Wilbert the Wolverine here—sorry I am late with this—I’ve been out wandering around the U of M Campus today. I can count the students wearing Michigan sweatshirts on one paw. Last Monday, practically everybody on campus had on a Michigan sweatshirt, and M Flags were still hanging from dorm room windows—none today. Why is that? Last Monday people were going into to Moe’s Sport Shop, The M Den and University Bookstore buying all sorts of Michigan paraphernalia—not so much today. How come? Any undergrad will quickly and gladly tell you, “we beat MSU last week; this week they lost to Nebraska.” Perhaps the certainty of a Michigan B1G Ten Championship becoming uncertainty lying in the hinter lands of ifs and luck is no reason to hang a flag. Granted, going from being in the drivers seat on the road to the B1G Ten Championship to somewhere on a crowded bus isn’t motivating enough to run out and buy a sweatshirt.
That aside, I have another question. Why is it that last week, “we” won, and this week, “they” lost. Well because unlike myself, who is the largest member of the weasel family (not bragging, just saying), and unlike other mammals, humans BIRG and CORF. BIRG is an acronym for Basking in Reflected Glory; CORF means Cutting Off Reflected Failure. BIRGing is a concept from social identity theory and explains how humans enhance their self-esteem by attaching and identifying with another person’s success. When people BIRG they are trying to receive glory from a team’s success, when in fact (warning: reality check in the room) they have done nothing tangible to bring the team’s success.
So falling into that BIRG group would be the alumni, former players, and the largest segment of all—the people who never went to Michigan. While Michigan alums and students like to distance themselves from the latter group by referring to them as “Walmart Wolverines” (warning: another reality check in the room) in essence, in terms of BIRGing and CORFing they are no different. None of these people were on the field, or coaching in Ann Arbor, when Sparta came tumbling down. Nor were any of them in Lincoln, suited up and playing against the Cornhuskers. They will not endure the daily schedule and regiment of the football team. The team gets up at 4:30 A.M. to go to weight training. Then have breakfast, go to class for 4 hours, have lunch, go to class for four more hours, then go to practice for 3 hours, go home, eat, do homework, go to sleep and get up and do it again—it’s brutal. Most college students think an 8:00 a.m. class is brutal—and that schedule would kill most of the wolverine fan base in a week. Yet BIRGers feel that are entitled to some of the football teams glory based partially on the fact that they want it, but mostly on the fact that they have found a way to hijack some it.
Brady Hoke completely nailed it a while back in an interview. Some reporter was asking him about what having Urban Meyer at Ohio State meant. Hoke said, “It’s the kids on the field that will win or lose the game.” POW! Coaching strategies do enter in to it all—but at the end of the day, it’s the guys with helmets on, on the field, in the time and place that each play is occurring, who win or lose the game. (Warning: yet another reality check in the room) It’s their glory—to seize or be alluded by. It does not belong to the fans, in the stands or elsewhere, the former players, the alumni, the students, or the Walmart Wolverines.
Yet BIRGers act as if it is. BIRGers from Notre Dame and Ohio State will be saying to BIRGers from Michigan and USC, “we won, you lost” all over the Internet and in person. Even crazier than Notre Dame and Ohio State people feeling better about themselves because Notre Dame and Ohio State’s football team won—Michigan and USC BIRGers will feel worse about themselves because “their” team lost. It’s an occupational hazard in trying to steal glory that is not rightfully yours. It’s also an occupational of participating in consensual reality (real only because we say or pretend its real) opposed to intrinsic reality (real because it’s tangible, exists in nature, and can be measured).
BIRGing is a big-time consensual reality. I wear Michigan gear, I go to Michigan, I went to Michigan, I am a Michigan fan, therefore, I am a part of the Michigan football team—it’s glory is partly and rightfully mine. It’s a variation on a garden-variety children’s imagination game, played by millions of adults that fuels a multi billion-dollar industry. Still power and pervasiveness aside, it’s just that child’s game in adult drag. “Okay I’ll play… you be Michigan, I’ll be Notre Dame, and you guys can be Ohio State and USC… ha ha you lost I won.” Human children do that kind of thing all the time, “I’ll be the mommy, you be the daddy, and you guys be the kids… I’ll be the good guy, you’ll be the bad guy, and you’ll be the damsel in distress.” Go to any playground or backyard where a bunch of kids are playing and wait 5 minutes and you will witness it. Go to any Internet sports chat room or check the feed on Facebook or Twitter and you won’t have to wait that long.
Where there is tendency to BIRG, lies the need to CORF. Cutting Off Reflective Failure is exactly that, distancing oneself from failures. Ironically, the failures do not belong to the people CORFing, but the BIRGer turned CORFer believes they do, and so they do. Again an occupational hazard when you play this game. People usually CORF by merely substituting “they” for “we”, e.g., “They lost the game.” Usually, as in the students here, they take in the flags, and wear that new sweater mom sent them opposed to their M-Gear.
So what is the big deal? BIRGing and CORFing pales in comparison to many copious human enterprises—true, very true. However, here’s the problem with BIRGing and CORFing. The more marginalized and disrespected people whom BIRG and CORF feel in life, the more they tend to BIRG and CORF by more strongly allying themselves with the team. Makes sense and seems harmless enough, right? I mean it’s not illegal, immoral or heavy carb, how bad can it really be? Well, sometimes it can be bad. The level of identification with the team is commensurate to the degree of commitment by the fan. Hence the myriad of Internet blogs, chat rooms and groups that are Wolverine this, wolverine that, Go Blue this, Go Blue that etc. Still, seemingly, there is no real harm or foul in that. Except that the more strongly a fan allies with the team, the greater the risk of the fan suffering a serious blow to their self esteem when their team loses—which will happen to every team eventually, if not this year, the next, or the one following. Again, Where’s the problem? The problem occurs when BIRGing and CORFing evolves into blasting, which occurs in two ways.
The first is when the BIRGers/CORFers from one team blasts the BIRGers/CORFers from another, which again, occupational hazard. Although blasting, can and often does eventuate into a type of psychological bullying and tormenting—especially on the Internet—but even in public that can become quite pugnacious and result in psychological and bodily harm. That is social pathology and problematic. While escape from this is seemingly easy, just go offline—some people cannot do that because their self-esteem is to dependent upon all of this. This is the world in which they live, and this is who they are, because it provides a much needed vacation from another world—their intrinsically real world, where political tensions are high, the economy is low, divorce is rampant, and the hole in the ozone is growing.
Another way people blast is more complex. It begins with a CORFing strategy that involves creating an external reason for the teams’ failure. “The refs, the weather, this coach, this coaching decision etc.” Or the CORFers single out an individual and crucify the person in the media and in the Internet chat rooms. In the case of the Nebraska game, the external reason that the heavy BIRGers are citing is Denard’s injury and the person being crucified is Russell Bellomy. This is a rather diaphanous BIRGer maneuver when you think about it. As Bo Pellini said (warning: reality check back in the room) “We were bottling up the Michigan offense when Denard was on the field.” True it was easier with Bellomy, but was that because of Bellomy or because it gave the Nebraska defense an additional set of weapons, which were just more lethal against the team with Bellomy under center?
Now as was expected, in those chat rooms on the Internet, which are largely populated by Walmart Wolverines, Bellomy, the offense and Al Bourges are being blasted. Why? Because Walmart Wolverines have more invested in terms of their self-esteem and subsequently more dependent on associating themselves with the Michigan football team and basking in their reflective glory. This is when it becomes a serious problem, i.e., when people start needlessly beating on other people for the sake of their own psychic survival, especially when it’s older adults doing it to young kids. (Warning: wolverine claws and fangs coming out—flanked by a whole posse of reality checks—it’s about to get really real, really quickly.
You don’t just happen onto the Michigan Football team. It requires a fierce passion for the game. Who could withstand the demanding regiment that football players put themselves through, if they weren’t fiercely committed to the game? To play football at the Michigan level you have to be, not only an excellent athlete, you also have to have an extraordinary amount of drive, intelligence and discipline. You think football players aren’t that smart? Well you memorize the Michigan playbook, keep with the Michigan team regiment, while circumnavigating the nutty BIRGers, CORFers and insensitive, remedially intelligent journalists and still manage to remain sane and get through the end of your teenage years and early 20’s, not to mention the 18th most academically challenging university in the world. You do that and let me know it works out for you. Then come talk to me about it.
I do not think it would be too pretty, especially considering the real reason people the types of people who are CORFing and blasting the Michigan football team right now. The real reason these BIRGers and CORFers are so upset with the Michigan football team and Russell Bellomy has nothing to do with loyalty or allegiance to the team, Michigan football or the University of Michigan. They are not in it for Michigan football. They are in it for what they get from Michigan football. They’re pissed because they have nothing to BIRG about. If there’s no glory, how can you bask in it? And if you can’t bask in the reflective glory of someone else, how can you claim successes that you didn’t earn as your own? When you can’t do that who is going to deal with your sagging self-esteem? Here’s an idea—why don’t you deal with it. Why don’t you stop beating up the Michigan football team and its coaches for not providing you with an opportunity to use them for own selfish ego-driven psychological purposes?
Where is this humanness, we other mammals are always hearing about? I wouldn’t bite another wolverine that was already bitten and wounded—but wolverines are weasels, and weasels aren’t cannibalistic creatures. Humans can be cannibals sometimes, and tend to be cannibalistic much of the time. Wolverines also aren’t reptiles, so we don’t eat our young. I would never do to a young wolverine what a lot of humans do to the young Michigan football players.
I don’t understand humans sometimes. Why would anybody take the time and energy to denigrate a young kid publicly because he had “a bad game.” Do you think you are giving him information that he does not already have, or that is useful? No you’re not, and you don’t care but that’s not the reason doing it. Again it is all about you, you’re doing it because you need to CORF and again, this helps you manage your own ego and self-esteem problems—focus on his failures so I don’t have to face my own. From one mammal to another, in that situation, whose the real loser—and who let whom down—nothing worse than letting yourself down—well not admitting it and facing it is worse—but if you’re good at it, you can do it without feeling anything. (Warning: Reality Check back in the room). There is no bad game when you are a Michigan Quarterback. When you’re that age and playing QB for a team like Michigan life is as good as gets and the person in that situation is way beyond good.
When you rise to the level of being a member of the Michigan football team or it’s coaching staff—you’re not good, you’re great. You win most of the time, but you lose sometimes. What you don’t do however is you never stop believing in your ability and you never stop striving to win. Michigan has never done that—even in the darkness of the Rich Rod era, or the sheer and utter blackness of the Bennie Oosterban and Bump Elliot days—Michigan has always been Michigan, and to quote, Brady Hoke, “Michigan football is not back. It never left.” Win or lose, Michigan football and Michigan football players have strength of character and determination that is excellent—especially for human beings, who let’s face it, don’t have a lot of the qualities we weasels have—just saying.
So maybe the better human strategy is to spend less time trying to BIRG or CORF with the Michigan football team’s successes and failures and more time trying to emulate the character and intrinsic excellence that these guys exhibit on and off the field, win or lose, rain of shine. Maybe you might want to spend less time blasting Russell Bellomy and spend a little time reading about the challenges that he’s overcome to get to a place that a very, very few will ever go. Maybe you might want to turn the focus on those interceptions to the kinds of things it takes to get into that position. Maybe you might want to look at your own life and see which of the qualities it takes to be a Michigan football player that you have, and how you can develop them. I’m talking about the qualities above and beyond the gift of athleticism. Qualities like determination, discipline, integrity, motivation, persistence, the list is long—too long for here and now. For here and now it’s more important for me to urge you to look at who you are, and what you have, your strengths your weaknesses. Maybe you want to check your levels of discipline, integrity, motivation, persistence etc. Maybe, that is a better use of your time and energy than BIRGing, CORFing and blasting because (warning: reality check back in the room) we all might want to be on the Michigan team—but we all can’t. We all might want to have the glory the Michigan football team has, but it is not rightfully ours. However, we have our own glory—we just have to find it and seize it. There is enough glory and success in this world for everybody. Find yours and seize it. We all can’t be on the Michigan Football team, but we all be like Michigan football–great and glorious. HAIL!