By now, a big deal has been made about a tree in Auburn dying. It litters the sports radio shows in Alabama as they talk ad nauseum about the oak trees at Toomer’s Corner. NBC Nightly News (with Brian Williams) even had a cute little report on it. Just, blahblahblah about a damn tree!
For those who do not know, an alleged Alabama fan poisoned the oak trees at Toomer’s Corner in Auburn. The trees, apparently 130 years old, were emblematic of Auburn football for after every victory by the University, fans would use toilet paper to roll the oaks. Apparently, 62-year old Harvey Updyke decided to “Roll Tide” the trees that were more than double his age. Updyke allegedly used Spike 80DF, a tree killer, to poison the trees. This was supposedly in response to Auburn fans rolling the trees following former Alabama head coach Bear Bryant’s death…28 years ago!!!!!!
The genius then decides to call a well-listened-to local radio program and brag about it. He claims to have done it out of revenge, but it also seemed like he wanted to gain martyr status. Well, once it was discovered that the trees were indeed poisoned, the “hero” was arrested. And for the most part, both Auburn and Alabama fans condemned this idiot’s actions.
Now, of course Updyke might not be the shooter from the book depository as it is possible he “claimed” to have done and did not really do it…then someone goes off and pulls the deed. Maybe there is someone on the grassy knoll. But that is beside the point. The point here is this: these are just damn trees!!! That’s all! Trees die! We all die! It is a simple equation. All trees die. The Toomer’s Corner oaks are trees. Hence, those trees will die! Updyke just decided to speed up the process. At least the trees got to see a BCS championship. Like other Auburn “fans,” the trees can now die in peace knowing that fact. So, move on…there is nothing to see here. Besides, Auburn fans have been throwing “dead tree” byproducts (i.e., toilet paper) onto those trees for generations. Isn’t that ironic……don’t you think?
But are they really “just trees”? Those that study iconography and symbolism will state that those trees do in fact represent something — Auburn University. Flags, national anthems, monuments, sports teams…these are all “representations.” And those trees serve(d) as a representation of Auburn University.
Despite this, there is an odd paradox. Uncle Popov favorite Bo Jackson was on a local radio station in Alabama talking about the poisoning of those trees. He compared Toomer’s Corner to Mount Rushmore and that a defacing of the latter would receive heavy backlash. However, he would later go on to claim that football “is just a game” and seemed flabbergasted that someone would take football so seriously that they would do something like poison trees.
Well…you cannot have it both ways Mr. Jackson. If football is just a game, then those oaks are just trees. There should be little to no outcry over the poisoning of said trees, with perhaps only environmentalists becoming upset. But if the trees are important to the identity of the Auburn “family” (keep your incest jokes to yourselves), then football is also important. Without football, those trees would have no importance; those oaks would represent nothing but a nice shady spot on the corner of Magnolia and College.
Bo Jackson’s misinterpretation of sport is common amongst many people. But the fact remains that sports do create an identity that can stir emotions and connections not unlike patriotism and nationalism. Auburn’s football team, like the Toomer’s Corner oaks, represent a “family” of individuals who associate with Auburn University. Likewise, Alabama’s football team also serves as a representation of a “nation” of fans. Football might be a “game,” but its representation goes beyond the playing field.
To blow off the identity that people have with sports is a mistake. People do crazy things in the name of their country (or religion) and no one claims that “it is just a country” or “it is only a religion.” Why do the same with sports? Every group — be it a country, religion, ethnicity or sports team — has its fringe. This is no different. The fringe radicals usually do not speak for the fan base and Updyke’s actions are his alone and not representative of the Alabama “nation.” The University of Alabama is no more culpable than Paul Finebaum (which is to state, not at all). Only “Al from Dadeville” is guilty here…not Alabama; not Finebaum; and certainly not the “game” of college football.
Still, football (in particular) and sport (in general) do in fact create identity and “pride.” Hence, football is just as important as those trees. If we are to blow off football as simply a “sport” because of what some radical did, then those trees are just trees. And their dying is a non-issue.