In the world of sports – professional and collegiate – there is a widely held belief that if you follow/support/watch/root for a certain team (particularly a local one), you must follow/support/watch/root for said team for better or worse, till death do you part, regardless of the team’s relevance or viability. Don’t misunderstand me: there’s something to be said for loyalty. Nobody likes a “bandwagoner” or a “fair weather fan,” and abandoning a team merely because they have one losing season (or even multiple losing seasons) is frowned upon with good reason. However, there exists a glaring double standard between what is expected of sports fans and what is acceptable for the athletes. Players follow the money, the contract, and the fame, with little – if any – concern for their current team’s chemistry, its fan base or its home city, while a fan is quickly labeled a “sellout” should he get fed up and pledge his loyalty elsewhere. Garbage, I say. Garbage.
For the proper context, let’s examine the role of sports in the world, which can be summarized in one word: entertainment. Just like television, movies, books, hobbies, and any other pastime, sports teams are popular because they provide entertainment for spectators. People like competition; they like excitement; they enjoy the thrill of watching athletes pursue victory; they identify with the players who have great skill, but also with those who have guts and a heart for the game (ideally, a nice balance of skill and heart). But at the end of the day, we must admit that they aren’t curing cancer or feeding the hungry or even providing goods or services that we can’t live without (I don’t relish the thought of a life without sports, but I’m sure I would survive). Thus, it is perfectly reasonable to compare sports to television shows or movies or books – we like them because they keep us pleasantly engaged, and that’s about it.
I live in a city with a relatively new NBA franchise, which has been consistent since its inception. Consistently awful, that is. In 10 years, they’ve changed players, coaches and owners so often that I’ve lost track of who is who of what. The only thing that hasn’t changed is their absolute inability to win basketball games. This team came to us along with a giant behemoth of an arena which city residents voted against, but which was built nonetheless. The tickets are overpriced and the games are virtually unwatchable, yet some people insist that because I live in this city, I am somehow obligated to cheer for and patronize this terrible team. To that, I reply [***crude farting noise with hand against mouth***]!! My money buys game tickets (or doesn’t), buys team merchandise (or doesn’t), and pays for the massive, half-empty arena (ok, they tax me for that, so I don’t have a choice) – my money funds a team that has actually gotten worse since its inception, and has yet to give me one single compelling reason to make myself a “fan.” And that throws me into the category of a “sellout”? Ha! I’m no more a sellout than any of this team’s home games, so put that in your court and dunk it…that is, if you can find the basket.
I did state earlier that one shouldn’t forsake a team merely because they aren’t winning championships, with “merely” being the key word. No team will be awesome all the time, and some people unfairly bail on their team after a few bad games or a few losing seasons. For what it is worth, fan loyalty can be a beautiful thing. But it comes back to this general concept of entertainment: if I’m watching players I know and love, and who have devoted themselves to this city and its franchise, I can easily persevere with them through the rough patches. Then again, if I’m watching players who come and go wherever the money takes them, clearly having no dedication to the team, the area, or its fans, I’m hard-pressed to stay tuned even if they are decent…and downright crazy to do so if they suck. Similarly, if I’m watching team owners hoard their money year after year, repeatedly refusing to make wise trades or necessary acquisitions because they are tightwads, I believe that I am besmirching both the sport and my city by patronizing lackluster efforts and impure motives.
It is the market which drives the entertainment industry, and sports fans may be inadvertently encouraging teams to become complacent and out of touch, resting on the assumption that their “die hard fans” will stick with them (i.e., tirelessly continue funding their shenanigans) indiscriminately. So when a food supplier replaces a quality product with a crappy one, am I “disloyal” to switch brands? What about when popular TV shows suddenly cast new actors to portray main characters, or hire new script writers who just don’t stack up to the originals? (I mean, is anyone still watching Two and a Half Men?) That’s the way the market works: suppliers must meet the demand of their patrons, and if they begin slacking, sales will decline. At that point, they either choose to comply or fade into oblivion. Nothing about the world of sports should be any different. Money talks, folks; don’t bind and gag yours in the name of dogged “loyalty.”
Like it or not, I think outside the box on every topic that is worth my time to think on at all. You should do the same. Ask yourself whether the members of “your team” (players, owners, etc.) are as committed to you as you are to them. Ask what the nebulous entity that is the [insert intimidating creature mascot name] organization has done to deserve your unconditional support. Consider why attaching your faithful fanaticism to an individual player and following him throughout his career is really so far-fetched? Reject the idea that any source of “entertainment” can command your unwavering fidelity, should it degenerate into an irritating, unwatchable source of heartburn and hangovers. Most importantly, decide whether you are perpetuating mediocrity by allowing a team to presuppose your undying loyalty.
I truly admire fans who have unapologetically both celebrated and cried with a specific team over the course of many years. I appreciate those who grew up with certain franchises as a household religion which has been passed down through generations. I have no beef with passionate supporters of “America’s Team” or any other long-standing, routinely competitive organization because the reality is that every team boasting such title or reputation is ultimately committed to the pursuit of excellence – even if they sometimes fall short. In this, however, all sports teams are not created equal, and therefore they are not equally deserving of fan loyalty. Identify whether you are voluntarily funding a team without leadership, motivation or character, and know when it’s time to cut your losses. So don’t be a bandwagoner or a fair weather fan. But don’t be a gullible chump, either.