Fanning flames: Can't 'true fans' just get along?
Not too long ago it was considered bad form to discuss politics or religion in mixed company. It’s a common, widely held belief, referenced by everyone from Mark Twain to Linus van Pelt. The saying’s origin is unclear, but whoever first offered the advice to avoid such topics should have included sports in the list, as its discussion, like talk of politics and religion, inevitably descends into rudeness and hostility.
But these days nothing is out of bounds, and if anything, it’s a topic’s contentiousness that makes it attractive. Tea-Partiers aside, there is no one more likely than a “true” sports fan to “exhibit an often perverse and wearisome tendency to quarrels and disputes.”
If anything gives an otherwise disparate population license and opportunity to indulge in unfettered camaraderie, it's sports. Sports is one of the few things that can unite people of different races, cultures, and financial backgrounds. For the richest and the poorest, the youngest and the oldest, folks from east and west and south and north, mutual affection for a team or a player can level boundaries like few other topics. It can and it should– but all too often it doesn’t, even among the like-minded.
In recent years the incivility and cruelty sports fans once reserved for their rivals has been increasingly turned inward with ugly and petty results. One needs search no further than a favorite radio show or sports blog to see that the phenomenon of the “true fan” is quickly becoming the rule rather than the exception.
A fan is an enthusiastic supporter of a certain team, athlete, or sport. But what does that mean? All it takes is one look around stadium seats to see that all fans are not created equal. There are the face painters, merrily insulting the other team with crude signage. There are the quietly enthusiastic, wearing jerseys or caps, and there are even some who wear no team colors at all, feeling their support lies in their presence, not their get-ups and makeup.
But what of those we don’t see? For every person who antes up to attend a home or away game, there are thousands of others for whom the cost of tickets, parking, and refreshments would mean missing a mortgage payment. For every person who subscribes to web alerts and apps to follow a team’s minutiae, there are scores of elderly or infirm who can’t make it to the store, much less a game, and don’t own a computer, yet follow their teams in the papers and faithfully turn on the radio every Saturday. What are they if not true fans?
Unfortunately, in this respect, “true fans” fall victim to a common human foible, namely the need to feel superior, and an inability or unwillingness to see beyond their own noses. The Internet offers scores of sites dedicated to what it means to be a “true fan”: personally insulting a rival team, copious knowledge of team history, braving all weather to attend even inconsequential games, owning a certain number of items with team logos, missing the birth of a child rather than the playoffs, and not just a willingness to, but a fondness for berating those who won’t or can’t meet these qualifications.
That sports, being so inherently competitive, didn’t make the list of unwise conversation topics can be due only to its singular capacity for mutual appreciation and unity. It’s time to sacrifice insults and embrace what makes sports so special. Isn’t that what a true fan would do?
Juanita lives on a farm in Charlotte County with her husband, son, and many dogs.