“Shotgun for Kaepernick… takes the snap… looks, fires near side… going for the end zone… ball is tipped off and afterwards… is it picked off? Is it picked off? It is… it’s picked off in the end zone… the Seahawks intercept in the end zone… Richard Sherman tips it… Malcolm Smith picks it off in the end zone… intended in the far corner… the Seahawks are gonna run this baby down… we are going to New Jersey… holy smoke… the defense does it again… holy catfish…”
That was the spirited local radio call of Seahawks play-by-play commentator Steve Raible on the amazing defensive play that sent the Seattle Seahawks to the Super Bowl. What you cannot get from the quote is the highly expressive shrieking sound that Raible’s partner in the booth, Warren Moon, makes as the ball is intercepted (you can listen to it here). Even for a Hall of Fame quarterback of the stature of Warren Moon, whose amazing decision-making skills throughout his career surely required ice in the blood and nerves of steel, this was a moment that made every Seahawks fan lose control. That was my case too, three thousand miles away, as I witnessed the clinching moment at a bar in Washington DC. I suddenly found myself jumping around the place, screaming and trying to hold back my tears; to say I was ecstatic would be the understatement of the year. For a moment, my mind transposed me into the streets of the Emerald City, into the world of familiar places, scenes, and smells. For a moment, I was home, sharing a beautiful experience with a community that shaped me in deep and complex ways. I insist on calling Seattle home despite neither being born nor raised in the Northwest. In fact, I was born in a totally different world. It was in a small Moroccan town called Khouribga that I came to life, before moving with my family to the capital, Rabat.
How did a man of Moroccan origins fall in love with a city and a community on the far edge of the United States, hidden behind mountains and often forgotten in national discourse, despite its great contribution to the American legacy? It is first and foremost an emotional connection that originates in an experience of alienation. When I first came to Seattle, after living for years in Southern California, I was a person who was without a home, without an education, and with an uncertain future. A decade later, when I said goodbye to Seattle, heading to the East Coast, I had established a wonderful family with a son who was born at the University of Washington Hospital, completed three degrees all with honors, met amazing people, made great friends, and importantly had expanded my horizons about life in ways that I would never have imagined. It certainly took a lot of work and perseverance to reach these personal milestones, but it is the Seattle context that made the journey possible and manageable.
Besides its appreciation of art, culture, and responsible dissent, what makes Seattle amazing in my eyes is that it is in a constant struggle to remain a community. There is generally strong awareness among Seattleites of all walks of life and political persuasions of the necessity to maintain an egalitarian and supportive community. This is deeply tied to the history of the city. The Greater Seattle area is certainly not homogeneous and many serious ethnic and class tensions have erupted in the 19th and 20th centuries. Here is not the place to discuss these historical events. It suffices to note that the diversity and socio-economic struggles of the city created a constant need to find common ground between different social actors, which in turn fermented a constant drive to correct injustices. One needs to also point out that with the rise and success of many technology companies in the area since the 1980’s, the flow of new comers from around the country and the world has continued, adding to Seattle’s diversity, but also stressing the need for keeping the community united. It is within this frame that I see the role of Seattle’s sports teams.
The NBA unfortunately allowed the Sonics, a team that was loved and supported, to move out of Seattle and many efforts are currently underway to bring a professional basketball team back to town. Not surprisingly, the recently established Sounders soccer team of Major League Soccer has had a highly successful run in its first few years, with the Seattle crowds breaking MLS attendance records. As for the Mariners, despite a recent history of mediocre seasons, they remain very popular and dominate local sports radio discussions for most of the year. But it is the Seahawks team of the NFL that has captured the imagination of the locals and has garnered tremendous support from all corners of the state of Washington and the Northwest in general. I am convinced that the Seahawks have become the symbol of solidarity for a community that needs to maintain its unity as it moves towards the next stage of its development. Some might object that there are more important things in the world than sports and that the latter is but a distraction from real life issues. To such an opinion I respond that if building unity within a diverse community and maintaining its spirit high within our unpredictable world is not “real life,” I do not know what is. It is very telling that according to television ratings in the Seattle area, nine of ten households were watching the NFC championship matchup against the San Francisco 49ers.
It is also unfortunate that many in the national media participate in vilifying the Seahawks by overanalyzing the rant of Richard Sherman after the most emotional game of his career, leading many ignorant individuals hiding behind Twitter handles to utter disgusting racist statements against a young man who grew up within very difficult conditions and yet graduated second in his high school, attended Stanford University, stayed there for a fourth year to pursue a Master’s degree, and by all accounts has been a great member of the Seattle community. Is there a chance that someone in the national media could instead focus more on the many great characteristics of the Seattle community and on the wonderful role that the Seahawks play within it?
Yes, we are loud and we are proud! We are the 12th man! Go Hawks! And I love you Seattle!