Or do we?

Last week during the N.C.A.A. Men’s basketball play-offs, Florida Gulf Coast University became the first 15th seed in the history of the Men’s N.C.A.A. to eliminate a #2 seeded team in the history of the basketball tournament.

Major media eruption! Not simply sports stations, but national news, local news, and talk shows. You couldn’t turn on the television or radio without hearing about the “Cinderella” story. Florida Gulf became America’s darlings—despite annihilating most of the betting pools throughout the country. No matter, they were the little school that could and did. And when F.G.C.U. clawed their way to the Sweet Sixteen, the media frenzy was overwhelming. Which actually made me begin to think.

Why when it comes to sports do people really enjoy and support underdogs, but seem to despise them in real life? (Sorry my sports’ fan friends—games are only real life to those who play them or work for or own teams.)

Perhaps ‘despise’ is too strong a word. Ignore works and might be a better term. How much attention has any specific family whose house has been repossessed received from the media—other than the very few who have made a huge public stink? No water cooler conversations about the hard working underdog who was the victim of mortgage manipulations by banks and companies who are apparently “too big to fail.”

In fact, where is the public outcry about the term “too big to fail or too big to jail?” Those institutions are over-dogs and I’m not hearing much anger about their oppression of our fellow citizens, much less their slice and dice of the economy which affected us all. Hell, that makes us the underdogs and we aren’t even rooting for ourselves. (Senator Bernie Sanders excepted.)

How often do people sit around the dinner table chatting excitedly about the pay differential between white males as opposed to women and Blacks who work at the exact same job for the exact same number of years? Yes, there are organizations that raise the issue, but it’s a long spit between an organization’s agenda and public fervor.

Unemployment. From where I sit, the only time that receives much attention is when it’s tied to a politician’s aspirations. Unless someone has a friend or relative out of work, I haven’t heard much support for those millions of underdogs. In fact, despite the absolutely clear evidence with regard to the lack of available jobs, I keep listening to bullshit about “If someone really wants to work, there are jobs out there.” Only jobs I ever hear about are “Welcome to Wall-Mart” and just try to make a living doing that. Even the Federal Reserve talks about 6.5% unemployment as acceptable. Acceptable to whom? Surely not one of those 6.5% underdogs.

Homelessness? People to step over, around, and avoid. Yes, here too there are organizations and shelters. Which have to constantly beg for funds. Where’s the hue and cry for these folks? And there’s sure no outpouring of bequests from the over-dogs about this either. Indeed, what I hear is pretty much “fuck ’em.”

Hell, we even have a ‘fuck ’em’ attitude toward those who can’t afford healthcare. Even the minor reforms that Obama initiated which added coverage for three million people was met with hatred. And some states are even refusing federal funds to extend their Medicaid program for their own poor.

Truth is, there are no end of examples where we don’t root for underdogs, but cheer those who make life miserable for most of our population—to say nothing about the way our country bombs foreign villages in order to save them. (See Iraq). This, along with no complaints about our support of dictators whose feet have been stomping on the necks of their people—for decades or longer. We support underdogs?

The only sense I can make out of all this has to do with a huge number of our people who actually identify with the overlords. A belief that they too can wind up on the top of the pyramid, though all evidence is to the contrary. An inability to get their heads around the reality that 5% of our population owns or controls 90% of our wealth (give or take a few % points). I guess we believe the club is still open. Ha!

So Florida Gulf Coast’s run gave all of us our collective misconception that we actually love underdogs. And we do—just not in the real world.


  1. Hi, Zach: This is a thoughtful piece. It’s true, we don’t love underdogs. What we love is success. We “root” for the underdog only after he’s succeeded, and especially when there’s an exciting “rags to riches” story to embrace. Such stories give all of us hope (perhaps hope that the club is, indeed, still open?). But unemployment, homelessness, bankruptcy? There’s nothing hopeful about those issues. And tough to root for them in the abstract. I don’t know what the answer is, but maybe part of it lies in your post from last week on “My Cousin’s Comment”…..?

    • SAFM. Thanks for the kind words. I think the most important challenge is breaking the American belief that we live in a class-less society. To understand that there really are those on top and then the rest of us on a ladder to nowhere.

  2. More and more, the question for me is not “who” is going to pay for healthcare, but “why” healthcare costs so much?

    My brother was seriously wounded in Vietnam. As he ages, the wounds have only grown worse. Hospitalized for surgery recently, he picked up one of those “Superbug” infections that resist antibiotics. There was only one drug, from one manufacturer, that could possibly even help. They began giving him this just as soon as his Medicare ran out.

    23 days later a an assistant at his nursing home came in and dropped a bill from their pharmacy onto his bed for $94,248.38.

    *Ninety-Four Thousand Dollars!* And change.

    There were a list of all the drugs he’d taken in that period. I studied this bill very closely. They charged him seven bucks for a few cc’s of saline solution to clean out one of the hoses that run into him. The big bill was the Superbug antibiotic which I sat down and did the math on. They were charging him FOUR TIMES the price for that drug than the same weight in gold. Read that sentence again. And he needed a lot of it.

    To take this bill and put in on the backs of his private insurance company, I spent 55 minutes (by the clock) on the telephone being transferred to various departments and rude talking heads who worked for the insurance agency. None of them made any attempt to hide the fact they were all going to try to weasel out of what they legally owed him. I’m still astonished I didn’t just get into my car, drive to whatever city they were located, and walk in with an AK-47 asking them if they’d like to do business *now.”

    I got the pharmacy paid eventually, figuring I couldn’t help him if I was in prison.

    How about the underdogs of the underdogs? Insurance companies have deals with doctors and pharmacies. They’ve all been worked out by their respective attorneys. That pharmacy would have only charged about one-third to one-quarter of the price for those drugs to the insurance companies. But God help you if you don’t have an insurance company in between you and them, for they will then charge you whatever the hell they want and you have NO recourse, NO one to turn to, that’s your bill, pal, and if you don’t pay it they’ll come after every cent in your bank account and then grab your home and car. They will impoverish you for life and not give it a second thought. Hell, they won’t give it a FIRST thought.

    There are a lot of demons in this bag, including our ridiculous and completely outdated Patent Office. There was an explosion of new, effective drugs developed in the 1980’s and their patents are running out. The pharmaceutical industry already has their lawyers appealing to the Patent Office for extensions.

    Meanwhile, the nation of India has never recognized foreign patents on drugs and they have a fast-growing pharmaceutical industry themselves. I buy a certain drug through Canada which is made in India. It works just as well as the overpriced pills made here in the States. Without that economic break (they cost about one-twelfth of American drugs) I simply could not afford them. And India is gearing up to start making even more drugs now that more patents have actually ran out.

    The American pill-pushers say they spend billions to research and create new drugs. Which they do. But they average spending five times more on advertising than on research, so somebody hand me a very tiny violin to play sad music for them.

    If we had a government (which we do not), it would pass a law stating no pharmaceutical company could spend more on running three-page color advertisements trying to convince people they need some new drug than they could on genuine research and testing. If fact, they should reverse that. Make ’em spend their money on saving lives, not making Madison Avenue even more wealthy. That’s what they claim they do. Okay, so enforce them to do it.

    In the event Americans genuinely lose their cool someday over the “too big to fail, too big to jail” myth, there will not be enough rope in New York City to hang the banking executives, and probably not enough lamp posts to hang them from. Should some form of civil insurrection grow to the point where we start lynching people who so desperately need it, my only problem will be deciding whether to go to NYC or Washington D.C. to do my part in tidying up the country.

    We bailed out General Motors when they drove themselves into bankruptcy by making cars no sensible person would buy. What did we get for that? Thousands of new jobs–in China. Seven out of every ten new GM cars are now made in China today. They have a booming economy while the cities that formerly held big GM plants are rotting in America. Yet another case of our tax dollars at work.

    The unemployment rate is a lie and has been since 2008. I know many, many people without jobs today who are no longer even counted in those manipulated figures. Something has got to give–and soon. My worry is what direction it will take and how many innocents will literally die making it happen.


    • Kent–Not much to disagree with up there. I continue to hope that eventually we’ll understand that there are owners, general managers (government) who work mostly for the owners, then different levels of the rest of us. Gotta believe.

  3. Well I agree the no business should be too big to fail and no one should be too big to jail! Though I believe that adherence to the law would fix a lot of our problems, or if we jailed some that were too big to jail we might see some willing reform of behaviors. If we saw businesses be allowed to fail we would see even more willing behavioral reforms! From time to time as a society we get on the anti-golden parachute bandwagon, we get upset that CEOs get paid to fail, and we get pissed off when it effects our pocketbook or retirement account. A CEOs golden parachute never pissed me off, no what pisses me off is finding out that that CEO broke law after law, or knowingly let his company do so, and our government knew but did nothing about it! Seriously, if a CEO broke no law and goes away with millions of dollars what do I care? What do you care? When they break the law and get off clear and free then that golden parachute becomes more like salt in the wound.

    Now I know you and I do not see eye to eye on what all these problems or solutions are Zach, but I think you would agree with me when it comes to the concept of enforcing the laws we have in place and that where ever we ended up would be a better and more just place.

    As for unemployment at 6.5%, that is a pipe dream and if the real numbers did add up to 6.5% we would all be in a better place. The truth is that somewhere along the line they changed what it meant to be unemployed and in the last 12 or so years we have been fooled into thinking things were better than they were. The Bush/Obama administration is a train wreak! The Bush/Obama bailouts hurt this country to the core, and Obamacare is going to do that even more. I am not just saying that because I was opposed to it in general but because it too will be too big to fail, and along with everything else that will be as well, we wont let it die. It will consume us! The only silver lining will be those who will benefit despite the rest of our struggle…

    Either way too big to fail needs to be sliced down so it is not too big to fail.

    • Don–I completely agree that white collar laws ought to be strictly enforced. And I absolutely agree that “Either way too big to fail needs to be sliced down so it is not too big to fail.”

  4. It can be a head-scratcher for sure. Until you realize who is deciding what you see, read and hear. These are the weavers of our fabric. They tell us what is good and beautiful. They tell us to look, then tell us to forget, until it’s good for them for us to look again. Not to remember, only to look at how they have framed our history for us.

    FGCU was this year’s Cinderella story. Packaged and delivered. David v Goliath.
    It doesn’t matter that they ran out of rocks. For a brief moment it was possible, then reality landed. Having been in the FGCU area during their sudden rise to national attention, I can tell you that the most noticeable response was that everybody who could, tried to cash in on the phenomena. Eagle-wear was everywhere. FGCU Eagles lunch specials! It led the news, it drove special reports.

    Meanwhile the FL legislature was shifting and shafting. Further gutting the safety net.
    “Everything is for the best in this best of all possible worlds”

  5. Your first commenter had it right. We love to root for the underdog who succeeded whether it be the self-published author who made it big or the homeless man who went on to make millions. Until then, he or she is just another story.

    On a more positive musing, maybe part of it is because when we see other underdogs make it, we feel like our own dreams have a chance to succeed too?

    • Cindy–I agree with your last sentence. Problem is, the notion that the door is open is, in actuality, a falsehood. So really believing that the little team could (though didn’t) continues to feed our collective fantasy.

  6. The democrats, Obama included, plan cuts to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid & living standard in general. Don’t have any doubt about it. Just not quite as fast & deep as Republicans. It’s just the old good cop, bad cop routine. And it is working quite well as they’ve both planned.

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