I’ve been on YouTube since its birth and I’ve picked up on more than a few of the site’s most obscure, bizarre videos. Today we look at one man’s response to a national trauma.
Yesterday, the LSU Tigers of college football made the ceremonial trip out to the White House to meet with Donald Trump. The verdict is out on whether they got the McDonalds treatment like Clemson did last year. (Side note: That’s going to go down in my memory as one of the funniest events in American history. The mere idea of some intern fresh out of George Mason having to make a run to a Wendy’s for a football team’s worth of Baconators at the request of the president is such a funny image. Like this was probably that kid’s dream job too.)
President Trump got comfortable enough with the ceremony that his brain flipped whichever switch is floating around in the vat of gravy he’s got up there that told him it was okay to start ad-libbing, and he came up with this quote:
“We took out those terrorists like your football team would’ve taken out those terrorists.”
Now, this is a weird quote. Touches right on the fault line at the intersection of nationalism and athletics that also gave us a pantheon-level tweet from the Young Conservatives a few years back. For whatever reason, Americans love the idea that athletes and troops could and should do each other’s jobs, that shooting people and shooting basketballs are somewhere on the same level. Apologies to Christy Mathewson.
But what piqued me to write this post was less the subject of the LSU Football team and more the very vague reference to “terrorists” as a catch-all for anybody that the military killed over the past few weeks, a proud American tradition that dates back to the George W Bush administration. And this brings me to one of the most bizarre examples of Bush-era response to the events of September 11th: The Madden 2002 Bin Laden Bowl
The story of this video, as told by YouTube user Mark Deez (as of last year still active posting his own freestyle rap clips) in the video description, is that he, at some point, created this team, loaded it with either
A) Created players with vaguely Middle-Eastern sounding names
B) NFL Players with Muslim names
C) Bin Laden himself, who starts at Wide Receiver for the Terrorists
And, yes, the fact that this guy just kinda picked names from the news, invented names on his own, and picked random NFL players with absolutely no connection to any perpetrators of the September 11th attacks is rooted in racism and xenophobia and I do not condone them but I have a point to get to here please don’t think that merely by showcasing this internet video from 2011 that I’m implicitly supporting it. The quarterback’s last name is Al-Kalin. The guy also put former Seattle Seahawk Itula Mili, who is Samoan, on the team. It is not like we are dealing with somebody who’d done his racism homework back in 2002 when he recorded this to a VHS tape.
There are two aspects here that I find really noteworthy: First, from a sort of archival standpoint is that this game ever left the VHS tape upon which it was recorded. This guy didn’t film this initially in 2001 with any intent of it reaching a wider YouTube audience, and yet, we saw it. I’m reminded of my own experience keeping a VCR in my bedroom, recording full-season highlight reels in NCAA Football 08 that will likely never leave that tape. I have to wonder how many other weird little in-game experiences are locked away on stacks of VHS tapes untouched since their date of recording.
Then, secondly, I think this helps illustrate the way that the American public reacted to 9/11. Americans like to remember the way that people came together after the attacks moreso than we like to remember the trauma of the attacks. We tend to remember “Raising the Flag at Ground Zero” instead of “Impending Death”. It’s why we like to remember flags lining our city streets rather than the uptick in hate crimes that came afterwards.
But as with anything, responses to this traumatic event were not simply black and white, no, there was a whole lot of just weird shit that came in response as well. Outside of the blood drives and donations to first responders, a lot of people didn’t know how to react, and yet they reacted anyway, as I think is natural. People sold “Bin Laden Sucks” shirts outside of Fenway Park. There were published video games featuring Osama Bin Laden’s likeness. People made some of the most bizarre, earnest patriotic music in history. People got mad at a synth-pop band to the point where they had to change their name. People deal with trauma in mysterious and often illogical and undefinable ways. The fact that somebody reacted to 9/11 by making a team in Madden 2002 and having them play the Jets exemplifies the sort of bizarre reaction that gets lost in our national memory. I appreciate that we have YouTube for keeping this artifact alive.