mayor Pete Buttigieg.  

None of them hates the country. But that’s where too many of Brooks’ fans got to this week, talking about Sanders — the politician — as they might Tom Brady. 

Such passion is fine in sports, where the stakes are lower. Even when an otherwise reasonable soul sets aside logic to bolster an argument about the superiority of his or her team, it’s nothing more than throaty fun. 

Or fanaticism.  

Because it doesn’t matter much to our public sphere. In fact, sports fandom is essential to our society, a way to let our ids rule our egos, to free our darker natures for a Sunday afternoon. The trick is to shove them back in their box come Monday. 

When we don’t, when we rely on our inner fan to navigate politics? Or science? Or whether the Coronavirus is an instrument designed by the radical left to submarine a presidential re-election campaign?  

Well, that’s when we start calling Garth Brooks a communist and running from a bottle of cheap beer. No wonder we keep falling in world math rankings and can’t answer even basic questions about finance.  

It’s not that we’re a nation of idiots. It’s that we romanticize being ignorant. 

That works when you’re wearing a Lions jersey hoping this will finally be the year. In that setting, a short memory and blind faith promote sanity. 

But, for the love of God, let’s keep that passion where it belongs, lock away our ids, and try to get back to reality when we walk out of the stadium. 

Contact Shawn Windsor: 313-222-6487 or swindsor@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @shawnwindsor.

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