J.J. McCarthy runs with a football, a Revolutionary-era American soldier's uniform is painted over him.
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On Nov. 26, 2022, the Michigan football team won its first away game against The Ohio State University in 22 years. “The Game,” as it is dubbed by Ohio State and Michigan fans alike, is the culmination of one of the biggest rivalries in the game of football. With the raucous crowd in the Horseshoe and the consistent trading of blows by both teams, the quality of The Game lived up to its intense reputation. In a way, the quarterbacks of both teams embodied generals, leading and directing not only their team, but the spirit of the schools that they represented. 

As is known by most students of either school, the rivalry, like many other rivalries, extends far beyond the scope of football. The competition between schools touches topics including, but not limited to, other sports, student journalism and academics. Without a doubt, the uncontrolled extension of rivalrous competition into the individual psyche can lead to negative consequences such as intense verbal or physical violence. Just this year, after the rivalry football game against Michigan State University, a fight between players broke out. However, when controlled and kept in good spirit, rivalries have the ability to unify and strengthen the communities that participate in them. 

No phrase better encapsulates the spirit of the University of Michigan than “Go Blue.” As simple as the two-word saying is, it can serve many purposes, such as a rallying call to other University students, an exciting accent to the end of a fight song or a means to receive backlash from rival sports fans. The connection, reaction and accentuation that the expression brings on is not simply due to its purpose to express support, but the spirit that it represents. 

When someone says “Go Blue,” they encapsulate a spirit that is omnipresent on campus. When heard by sympathetic ears, the phrase becomes a point of connection, a bridge between two people. School spirit can be a means to that end: something shared between some of the most diverse identities on campus. 

Rivalries transform a permeating sense of school spirit into a concentrated stream of pride, turning weak connections into stronger ones and furthering a sense of unity on campus. During rivalrous times, “Go Blue” transforms from a simple, spirited phrase into a rallying cry of pride and support. 

Aside from its unifying aspects, the competitive spirit associated with rivalry is undoubtedly one of its greatest and most mutually beneficial effects. The inherent drive and added motivation characteristic of a rivalry pushes both sides to become the absolute best that they can be. For example, the sole existence of rivalry in competitive runners has been shown to shave at least four seconds per kilometer off of relative times clocked without the presence of competition. 

The spirit of competition is not just exclusive to outwardly competitive contexts like sports or academia. Many times, the spirit of competition and rivalry can be manipulated in order to reach positive outcomes for both of the sides or for a third party. 

An example of this could be the annual fundraising competition between OSU’s student publication, The Lantern, and The Michigan Daily, which raised over $30,000 this year. Other teams have chosen to use their rivalry to raise money for charity, such as the Broken Chair Trophy fundraiser between the University of Nebraska and the University of Minnesota, which also raised over $30,000 this year. 

So what about the bad aspects of rivalry? 

There’s no avoiding the fact that rivalries can get ugly, become violent and be generally regressive. The bad side of rivalry is an uncomfortable truth that most sports fans have had to confront at some point or another. However, what we normally determine to be a bad aspect of rivalry is not characteristic of rivalry at all, but instead representative of uncontrolled and uneducated pride. 

The pride that individuals can feel for the groups they are a part of can easily transition into a distaste for those that they feel are opposed to them. Wanton pride and support for any identity can lead to myopia, where the common good for both sides of the rivalry is overcome by the need to induce pain in the other. 

This phenomenon is pervasive throughout our political world as well. The political division that we see today is a direct result of the spirit of rivalry overcoming the common good. In many instances, it seems that politicians, parties and people would rather push back on their competitors than work toward a common goal between them.

In order to have healthy rivalry and competition, we must control ourselves and monitor our actions. There is nothing wrong with having pride in your identity, but the problem arises in the blind superiority complex that can arise with wanton pride. We should realize our true power comes not from thinking that we are the best, but in realizing that we have the capacity to be the best. That is the essence of rivalry.

We feel pride for a lot of things. One might feel pride for their culture, their country or their school. The pride that we feel for these communities is the bridge between us. This is why rivalries are so important. 

Zhane Yamin is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at zhane@umich.edu.