April 5, 2015

Indiana's March Madness

This weekend is the NCAA men’s Final Four in Indianapolis, Indiana. Like all major sporting events in the US, it’s a big fancy media extravaganza. Here we see John Calipari and Bo Ryan–head coaches for the University of Kentucky and the University of Wisconsin–hamming it up in front of the cameras before their teams duke it out for a chance to play in Monday’s national title game.

Don’t let the directors’ chairs fool you though. Coaches call shots during the big game, but in this photograph the actors on stage are just following the script. Considering all the ugly politics coming out of the red state of Indiana this week, let’s just give the people what they want: See? We can all just get along.

The important story here, though, isn’t just about pining for red-blue comradery. The other observation that this photograph offers is about how in Indianapolis this weekend everything depends on the bracket. NCAA Final Four uses the bracket system to structure its annual basketball tournament, and now the bracket itself is an icon of March Madness. But the bracket serves a double function that is just as central to the cultural significance of this year’s championship tournament. Since putting it in brackets is also a way to signal an intention to separate substance from context–to set secondary matters aside while dealing with first things first–it’s interesting to observe how much we lean on sporting culture to provide a space where we can put pressing political issues on pause so we can focus on the important task of having a good time.

And yet this odd notion that we can, in fact, bracket our politics from the wide world of sports is getting harder and harder to embrace. When you look at the way this photograph exemplifies how rivalry and friendship can co-exist, the arena of big-time athletics might provide one of the best staging areas for modeling an ideal politics of brotherly love.

— Philip Perdue

(photo: David J. Phillip/AP. caption: Kentucky head coach John Calipari hugs Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan after an interview with CBS Sports. The Wisconsin Badgers and Kentucky Wildcats will face off Saturday in the Final Four of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.)

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Philip Perdue
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