I was listening to some political talk radio this afternoon when I was struck by a poll mentioned in the broadcast. Before you say anything—yes, I like to listen to non-sports talk radio from time to time.
The nature of the poll was troubling, to say the least. The host cited a story in the Washington Examiner detailing the findings in a YouGov survey. Out of 1,000 people polled, 41% believe the American dream is no longer achievable, while 38% believe it is still achievable. The data is then broken down by political affiliation and other modifiers. It’s quite a fascinating poll for those of us who enjoy such things.
The troubling part comes beneath the numbers, right down to the mentality indicated in the poll. It says more Americans are pessimistic about the opportunity that exists for them to become successful than are optimistic about it. The negative sentiment outweighs the positive, if only by a small margin.
Things aren’t going great, and it doesn’t take a genius to read the tealeaves. The economy is still in limbo. People are being laid off, and replacement prospects are bleak for many. As a recent college graduate, I can tell you many stories about friends and peers being unemployed or underemployed because the jobs they studied for years preparing to have simply are not there.
We are told to be pessimistic about our circumstances, only it’s called being “realistic” in today’s vernacular. In such an ideological environment, optimism can seem naïve. It doesn’t mean people should hold out for a pipe dream, but striving for more—within reason—is the only way to reach the top.
The Clemson football team is trying to reach the top this season. The goals are all realistic, even a national championship, based on what is available. Sometimes, coaches and players talk about winning titles without credible evidence to suggest this is possible. This is not one of those times.
After a handful of practices, the Tigers appear to understand the gravity of the opportunity they face. But achievement is impossible without belief first, which is where Dabo Swinney comes in.
It’s just a hunch, but I would guess Swinney would fall in with the 38% who still believe in the American dream. He is a self-made man, proof that the dream is alive and can be accessed by anyone with a vision and the desire to see it put into practice. He has communicated a championship vision with his team and his staff, and they seem to have bought into it.
Fans tend to fall into the extremes of this struggle. Either the football team is destined for a string of 70-point blowout wins, or everyone needs to go and a complete rebuild is necessary.
This is more than optimism and pessimism, accentuating the delusional fringes on either side. But fan reaction does tend to err on the side of doom, gloom, and peril.
In recent weeks, fans have become increasingly cautious about Clemson’s upcoming season. Issues that never occurred to many before are now capable of derailing all hope. Wins that seemed sure mere days ago are rapidly turning into close calls or toss-ups.
This shift is not universal, but it does validate the results of the poll. People are prone to wander toward pessimism, perhaps now more than ever in America, and sports is no exception.
For the record, put me in Swinney’s camp. Count me in with the group who prefers hope to despair. If the American dream is indeed dead, then any Clemson fans in the 41% can only hope the 2013 Tiger football team doesn’t suffer the same fate.