How performance artist Gunnar Montana learned to stop worrying and love the Eagles

Giving football a sporting chance

First things first: I am not a sports fan. I am especially not a fan of football. My initial reaction when I heard the Eagles were going to the Super Bowl was to grumble under my breath about the hooting, hollering, and honking. I foresaw an army of drunk, beer-can-wielding dudes in green jerseys descending on City Hall and the imminent destruction of Broad Street.   

Montana let go of his apprehensions and leaned in. (Video still courtesy of Gunnar Montana.)

Jock itch

It’s not my fault. Queer artists and macho athletes rarely make good bedfellows, and when you spend a significant portion of your childhood being pushed around by the football team, the sport — and everyone associated with it — are identified in your mind solely with the plague of toxic masculinity. No, thank you.

But as the Super Bowl drew closer I started to see all kinds of Philadelphians donning their colors and showing their pride in their own ways. My eyes were opened to the larger story forming, and I began to realize that I didn’t need to understand “Dilly Dilly” or the words to the fight song in order to be part of something special that was happening in my city.

So I did the one thing I do best: I told my story through performance. I put on a dress and a wig and I danced in front of a camera, with everything from pom-poms to a life-sized stuffed eagle to an inflatable football.

I was sober in a sea of Natty Lite beer and queer as hell, celebrating a sport that rewards manly men doing manly-menly things. I guess you could say I was an underdog.    

As Sunday approached, I wasn’t quite ready to lace up and run onto the field, but from the sidelines I found myself both interested in the game and rooting for the home team! I guess I just couldn’t escape the electricity that pulsed through this city, and I enjoyed being caught up in the wave. I watched from start to finish. I cheered, I laughed, and I even learned that a field goal and three-pointer are two very different things!

The art of sports

What I really began to see is just how similar performance art and sports can be. Both are made up of people who practice their craft to the point of perfection in an attempt to deliver something memorable. 

If you heard me describe an artistic production as an enormous undertaking that requires commitment, focus, and determination and takes hours of blood, sweat, and tears to pull off, you wouldn’t be shocked to hear a football season described the same way.  Maybe young artists and athletes should start learning from each other instead of focusing on how different we are. Wouldn’t that be something?

Smile, and the world smiles with you, especially if you — like Eagles wide receiver Alshon Jeffery — just enjoyed a Super Bowl win. (Photo via Creative Commons/Wikimedia.)
Smile, and the world smiles with you, especially if you — like Eagles wide receiver Alshon Jeffery — just enjoyed a Super Bowl win. (Photo via Creative Commons/Wikimedia.)

So, the Eagles won. And just as there were many different ways to show pride before the game, there were just as many different ways to celebrate the victory. Sure, some people acted like fools (I prefer hair flips over car flips), but for the most part, the prevailing feeling among the thousands and thousands of fans who took to the streets was unity.

What is most important to take away from this (and, frankly, to capitalize on) is the sense of unity the entire city is enjoying at the moment. Aside from all my internal complications with the sport and the mentality behind it — concussions, violence on and off the field, young jocks pushing gay kids into lockers — being able to walk around your city and see people happy, dancing, and celebrating life together is a privilege.

Winning the Super Bowl offers an opportunity to smile with your neighbors, and those don’t come too often these days. So I’m taking advantage of that opportunity and will continue to cheer from the sidelines in my queer, nonconforming way.

I am hopeful that if we can all put our differences aside and unite around something like this, then maybe we can take the lessons of this experience and apply them to larger, more worldly issues than who won a football game.  

Our readers respond

Jessica Noel

of South Philadelphia, PA on February 07, 2018

This is great! I don't know much about football, but I know I love Philly. It's been a fun experience to witness. For sure!

Dan Rottenberg

of Center City/ Philadelphia, PA on February 07, 2018

Consider the similarities between football and ballet. Both involve choreography and extensive rehearsal. Both require performers who are in optimum physical condition but also possess a thorough knowledge of the repertoire (or playbook). Both appeal to us because they represent the ultimate combination of physical and mental challenge. The only real difference is that, in ballet, you don't have 11 opponents trying to kill you.

Sign Up For Our Newsletter

Want previews of our latest stories about arts and culture in Philadelphia? Sign up for our newsletter.