Connecting in Community through Black and Orange

FullSizeRender copy 16A Browns fan rooting for the Bengals?

I am not a bandwagon kind of fan, having grown up around and rooted for the Cleveland Browns (and Akron Zips) all my life. A certain amount of degradation and stashing one’s clothing with said logos in the bottom drawer goes along with being that sort of fan.

So when a Cleveland Browns supporter starts praising the Cincinnati Bengals, either the Bengals are for real, or hell is gonna freeze over. Given the temperatures as of late, the former must be true.

But, why now?

In my household, I have watched over the years as my husband, Mark, and son, Davis, stepfather and son, bonded together over backyard football. As Davis grew, so did their ties, and they graduated to an interest in college football. Depending on the good years for Notre Dame and Oregon, they went back and forth, trading barbs and rants and cheers. My husband would cheer for Oregon, and Davis, well, he was often coerced into joining in the cheer for ND, with the exception of the Bush push game, when no one needed coercion.

Many tomes have been written about sports as a way to link family members together, parent to child, father to son. Raising Davis as a single mom, I too used sports to relate to him. He may think I still care and I have let him go on believing so. Or he has uncovered my ruse, because he mostly texts Mark (from Oregon) with sports and trivia. I only hear from him when he is missing Graeter’s or Skyline.

Sports can be a community link as well. Living in the city of Cincinnati, over the course of one football season, and now into a second semi-winning season (please, SI, no jinxes), when I am wearing Bengals’ gear and spot someone else sporting black and orange, there is certain ‘protocol’ we follow when encountering each other: Did you watch the game? Are you a fan? Can they beat Denver at home on a Monday nigh? Pittsburgh in Pittsburgh?

Beneath that line of questioning is a tacit acknowledgement. We all have something in common.

My daily work and life is all about connections, thus, I am considering sports in a fresh light– as community connector. I don’t mean in a pink ribbon sewn onto a jersey sort of marketing, nor is it in the realm of building sports stadiums as an economic driver.

But sports as a space, an entity, where real conversations can happen.

Many citizens I meet wearing Bengal’s jerseys or tees are often seen waiting early morning for a bus or sleeping outside a church on the stoop. Or, some are supporters but can’t afford the attire. They are the real fans.

Unlike the drunken fans at the stadium, the real ones would give anything to sit in the seats near the same said fans, to say they watched the Bengal’s last second field goal against two-time Super Bowl champions Seattle or they beheld a certain red-haired quarterback growing, right before their very eyes. And they are the ones calling Who Dey down the road when they see me on a Monday morning proudly sporting a Bengals shirt. Even my young neighbor said, “Man, when I put on my Bengals baseball cap, I get people yelling about the Bengals down the street all day.”

As the hometown for a winning team, Cincinnati has a chance to capitalize on this fervor, not through profits but through community. To begin a chat using the Bengals a starter. To continue by discussing the state of a migraine, try taking some Excedrin for your headache or Didn’t everyone love I Love Jeanie and Barbara Eden, and close the communication with, Where do we go from here, or how can I help?

This is an opportunity the All-Star Game organizers had hoped for, but didn’t provide, based on the national, corporate nature of the event. As much as the city and Reds’ ownership attempted to bring citizens together, most folks felt like outsiders when they noticed the city had been scrubbed clean of its own image for the sake of a branding that did not represent us, with the exception of a large moustache.

Each week this fall, in my writing circles with men in transition, I have been testing out the theory of sports as community connector. Because the attendance fluctuates, I ask the men to check-in with their names and whether or not they are Bengals fans.

From this singular prompt, we exchange information about city of origin (Mark, I cheer for San Francisco), passion (Dave, Who Dey), interest or non-interest (Isreal, I watch soccer), acceptance (Me, raised a Browns fan). Wealth or poverty (Who grew up with a TV, who didn’t). Family (Who watches the team and yearns for a day when they can again, with their grown son).

What if we saw sports using this perspective?

In my brief, but intriguing Internet research into this area, one study noted, albeit with some high-level language, Sport with its non-verbal communication and immediately comprehensible interaction is suited as a medium for overcoming socio-cultural unfamiliarity and ‘otherness’.

Sports do not require us to speak the same language, only utilize the same rules. Sports are a bridge across cultures and economies. Sports are a conversation starter. Sports are like politics in every way, and probably more fun.

Have we placed too much emphasis on sports and sports’ figures as role models? Probably, as those figures have become more of a curse than a balm, more a reflection of larger social issues.

But using our team as a touchstone can facilitate the breaking of stereotypes and address some social issues through our engagement with each other, one on one. We should not be hoping to broaden our community spirit. That’s for sports marketing geniuses. We should want to deepen that community sense instead.

Our commonality, a shared living space with maybe a TV, is a place where we can reach across a divide that has nothing to do with black and white – and every thing to do with black and orange.

However, the real test will be if or when the Bengals lose. Do we revert to the Bungles disposition, or gaze beyond the win-loss column to see the impact of sports in our relationships and on our own hearts?



A Tour of Tenements (and Potties)

I have taken food tours of Findlay Market, beer tours with the Brewery District and haunted tours of Over-the-Rhine. Last week, I even watched a virtual tour of Over-the-Rhine at the Over-the-Rhine Community Housing celebration.

But now, there’s a new tour on the market and it involves potties.

IMG_0697Well, tenements plus potties. The history of tenement buildings is best told by exploring the history of plumbing throughout the ages.

Just ask Anne. Anne Delano Steinert, Julie Carpenter and a crew of devoted historians and neighborhood lovers have developed the Over-the-Rhine Tenement Walking Tour. The purpose of the tour is to raise money and awareness for an eventual Over-the-Rhine Tenement Museum.

Have you visited the Tenement Museum in New York City? That’s the goal. Well, a bit less lofty. But the aim is to share the history of Over-the-Rhine and surrounding area not through Italianate single-family homes, beer halls or German food, but through a specific way of living, tenement-style.

Anne explains to participants how to detect which pieces of a building’s puzzle came first, why there was an addition and then possibly, another. And how toileting played a role in all three structures.

What we see through Anne’s eyes is the density that once existed in Over-the-Rhine and the surrounding basin. In 1850, the population in the basin was near 40,000 people. By 1921, that number has risen to 130,000. We learn about women’s work and why there are small windows and iron hooks on the third floor of many three-story tenement buildings.

The tour guides create a vivid sense of crowding through their many statistics and stories, sharing how some families occupied the same building throughout generations. And some families – entire families – lived in cellars.

Participants witness human and industrial progress through the ghost outlines of backhouses, unevenly laid bricks and porch toilets. Anne gives us the tools to imagine a life unlike one we now live, whether housed in overnight shelters, pricey condos or single-family dwellings.

FullSizeRender copy 13The most impactful lesson was how enthusiastic Anne and Julie are about creating a placeholder for the history of Over-the-Rhine. As an offshoot of Over-the-Rhine Foundation and hoping for non-profit tax status soon, the OTR Tenement Museum aims to connect, as do the other tours I’ve participated in over the years.

But something about the Tenement Tour is different.

This is not a who’s who of politicians or brewers, or which race can lay claim to OTR as its home or which religion or culture was predominant in the founding years.

This is the best tour to learn about the day-to-day minutiae. Of piecework sewing buttonholes. Of the popularity of French flats (not a style of shoe). And how did one shovel out a potty in the cellar.

Yes, this tour is about the how.

For every tour taken, I am struck by the passion, energy and tension around the neighborhood, and scrutiny of who once came or who left this 360-acre square. As if we all own a piece of it. And we do.

We all want to make history. But more so, we want to play a role in the re-telling of OTR, to show others what we see, know what we know.

The Tenement Museum will happen because of the OTR Foundation and individuals like Anne and Julie, dedicated to the preservation the neighborhood in its many and varied forms. Unfortunately, the physical space will be five years in the making because of landowners such as one from NYC who is banking twelve buildings, one with an important potty, waiting for OTR to “take off.”

While the tour does not, at this time, include entrance into the buildings, Anne has gained entrance and reenacts what she’s found. And there is plenty of evidence on the exterior of the buildings along the stops, from which to imagine and learn.

So, while the public waits for this program to take root within a physical space, the OTR Tenement Walking Tour is one perspective worth having, standing up – or sitting down.


* Facts and figures are attributed to Anne and her team. They did all the work. Please forgive errors in the retelling.

* To learn more about upcoming tours and the museum, click here. The FB header page contains a link to sign up for the newsletter.