After the Seahawks totally humiliated the Denver Broncos in last year’s Superbowl, the city of Seattle held the traditional parade for the Champions. Seventy thousand people lined the streets and sparked an editorial by Heather Romano in which she lamented the fact that runners are not held in the same esteem. Marathon runners do not get parades and brass bands. The conventional thinking is that the population as a whole doesn’t understand the level of dedication that it takes for Deena Kastor to win a bronze in the Olympics, or for Meb Keflezighi to win Boston.
The conventional thinking is wrong, not because the general population doesn’t get it - it doesn’t - but, then again, it has no real idea of the level of work it takes to be a pro football player, either.
The crux of the issue lies with the way people identify themselves. Humans naturally align themselves with group (tribes is the current parlance for this effect) and cities form a easily recognizable organization. For millennia, people sent out champions to battle. Thus, it isn’t the players of the Seattle Seahawks beat the players of the Denver Broncos. Instead, Seattle beat Denver, our champions beat your champions, and the fans in both cities partook of vicarious participation.
Runners never experience this. If anything, they’re distrusted. A marathoner will be more closely tied to a shoe company, the Team Nike approach, than to a people. The exception to this are the Olympics, a quadrennial opportunity to decry the lack of effort, training, infrastructure, etc. of our athletes. If one somehow happens to win, we cheer appropriately for ten minutes and banish them back to obscurity for another four years. The rest of the time, the professional runner takes on the role of a starving artist, suffering for his or her art.
Like artists, the runner, with a few exceptions, performs solo. Relays might be a little different and cross country, but the interlocking machinery of football doesn’t generally exist in our sport. That is why, on any given day, you can spot a dozen runners out on the road. We don’t marshal the group before we head out the door if we want to run. Not that we don’t run in groups. Obviously we do, but if a running buddy tweaks an ankle and is out, the rest of us go out to cover ground anyway. Football teams are not noted for playing with only ten players on one team and they don’t play without another team to compete against.
That feature, the ability to go out and do it ourselves, defines the line that separates running from football. Very few people can play football, but are drawn to the conflict between the teams, the us versus them nature of the sport. Most of the ‘ball sports - football, basketball, baseball, the other unAmerican football (Soccer) - engage fans who would like to, but can not, play the sport. So they watch, and cheer, and show up at parades.
They’re spectators, and while they congregate for a parade, we head out the door for a run. That’s why we won’t ever see a mass parade for a running champion. Our community, our tribe, isn’t built on city identification and champions. We participate and step into the ring ourselves. Our community, the running tribe, runs.
We do have mass celebrations, and you might call it a parade.
We call it a ‘race’.
Run gently, friends.
In the interests of disclosure, I never ran cross country. I played football instead for four years, and threw discus in track season.