The Ambiguities of “Rising Up,” and the Blending of Football, Religion, and Political Mythmaking

By Kenny Smith

RISE UP ATLANTA!

The Atlanta Falcon’s football team has a new, and apparently quite popular, slogan for the 2010-2011 year: “Rise Up!” “You see the words,” Jim Trotter tells us, writing for Sports Illustrated.com some three months before the season began, “on highway billboards and window placards, often superimposed over a game image of quarterback Matt Ryan. That’s fitting because the team is asking its franchise player to raise his game this year by taking ownership of the offense.”

The pro-Falcons motto has also served as the basis for a TV commercial staring Atlanta native (and apparently Falcon’s fan) Samuel L. Jackson.  It has likewise inspired a musical performance by the same name from local rock band (and Falcons devotees), Dear Enemy.

So far, it fits rather well with the team’s ascent to the NFL’s top ranks. With yet another victory over a tough divisional opponent this past Sunday,

Atlanta became the first team to reach 10 wins in 2010, improving to an NFL-best 10-2 on the season with its 28-24 come-from-behind win over Tampa Bay at Raymond James Stadium. Atlanta’s 10-2 mark matches the best 12-game start in franchise history established by the 1998 Falcons who finished the seasons 14-2 and represented the NFC in the Super Bowl.(1)  

Thus for Falcon’s players “rising up” points to the team’s continued success on the grid-iron. As linebacker Curtis Lofton attests, “We have something special going on here right now… Everyone knows it. We feel like we’re about to rise up to the occasion and hopefully make it to the Super Bowl.’’(2)

But what else might “Rise Up!” signify, especially when we factor in the various contexts in which it is embedded? The TV commercial offers some initial clues. Jackson appears in the role of a Southern preacher, leading a racially integrated church choir. “Can you feel it?,” he asks. “It’s time, it’s time for every one of us. If we get knocked down, we won’t just get up. It’s time we all rise up!” The choir responds in enthusiastic harmony that yes, we must “rise up!” On this level, Falcon’s victories are linked up with the attainment of spiritual heights and the approval of traditional religious authority.  At Falcoholic.com, fans have been divided as to how well religious associations worked for them. Some thought that “Jackson is perfect for the role; I felt like I just went church”; others (perhaps thinking back to Jackson’s roles in Jackie Brown and Pulp Fiction) were disappointed that “he didn’t tell us how tired he was of the MFin’ Saints.”

On yet another level, the idea of “rising up” has clear political associations. It is not simply that Falcon’s country (largely suburban metro-Atlanta) is politically conservative and thus an African American Democratic President is enormously unpopular. But that this community has become steeped in profoundly anti-Obama mythology since the beginning of the 2008 election season. Within this mythic frame, which is tirelessly reiterated in hourly installments on television shows, radio broadcasts, and websites, Obama is portrayed as a totalitarian demagogue who has illegally stolen the U.S. Presidency, one eager to rob Americans (especially white Americans) of their constitutional rights and financial assets, in short bringing all that is good in traditional American society crashing down. Of course, such political mythology is not distinct from religion, but often comes thoroughly entangled within it. FOX television personalities such as Glenn Beck, for instance, regularly take as newsworthy items claims that President Obama may be is in fact be the biblical anti-Christ. Within such imaginative religious/political worlds, the call to “rise up!” may resonate at levels largely invisible to other viewers.  

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WyifSg5RtXw&feature=related

The argument here is not that the Falcon’s “Rise Up!” campaign is necessarily political.  Just as all viewers do not find its religious dimensions compelling (or even believable), many no doubt gloss over its ideological connotations. This is precisely why it represents a brilliant piece of advertising! People living in very different social imaginaries are able to plug in at different levels and experience it in different ways. For many it is surely about football victories, and for some of these football in general may be lived in ways that blend religious resources with football fandom. There is a great deal of scholarship that suggests this is in fact a common practice. For many in Falcon’s country, however, the idea of “rising up” may resonate with political sentiments and suspicions yet deeper still. Indeed, this may be why, as Jim Trotter noted, “we see these words on highway billboards and window placards.”  

Sources:

  1. Matt Hailey, “Notes & Milestones: Falcons at Bucs,” http://www.atlantafalcons.com/2010/12/notes-atl-tb-10-2/
  2. Pat Yasinskas, “Falcons Really Ready to Rise Up,” http://espn.go.com/blog/nfcsouth/post/_/id/12114/falcons-really-ready-to-rise-up

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