CategoryThe Value of Sports in Society

NFC Podcast #2: Go Local Sports Team Go!

The second NFC podcast where we dissect western society’s love-affair with the sportsman.
Some show notes:

“I know it when I see it” seems like the best way to allocate the nerds from the cool kids. There still may be a theoretical checklist that one subscribes to when deciding what label to administer, but for the most part, I definitely ‘know’ when I’m talking to a bandwagoner or a ‘real fan’ in the first 2 minutes of that interaction.

I will, however, object ever so kindly to your Womanizer analogy. Even when you are a young man, it is not socially acceptable to cheer for 10 different NFL teams. Hell, even when you’re a child, you shouldn’t be practising this pedophilic behaviour. I will take the liberty to tweak the analogy to make it a bit more accurate. Being a true sports fan is akin to being the wife in a Mormon-type polygamous marriage. You’re a chick, so in the world of our double-standards, it is never acceptable to have slept around before your wedding to your man. And likely, you will inherit your love for this man based on your parents decision. You’ll have to share him, while he sleeps around finding new wives or behaves like a sleezeball – all with a smile on your face. When he comes to you drunk with the chance of you becoming a mamma, and you end up striking the jackpot with a baby on the way, you will celebrate that momentous championship for all it’s worth. And then go back to being a happy little wife, with all of your other best-friend wives. Yeah, this got a little weird. But the point remains, you gotta be loyal to your man!

And to answer your question, I would not file for divorce with any of my sports teams. By filing for divorce, you are forever giving up your ‘true fan’ status. You will always be a bandwagoner, if ever, you decide to come back when things get going again. That is not a boat I want to be in, nor the type of woman I think I’d be!

~ R

’Toss more salads than Emeril Lagasse’, oh Mr. Simmons, you eloquent wordsmith, you!

What would I add to the list, Rachit? Well, not much. I think the distinction between ‘bandwagoner’ and ‘true fan’ comes from people’s tendencies to categorize and label others. Scales are hard, labels are easy – especially when the people who do the labelling are the ones who reap the satisfaction of being morally superior.

How many times have you heard this exchange on the streets:
This car is purple brah!
You’z whack, that’s magenta fool!

If only these homies would properly define a wavelength range!

Have you ever heard of the ‘I know it when I see it’ supreme court ruling about porn and art? In 1964, Justice Potter Stewart described what constitutes as obscene or not. He famously wrote ‘I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description [“hard-core pornography”]; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it.’ I think the same would apply here (and in many other dichotomies). Coming up with a strict dividing line is next to impossible, but everyone is positive they can tell purple from magenta!

Take locality, for instance. Many Torontonians cheer for teams that are not Toronto-based (for a variety of reasons). If you ask these same people if they would be willing to cheer for the USA or some other country in international sports (where Canada is competing), that’s completely out of the question. Why is this? The geographical distinction is just as arbitrary. What difference does it make whether you’re in a different city or a different country?

With his usual eloquence, Bill Simmons equates bandwagon hoppers to child molesters in prison. I think the more appropriate analogy is that of a person who has a new sexual partner every time they get bored of the old one (sorry, I tried to find a good word for this but couldn’t. Womanizer seems wrong.) Our society values fidelity, and life-long fans are like life-long sexual partners. Their dedication is a sign of purity, of moral fortitude. Maybe when you’re 18 you can cheer for ten different NFL teams, but when you’re 60, well, then it’s just sad. People even have similar stories of when they first met their loved one or when they first started cheering for their favourite team.

Maybe sports team divorce should become more socially acceptable. Would you file for divorce with any of your teams?


Re: Go Local Sports Team Go!

Valentin, oh Valentin. You’re killing me with all of these awesome quotes. Anything I try googling is inferior by a mile. But here’s one that never fails me (and I suppose it is somewhat sports related):

It’s not always fun to do this, but I’m going to have to pull the ‘I agree’ card. Life is meaningless, apart from the meaning we choose to give it. And sports has a special place in the human psyche that replenishes us with enthusiasm, spirit, and as real of a sense of meaning as we can get in this world. As you said, it feeds the sense of community our socially hungry brains thrive for, while substituting our thirst for winning from bloody violence, to root root rooting for the Blueeee Jays! So now that we’re in agreement, I’m going to narrow the discussion in on some practical aspects of sports fandomship.

What differentiates a ‘bandwagoner’ from a ‘true sports fan’? How do you join the latter club? Can you? Now, in asking this question, there are some underlying truisms that we can have away with that aren’t relevant to the conversation. Everyone agrees that the appeal of the best physical human specimens doing something fairly difficult really, really well is pretty awesome. Everyone can agree that the sights and sounds of a packed stadium with tens of thousands of ravaging fans is awesome. Everyone can agree that drinking and jovially cheering with your buddies is awesome. I’m not talking about why we like sports in general, or why live sporting events are fun. I’m talking about the uneven, almost one-sided marriage of being a sports fan.

In this world, I believe it is best to not to describe or compare fandomship to a hard scale, but rather describe it as weakly categorical. One Joe isn’t X times more of a fan than another Joe, but they could belong to the same group of “bandwagoners” or “true fans”.

So if we are to try and extract the variables of gaining membership to this club, what are they?

Let’s take a look at the two primary ones:

Locality – Did you grow up in the region of your local sports team? Here’s an example of a fan map for MLB.  An interesting reaction, which I very much was a part of, was when people found out that LeBron was a Yankees, Cowboys, Canadiens and Bulls fan growing up, even though he’s a Cleveland native. The distaste, other than the general distaste for LeBron James, is indicative of being true to your local sports teams, even if they suck major balls.

Loyalty – At least LeBron is loyal to the teams he bandwagoned early on. That’s crime number 2 that’ll take you out of the ‘true fan’ club.

In the words of one of my favourite sports writers, Bill Simmons, aka The Sports Guy:

“There’s nothing worse than a Bandwagon Jumper. If sports were a prison and sports fans made up all the prisoners, the Bandwagon Jumpers would be like the child molesters — everyone else would pick on them, take turns beating them up and force them to toss more salads than Emeril Lagasse”.

— Taken from his column in 2002:  “Rules of being a true fan”.

What else would you add to the list?

Go Local Sports Team Go!

Vegetarianism, debunked. What next Rachit? Let’s talk about sports! We are both quite avid sports fans, so why not examine what exactly we find so appealing about them. What does it mean to be a sports fan? Why do so many people stress themselves over arbitrary rules and meaningless outcomes?

I’ll start with two items that I think illustrate the fascinating dichotomy of modern sport. First, a quote:

‘Without contraries there is no progression. Attraction and Repulsion,
Reason and Energy, Love and Hate are necessary to Human existence.’

– William Blake

Second, a comic:
Existential Comics

How do we reconcile this? Humans seem to constantly cultivate conflict and rivalries, yet patronize them all the same. Are people also in a state of cognitive dissonance with regard to sport? Why do we revere athletes and pay them so handsomely?

For me, the answer is two fold.

First, humans crave meaning. Sport, despite my earlier assertion, is chock-full of meaning. Wins, championships, awards, TSN turning plays. There are clearly defined and enforced rules with easily discernable outcomes (why do so many North Americans dislike ties in sport? Perhaps because they dilute its purity). In sport, there is a clear opposing side and if the rules are not being enforced or if they are broken flagrantly, there is a ‘higher power’ that can hand down more severe punishment. If only life had such meaning, such definition, such simplicity. But, the question remains: is sport important in the ‘grand scheme’ of things? What possible use could it have in a society?

That brings me to my second point: sport is about community. It is about belonging to a group of people with a common goal. We are a social species, one that was dominated by hunter gatherers for tens of thousands of years. I think we still yearn for some clear common good (acquire food, stay alive) that we can strive for. Sport unites a group of diverse individuals much like wars do – it gives us a common talking point, a unifying rallying cry. Why do we revere superstar athletes? The same reason we revere famous generals (we even give them the same epithets: The Great One, Alexander the Great). The language itself has many overlaps, we use phrases like ‘do or die’ , ‘blitz’, ‘blow out’. Nothing spurs an economy like a successful military campaign, and I think the same can be said (at a much smaller scale of course) about a successful season in sports.

In such a diverse, conflicted, global society, we use sport as a tool to deal with the complexities of the universe. By immersing ourselves, we can find common ground within our community, look forward to clear goals and objectives, and unite in our trials and tribulations.

No matter how cynical my worldview, I will always find joy and passion in bleeding blue with so many other fans. Go Leafs Go!