The 49ers, led by the unreticent coach, Jim Harbaugh, recite a rally cry. It goes like this: Harbaugh asks rhetorically, "Who’s got it better than us?" to which the whole team bellows "Nooo-boooody." Fitting that the Niners will soon call Santa Clara home, for what segment of enterprise embraces hubris quite like Silicon Valley?
As a disclaimer I should state the obvious. I’m a Seahawks fan. The Seahawks and 49ers have developed the league’s fiercest rivalry since Seahawks coach Pete Carroll and Harbaugh packed their mutual hatred for one another and left the PAC 10 for the NFC West. Normally I root FOR the Seahawks. This weekend I’ll root against the 49ers with much more fervor than I’ve rooted against any other opponent.
Harbaugh’s choice to use this question—who’s got it better than us?—to fire up his team has an innocent origin. Jack Harbaugh would look back at his kids on family outings and ask "who’s got it better than us?" To which the kids would respond gaily, "nooo--booooody." Two of Jack’s kids, John and Jim, have gone on to coach NFL teams to the Super Bowl, so maybe nobody is a fair response. Not the Obamas, who might barely survive their eight years in the White House. Not Alice Munro, the 2013 Nobel Prize winner for literature who wouldn’t likely live through a single snap on the NFL gridiron. And certainly not Nelson Mandela, a guy who croaked after spending nearly 27 years in prison as an anti-apartheid crusader. Though he, like President Obama, became his nation’s first black president, it’s hard to imagine that during his life he ever had it better than the Harbaughs on those childhood fishing trips to the Great Lakes.
Harbaugh these days has it pretty good. Better than most, I’d say. Except when he doesn’t. And when he doesn’t he throws sideline tantrums, runs onto the field, and writes the NFL’s advisory board of officials, pleading with them to restore his life to a quality better than everyone else’s.
It’s a question meant simply to thrust a team of massively rich, celebrity gladiators toward the goal of demolishing whatever opponent happens to be on their schedule. By now, most have seen the biased infographic on imgur detailing how much better Colin Kaepernick has it than Russell Wilson. Judging by Kaepernick’s tattoos, his silos of unworn sneakers and team caps, his exotic car and jet travel, his nightlife companions, and unrelenting devotion to the pronoun "that", nobody could possibly have it better. Not Wilson, who apparently only boasts one pair of Nike sneakers (and they’re the pedestrian Flyknits, which any schmuck can buy) and spends much of his free time in the company of sickly kids. Not Richard Sherman, who spent his youth dodging stray bullets in Compton and now must suffer through Seattle’s dreadful winters. And definitely not the fans of either team, who pay gobs of money just to wear a replica jersey the quarterbacks themselves get for free.
To be fair, Kaepernick too gives generously to charities. That popular infographic neglects to highlight Kaepernick’s own generosity and philanthropic participation. But that doesn’t matter. The point is, Kaepernick, to an extent more measurable than Wilson, weighs success in swagilocity. As if Kanye West wasn’t example enough, it’s unbecoming for a guy who has it better than all of us to brag about his swag.
Beyond the petty, biased, undersubstantiated comparisons of two gifted quarterbacks, the petulant whining of the 49ers’ coach, and the onfield competition between our team and the bad guys, there is something embedded in the meaning of the question "who’s got it better than us?" and its answer "nobody", that in this application, irks me. If posed the same question, I could write a list as long as the Bible.
And that question, in the inverse form asks, "who’s got it worse than us?" The 49ers’ answer then: "everybody." Everybody including the lowly fans who finance those wonderful lives. The artists. Those who have sworn their lives to public service. The wrongly accused. The under and unemployed. The impoverished. The disabled. The soldiers, whose lives are in constant peril, yet who gather around TVs in faraway deserts to cheer their teams to victory. Me. You. Everybody has it worse than the 49ers.
If I asked a homeless man, "who’s got it better than you?" and he answered, "nobody", perhaps I could find inspiration in his response. But not if you’re a group of mega-rich athletes whose lives—by virtue of their preternatural abilities to play a game—are afforded more luxury than most. It’s a bad look. It’s braggartly. Spoiled kids brag about how good they have it. Bullies tell dweebs how much better they have it right before they smush a PB and J on the dweebs’ glasses. I’d like to think that a group of excellent NFL players, who I’m sure have it pretty good, could channel a little more humility from the less fortunate.
On the topic of humility- here’s my pick- Hawks by 30.