I am a part of the much-hated group in our fine community who are, in fact, from that greatly despised neighbor to the South. I was born and raised in various parts of California and recently immigrated to Oregon. While my move was quite recent, my knowledge of my impending move has some depth to it. I have been following Oregon sports for some time now but, I have to say, it is hard to do so in a state and region so filled with successful teams and overwhelming pride the likes of Southern California. For whatever reason, the Oregon sports scene is rarely talked about outside of the state itself. Beyond the U of O, our teams fall beneath the radar of virtually every leading sports broadcaster unless something outrageous and altogether unexpected takes place. Sure, every region, state, and city has its own allegiances, but there are those regions who receive national and, at times, international recognition for their achievement in sports. Often it is not even achievement that brings the fame but rather pop culture phenomena or simple unexplainable fan-following (take Linsanity or TebowMania as recent examples). Simply put, we Pacific Northwesterners, we Oregonians, we Portlandians are finding ourselves lost in the cultural hubbub of modern athletics.
In 2010, the U.S. census categorized Portland as the twenty-ninth largest city in the United States, dropping us just below the top half of the fifty largest markets in the country. Our Seattle brethren boast twenty-third in the same census, but us two have an unusual advantage in terms of market appeal, or so we should. We may both fall in the twenties of ranked nation markets, but we dwell in the middle of a wide-open landscape of virtual athletic inexistence. The closest nationally recognized teams to our two cities either find themselves playing under a Canadian maple leaf to the north or dwell in what should be more known as Central California to the south. Miles and miles of dried grasses, wide-open nature, and hundreds of smaller towns separate us from both, and yet our markets still continue to draw smaller recognition than either neighbor.
Our NBA team has run our city for forty-two years, our WHL junior hockey team has consistently won for thirty-six years, and, the youngest brother to both organizations, our MLS team, has recently joined the ranks by soon entering its third year of existence. Despite over four decades of the modern Portland sports era, we still find ourselves at the bottom of the national conversation. Each team has its following, each team has its die-hards, and each team has its esteemed accomplishments. Yet here we remain, the proverbial butt of the age-old joke that is American sports publicity.
My question is this: what must we do to become the pop culture phenomenon and the seat of the international conversation? It could be as difficult as win each of the NBA, WHL, and MLS titles all in one year, or it could be as simple as paying a popular rap artist to do for Portland what Jay-Z did for New York City, with “NY” emblazoned on his hats in virtually every one of his videos. It can be done and will be done all in due time, or so one can assume. But then my second question rises to the surface: is pop culture hysteria really what we want for our city? Do we want all the hype, pomp, and circumstance that comes from being a recognized sports powerhouse? Nothing else about Portland lives up to this supposed dream, so why should its sports?
Oregon has always lived outside the stagnancy of the so-called American dream. Oregon functions as its own entity, caring only for its own enjoyment and equilibrium. Frankly, we love our teams, we have pride in who they are and what they represent, and we have confidence in all they can, have, and will achieve. What should we care if the battle between NY and LA draws millions of viewers regardless of the sport? Besides, if the fame did eventually come to us and change our city into a bustling cookie-cutter metropolitan the likes of the aforementioned, we couldn’t truly boast our favorite motto: Keep Portland Weird. And if weird is what we strive for then we are doing our job just fine and shouldn’t change a thing.
Here’s to remaining pure to our ever-so-loveable self-proclaimed reputation.