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Friday, October 26, 2007

Fan Geneology, Dipshits, and Bandwagoneers    

Just read Shanoff's good piece on his becoming a Gators fan through courting his wife, and it got me thinking about all kinds of stuff. He presents a couple ideas:

1) Actively becoming a fan of a given team is different (and he implies better) than passively doing so.

Active meaning that as an adult, you survey all the teams, and pick one that suits your personal values. By this logic, Winslow would be the biggest Calgary fan in the world. For example, sabermetrician-in-training Jesse Willard might decide that no matter how much he's been through with the M's over the year, he's goddamn sick of watching Sexson strike out, and hop over to the A's, or the Sox, or any other more sabermetrically-driven team. And while it's shitting on his childhood, it does represent mature moral thinking.

Passive meaning that if you're a Sox fan who grew up in New England, you never really had a choice, and your allegiance to Red Sox Nation is an accident of birth. Much like surviving the Holocaust. Hey-O!

Likewise, if you root for your Dad's team, it was a result of that, and while it may have made for great bonding experiences, again, you never really chose that team on its merits alone.

Finally, if you root for your alma mater, its cause by chance you went there, and you could just as easily have wound up somewhere else.

I like how he breaks down the major reasons people choose their fan loyalties. That said, he missed at least one - choosing a team cause it has one or more players that you like, and may have come to like through mature reasoning. So while rooting for the Bulls cause they had Jordan is maybe bandwagoneering, rooting for Jordan cause he was the best, most competitive, and hardest working man in the business isn't. And thus, the argument can be made that rooting for the Bulls wasn't simple bandwagoneering, but rather a reflection of your personal values.
In addition, I really think that he sells short the notion of loyalty to your alma mater. For most people, the college sports fan experience is the closest you'll ever get to the game, and that, coupled with the timing of college in most folks' emotional and moral development makes for a powerful force, that goes WAY beyond where you happened to get accepted.

2) Judging each other's reasoning behind their fan loyalties is gaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay.

I agree for the most part with this point, but do think that being judgemental is understandable, given the deep sense of ownership fans have over their team. Someone hopping aboard the ship for a reason other than yours is threatening.

Let's apply his framework and analyze one man's fan loyalties, and see if it helps figure out: 1) why I root for the teams I do; and 2) whether I am indeed a pussy.

NBA - Knicks: Applying the Jordan reasoning above, that "the argument can be made that rooting for the Bulls wasn't simple bandwagoneering, but rather a reflection of your personal values", we can see that, in rooting for the 1990s Knicks, I valued cheap shot thugs (Oakley, my all-time favorite player), uppity little bitches (John Starks), whiny self-important fans (Spike Lee), and nothing less than the destruction of watchable basketball (Riley/Van Gundy). Yikes. I have some serious negative Karma for this one. At the same time, my allegiance was definitely rooted in sense of place - the Knicks are so central to New York city, and Madison Square Garden is a physical representation of their centrality to NYC, and of NYC's centrality in the world. As a kid from the burbs, traveling into the city was fascinating, magical, and, yes, a bit threatening, in a very good way. Everything was writ large, everything giant, and entering Madison Square to watch giants do battle will always be my primary memory of youth spent in the city - whether those giants were on skates, in the ring, or on the court.

MLB - Yankees: This one fits pretty clearly into the category of geography, and was facilitated by their history of winning. Two of my first words apparently were "Reggie Jackson", which, as with the Oakman above, doesn't really speak well for my personal values. But rather than have my fan loyalty buttressed by constant winning, the way that the younger generation of Yankees fans have, my youth was marked by perennial second place, perennial hope, perennial expectation (yes, reinforced by the tales of their past glory), and perennial disappointment. I waited my whole childhood to see Donnie Baseball in the playoffs, enduring countless preening asshat Mets fans along the way, and by the time he got there, in 1995, he was a shell of his former self: broken, hobbled, yet still magnificent, even in defeat (fuck you Edgar). Which leads us to...

NFL - Broncos: This one began because I really, really like Ed McCaffery, and John Elway. I liked McCaffery for his toughness, and lack of ego, and I suppose I liked Elway for three reasons: 1) Like Donnie Baseball, he had never won the big one; 2) he was an awesome videogame QB, and cause the Broncs never won the super bowl, you could take them and not be called a pussy; and 3) his awesome horse face. The more I watched them, the more I also fell in love with Elam and young Ian Gold. I'll be the first to point out that I never would have come to adopt them were it not for the influences of friends (namely, Andrew and Lawler). Those frienships made watching football fun for the first time in my life, having spent my childhood HATING weekend TV cause all there was was stupid football. Having fun is a powerful motivator. I kept watching, and found more in the team to like. Of course, then they won two superbowls, which was fucking awesome, and while it forever brands me a bandwagoneer due to the timing of the thing, I really do think that I would have stuck with them regardless.

NHL - Rangers: Two words: Mark Messier. Two more: Brian Leetch.

NCAA BBall - Duke: I have no excuse, and it haunts me. If you'll excuse me, I have to go cut myself. "I focus on the pain/The only thing that's real/The needle tears a hold/The old familiar sting". (slightly NSFW).

Side note - I find myself being drawn into fan-in-lawship, as the fiance is a fierce Eagles and Phillies fan. I justify this consciously by saying that they are NFC and NL teams, so don't directly conflict with my primary teams. Aside from loving my mate, and wanting to see her happy, I think these emerging loyalties are due to loving Citizen's Bank Ballpark, and loving the parking lot tailgate scene at Eagles games. I wonder how this will evolve.

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  • Au contraire! I think about this shit all the time, and I'm happy to read through your musings on the subject. Here are mine:

    1) The Mariners and Sonics are clearly the teams that shaped my sports psychology. Between 1995 and 1998 they clearly each held the "best team not winning a championship" title at points, and that has had a lasting effect on my psyche. Whether or not that's because of the Sonics and Mariners or not is debatable -- it's consistent enough with enough of my personality that it may reflect something more basic about me. But at the very least the failures of the Sonics and Mariners to build their mid-late 90s talent base into a championship thoroughly reinforced/codified/locked-in those tendencies.

    2) Let me demonstrate. When I started trying to get serious about World Cup soccer in 1998, the die was cast. I read people calling the Netherlands, a country I was already quite sympathetic to, the best team never to have won a championship, saw a couple of cool looking dreaded Surinamese cats, and was effectively hooked for life. Interestingly, this has survived the team's transition to having virtually no black players on it, something I wasn't sure was likely (good thing Van Persie is a troubled youth from the rough parts of Rotterdam who married a Muslim girl and may have converted!). But even though I wanted to, I couldn't root for Côte d'Ivoire against Holland last year.

    3) The bulk of my Colts-fan life (2000-present, but it's worth noting they're the only football team I've been a fan of) has been in a similar place, knocking on the door, choking, never being quite good enough. So much talent but not quite enough to get over the top. I think it's to the point that I actually identified with Manning-the-choker, and even Manning-trying-to-blame-failure-on-somoeone-else. It doesn't mean I approved of his post-Steelers-disaster comments, but I did identify with them. It will be interesting to see how this changes in the wake of the Colts Superbowl win, particularly if they manage it again. They're so goddamn wholesome too... if they have sustained success and multiple Superbowl rings, they really won't reflect my values at all. Yet I haven't had any luck trying to be a more appropriate football fan. We'll have to see where this goes.

    4) You like Duke because the Yankees broke your brain. But if both the Yankees and Duke keep failing to win championships, it could start to make a kind of sense. Both will have this slightly tarnished, once-upon-a-time-everyone-knew-they-were-the-greatest glow, and their fandom will be an especially cruel kind of nostalgia. Not incidentally, with regard to nationalisms, this is generally considered a core requirement for the emergence of fascism. I kid, although that last sentence is actually true.

    5) You're never moving back to NY, so you might as well be a Phillies/Eagles fan, especially since you have the other division thing going for you.

    6) In tension with nearly all of my real allegiances is a pseudo-allegiance to teams that have troubled, difficult, players whose poor/excluded background makes them at least a little unlikeable at times. The archetypes here are probably Iverson and Zidane, though Iverson may have become too widely accepted at this stage in his career, and I mostly missed being able to enjoy Zidane's career because I was too prejudiced against the French to really root for him. But I think we're all mostly on the same side of this one, so I won't bother to enumerate further.

    7) Except to say that the theory and the practice of this are frequently far apart. If the Sonics leave Seattle, or if the Colts start rattling off championships and I just can't stomach it (and no, I'm not trying to call them the favorite over the Pats this year or anything), it will be fertile ground for exploring these things. I wouldn't put it too far outside the realm of possibility that the internal contradictions in my allegiances here are actually totally irreconcilable, which would be somewhat depressing for me but not that surprising.

    8) While the Mariners are killing me with their team-building strategies, I don't think there's any danger of me jumping ship to another team. If I did, I think I would pick the Devil Rays. I love the way that team is constructed right now, though that's hardly tough to do. If Iwamura makes a good second baseman and they can find a slick-fielding SS and a couple of relief arms, I think they could be the one of the most talented team in baseball by 2009. They're the only team that I'm constantly making little hypotheticals in my head about... "if they just traded so-and-so for so-and-so and signed so-and-so, watch out!" I'm going to start a baseball video game in franchise mode with them as soon as I write my thesis and get a job.

    9) I find it fascinating how inherently logical it seems that people would basically agree with you with regard to sports-rooting. I find this particularly interesting with regard to the World Cup, since everyone has at least a team or two besides the U.S. that they root for. Now, attachments to individual countries are obviously strong and should be expected to create some distortions, but there's an easy sketch of Europe for me to draw with regard to the "proper" national team allegiances. Regarding European teams that actually have a chance, generally, I literally expect everyone to agree with me that basically it goes like this:

    Good: Holland, England. I add personally add France here because of all their immigrant players, which is a big draw for me, but I don't expect other people to necessarily agree with me.

    Neutral/Not-Sure: Czech, Spain (could be in the good category if not for coach's racist comments, which might push them into evil section for some, particularly paired with the silly, semi-racist outrage about losing to South Korea in 2002).

    Evil: Italy, Portugal, Germany.

    Now, I know that list is as idiosyncratic and subjective as anybody's list would be, and yet I genuinely get baffled and frustrated when people don't agree with me, to the point even of kind of wondering if those people can really be trusted on other matters. And no matter how many times I tell myself how stupid that is, I still basically feel that way.

    OK, maybe that's not that interesting, maybe none of it was, but what the fuck do we have a sports blog for? If anyone else wants to divide the sports world into good and evil, I'm all ears.

    By Blogger Jesse, at 1:07 PM  

  • Jesse - in your discussion of past glory vs. current struggle angst, you've shown me what lies on the other side of the Duke/Yankee fan looking glass:
    Notre Dame.

    Where's that needle?

    By Blogger Alex, at 2:07 PM  

  • Now now, that's only if the Yankee and/or Duke championship draught continues for years to come. No need to panic yet.

    By Blogger Jesse, at 4:39 PM  

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