Part of a series from Brasky’s Senior Contributing Editor
Oh Tampa, how DARE your teams do well in sports!
One of the only surefire ways to get the word TAMPA into national media is to have a winning sports team. It’s a safe bet for inclusion because the media doesn’t actually have to discuss anything about the city in order to churn out a story. They can simply discuss the mechanics of the game and the players involved and move along on their way. When the Tampa story doesn’t involve sports or serial murders, journalism begins to fail.
The best method that out-of-town media has for talking about Tampa is by comparing what it could have to what it doesn’t. There aren’t many iconic landmarks for wide-pan lead-in shots to sprawl an ad across. Where are all the farmer’s markets? Oh Christ, look at all of the chain stores! One rarely sees Tampa described in terms more complex than the sort of glib material pulled from a truck-stop coupon magazine, but despite all of that, people are still moving in by the tens of thousands each year.
Enter the twitter-deficient curmudgeon Bob Ryan. Never heard of him? Exactly, he’s a sports writer from the Northeast, or if you’re unfamiliar with what that position implies, he’s made a living from being an opinion-hurling wise-ass. This guy goes on TV to discuss the recent success of the Tampa Bay Rays franchise and subsequently can’t help but epitomize the argument that the rest of the nation routinely makes about all things Tampa:
“But the flip-side is they play in a horrible ballpark and few people down there care at all. The Rays are the baseball tree falling in a very large forest. I don’t know of another organization in any sport that has done more things right in front of a less appreciative audience than the Tampa Bay Rays. And that’s the truth.”
Get out your Mad Libs pad and you can fill in the blanks for this argument: Tampa shouldn’t get ______ (noun) because they don’t ________ (action verb). Ryan has introduced that drastic feel-good-by-comparison pissing contest that is familiar to second cities everywhere. And “pissing contest” is exactly the term Bob Ryan used to describe why he didn’t feel like he needed to address rebuttals to his comments when invited to do so on Tampa sports radio.
Much has been written about the region’s sports apathy, but underlying all of the talking points is the reality that Tampa is a city that hasn’t been conditioned to expend emotional capital on traditional entertainment. There is too much real life going on within the city limits. A lot of people living on cash. A lot of people that failed somewhere else and aren’t doing too well here either. A lot of people living with their entire family in three rooms. It’s difficult to convince a metropolitan area with the highest rates in the country of foreclosure and homelessness that paying 40 dollars to watch someone who makes a million dollars to hit a ball for a living is anything more than entertainment. So when we see some bitter old fart shouting at us about not deserving a winning baseball team, that doesn’t even make sense.
We’re not going to sit here and tell you about all of the reasons why someone from out of town should respect Tampa’s culture. You don’t have to care. We live and sweat here and we have a great god-damned time without expecting anyone else to worship us or even notice us. There’s something satisfying in not having to live up to any expectations, and that sounds like reason number one on the list of why we all ended up here in the first place. We’re not your dream vacation. We’re not your crosstown rivals. We aren’t even a good solid we. There’s a reason why the Bay Area is one of the top product test markets in the country, it contains an intensely diverse mix of demographics. The region can’t be easily typified and perhaps that’s what most stumps the media establishment when they describe Tampa: it’s hot, there are bugs, people don’t show up to watch sporting events. That’s all they’ve got.
Airbnb.com recently listed Tampa as the most hospitable city in the country according to the millions of reviews submitted to the site. That’s not as surprising a rating as it may seem. Hospitality is not just a measure of whether or not people are “nice.” Hospitality is exhibiting an easy going attitude, being comfortable with your surroundings, not getting in anyone else’s way. It’s incredibly easy to make yourself at home in Tampa, to not bother anyone else. It’s impossible to fit in here because there are thousands of different ins. This city is an unhinged rhapsody, an honest portrayal of how the strife of modern America spawns free radicals of madness, passion, and resignation.
I’ve eaten well, entertained, and been educated in Tampa, and I’m prone to fits of reverence for the thousands of touching, tragic, mundane and meaningful moments that certifiably occurred in the absurd and beautiful rain-slicked sprawl jungle that I learned to love. There is room for everyone to exist in Tampa, and when someone is new to the area there’s no obligation to like our sports teams, to admit to your distant friends that you like living here, or to even get to know the city at all. But if one did decide to explore the town, they’d quickly find that there is no predictability for what one is about to walk into. One can go to a bar to watch football with exclusively Cleveland Browns fans, dress up in women’s clothes and go out dancing, talk like a pirate all day every day, pay Korean women to sing karaoke with you in a windowless room at 4am… odd opportunities are the city’s currency, and the most important opportunity is that of doing nothing at all. That is the ultimate right of the Tampa resident: to not do shit, hate the city, and call it home.