Most times, when I talk to a San Francisco 49ers fan from the Bay Area or elsewhere, they want to know how hard it is to live in the Seattle area. They'll ask about what sort of strange stares we get. How painful is it being a Niners fan there, they'll wonder. And, true, there are some things we have to deal with.
However, most of us have come to accept that a certain amount of this treatment comes with the territory of being behind enemy lines. Many of the stories of mistreatment you hear are grossly exaggerated. I've lived here 21 years, and a large percentage of the "harassment" I've received is passive-aggressive in nature. A faint "Go Hawks," after the heckler passes by and then scurries away, for example.
So, how do I best answer those aforementioned questions? About the stares, mistreatment and pain we endure living life up here.
We definitely don't get as many stares as those with learning and social disabilities, that's for sure. We don't receive the discrimination that those who are "different" get. Dealing with words being shouted about something as trivial as football can't possibly carry the pain and difficulty a Special Olympian pushing themselves to compete endures. And, while our society has made great strides in helping those with disabilities, there's still a massive mountain to climb for these folks and their families.
So, on an uncharacteristically mild February morning on the shores of Owen Beach in Tacoma, Washington, Seattle Niners Faithful took part in the Polar Bear Plunge. It's an annual fundraising event that benefits Special Olympics Washington. We have raised $6,461 (you can still donate here!) online this year, with a few more bucks raised offline yet to be added in. We had 23 members register and become eligible to plunge ($75 minimum).
This is how the stares of negativity turn into smiles and applause. While we get our round of friendly boos as we enter the area, we were showered with compliments by the members of law enforcement and media who were emceeing the event. Others in attendance -- sporting Seahawks gear or otherwise -- wanted to shake our hands and take photos with us. They were all so surprised at our showing at what we were able to raise.
We nearly swept the four awards handed out on the day. We won the Team Spirit award for the second consecutive year, along with the Best Costume (Yes, I wore a tutu) and Largest Group of Plungers awards. After maintaining the lead in total team donations for nearly two months, it literally took a local newscast spreading the word that we had the lead for another team to land a $6,000 donation on the final day to swipe that final award away from us.
The best part of all of this event, though, was listening to a few of the athletes speak. To hear them share their stories of daily life and what Special Olympics means to them was truly inspiring. One athlete shared the Special Olympics motto with us: "Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt."
I'm not going to sit here and liken our efforts to fundraise to the challenges of a Special Olympian, but those words still struck me. When I found out that we had not finished first in donations, I was super bummed. But knowing that our efforts raised another $6,000 for these truly brave individuals was a spectacular feeling and worth the "loss."
As the only booster club in the Seattle area officially recognized by the 49ers, and the Seattle chapter of The Niner Empire, we push ourselves to give back to the community we all call home by choice. Despite the color of our football paraphernalia and the backlash that comes with it, this is our home, too.
If you're part of a 49ers booster or chapter of The Empire, I encourage you to consider taking part in charitable causes within your community. Your time is just as valuable as your money, with plenty of volunteering needs out there. If you aren't part of a club, check out the team's website or The Niner Empire's website for info on one near you to join!