The old saw goes that things that matter little lead to the deepest, angriest arguments. If nothing else, sports proves that over and over. Let’s be honest – unless you’re actually on a professional team or work for the organization, whether one group of super wealthy athletes beat another on the field/court/pitch/track doesn’t really change your life.
To be clear – I’m not shitting on sports in general. I’m a big sports fan, although my tastes tend to run more toward niche sports (hello soccer and non-NASCAR auto racing!) than the American big three. Does it give me a little thrill when DC United wins a game or my alma mater makes a deep run in the NCAA tournament? Of course! Does it ruin my day if they don’t? Of course not! Did I mention DC United? If their success was really tied to my mental health I’d offed myself years ago.
One of the things that most riles up sports fan – even more than the evergreen battle of artificial turf versus natural grass – is when people who haven’t “paid their dues” with a particular team jump on the bandwagon when they do well. They’re usually called “fair weather” fans, since they flee the team when they have a downturn. It’s the sports equivalent of a person with loose sexual morals – you’ll root for just about anyone, won’t you?
Over at The Atlantic, Derek Thompson argues in favor of this kind of sports libidinous. He’s a sports slut and is proud of it:
But I’m done apologizing. In fact, I’m pretty sure that I’m right and everybody else is wrong. Rooting for winners is more than acceptable—it’s commendable. Fans shouldn’t put up with awfully managed teams for decades just because their parents liked those teams, as if sports were governed by the same rules and customs as medieval inheritance. Fans should feel free to shop for teams the way they do for any other product.
What I’m proposing here is a theory of fluid fandom that would encourage, as opposed to stigmatize, promiscuous sports allegiances. By permanently anchoring themselves to teams from their hometown or even an adopted town, sports fans consign themselves to needless misery. They also distort the marketplace by sending a signal to team owners that winning is orthogonal to fans’ long-term interests. Fluid fandom, I submit, is the emotionally, civically, and maybe even morally superior way to consume sports.
I kind of like that approach and, if done openly, I don’t think most sports fans would have a real problem with it. I think most fans have problems with bandwagon jumpers not because they’re there, but because they sometimes imply that they’re enjoying a team’s success as much as someone who’s suffered through years of defeat and disaster. Honesty can go a long way.
Along that like I’d like to lay out a third course, one that I frequently follow, particular when it comes to racing. It’s simple – be a fan of the sport, not a fan of a particular team. In other words, don’t turn yourself into a Cavs fan as a reason to watch the NBA Playoffs; watch the playoffs because you’re a fan of basketball (or the NBA’s version of it, at least) itself.
I’ve done that with racing for years. I’ve never really had a favorite driver and, beyond a nominal attachment to Ferrari in Formula 1, never really had a favorite team. I tend to root for underdogs, but that naturally changes from year to year (and even race to race). I’d like to see Haas do well, since it’s been so long since there was an American presence in F1, but my life doesn’t rise and fall on their exploits. For everything else – Indy cars, sports cars, touring cars – I just want to see good racing.
Same goes for soccer, largely. I do have favorites – DC United for the US, Leeds United for the rest of the world (like literary rights) – and, of course, I pull for the United States national teams (men’s, women’s, and youth). But that only takes in a tiny fraction of the amount of soccer out there. Truth is, I’ll watch damned near any soccer game I can find. Do I care who wins the Champions’ League semi between Roma and Liverpool? Not really, but I’m damned sure going to watch it. Same with this summer’s World Cup, since, sadly, there’s no American rooting interest. Even if not rooting for either team might make law enforcement suspicious. See, US v. Manzo-Jurado, 547 F.3d 928 (9th Cir. 2006)(among the factors cited by cops to justify stop of defendant was that he and his friend were at a high school football game but were not rooting for either team).
What I’d say to Thompson, then, is that you’re not doing anything wrong, but you could do it better. Unless you have a genuine interest in a particular team or player, just give yourself over to the pleasure of the game. It’s what you’re most interested in, anyway. And you won’t piss off those losers for whom this stuff is life and death.
Besides, it frees your mind to ponder other things: