Mythbusters: Sports fandom edition
I am a sports fan. My husband’s not. He puts up with me graciously. He is happy for me when my team wins, and graciously will leave me alone when they lose. I was thinking today about some of the common misconceptions and “myths” so to speak about sports fandom that many non-fans might hold. Consider this my own little version of Mythbusters: Sports Fan edition.
Myth: Nothing’s more fun then your team in a close game.
No. No. No. This is probably the biggest misconception non-sports fans have about sports fans. There are a lot of emotions going through me during a close game: stress, frustration, homicidal rage, and bursts of joy mixed with bursts of agony. The exact proportion depends on the type of game. Is my (favored) team choking agains a rival, or underperforming against a team they should dominate? Or alternatively, are they coming back and surging late, which actually can be pretty fun? Usually, though, close games are tense affairs, and are “fun” the way eating a hot pepper (and I like jalepeños) tastes “good” – the pain is an essential part of the process of pleasure.
Corollary: If you don’t care about either team, a close game is awesome.
Especially in the last few minutes, these contests are a joy to watch, especially if an upset is in the making.
Addendum: After its over, a great close win has more “juice” then a blowout
The immense feelings of satisfaction, relief, and euphoria after a close, hard fought win are amazing. I call these “hugging strangers” moments, and they make up for all the stress during a game, and even months or years after the games are over, you can pause, and remember the emotions you felt, and get a bit of that warm fuzzy feeling all over again.
For me, this was the final Kansas-Missouri basketball game, where Kansas came back from being down 19 in the second half to win in overtime (and of course Mario’s Miracle in 2008). For Auburn fans, it was Cam Newton’s comeback against Alabama in the Iron Bowl a couple years ago. Giants fans, remember Super Bowl XLII?
Truth: Genghis Khan said it best: “The greatest happiness is to vanquish your enemies, to chase them before you, to rob them of their wealth, to see those dear to them bathed in tears, to clasp to your bosom their wives and daughters.” The most fun you can have during the game is when your team is winning big, especially against a rival. If you a fan of the dominant team, it is a pleasure cruise. You can relax, enjoy the conversation with your friends, down a few beers, and take in the show without any stress.
Addendum: Schadenfreude is real, and essential. As Cartman said, “Ohhh, the tears of unfathomable sadness, mmm, yummy yummy you guys!” A great rivalry, with true bitterness, is a lot of fun, and cheering on any misfortune of your rival, even when they are not playing against your team, is a key part of that. How can you tell if it is a real rivalry? If seeing their colors and logo fills you with the same feeling of disgust as, say seeing a stranger’s turd floating in a public toilet, then that’s a real rival. For me as a Kansas fan, the turd is Mizzou. If you are a Yankees fan, it’s probably the Red Sox. Ohio State? Michigan. Every Batman needs his Joker.
Myth: Losing a close game is easier to take then being blown out
“Oh, your guys played well, they almost won!” Ugh. No. A close loss is just a series of agonizing “what ifs” that you replay in your mind ad nauseum. A blowout loss is easier to get over, the difference between pulling that band-aid off one hair at a time and just ripping the thing up. This is even worse in “series” playoffs. 2003 will agonize Cubs fans til the end of time. If they had lost 4 games to 0, would anyone remember?
Corollary: On rare occasions, there really are “moral victories”
It happens. Sometimes the team you root for gets so much further then it had any right to that even after the loss, you are just amazed at the ride. This has only happened a couple times in my life as a sports fan, most recently this year, when a Kansas basketball team that had no business getting so far played its heart out all the way to the national championship game where it lost narrowly to a dominant Kentucky team filled with NBA draft picks. Unlike every other Kansas tournament loss in their history, I was not angry after the final game, just thrilled they made it so far and I got to enjoy the ride.
Addendum: Gallows humor helps deal with the pain of losing.
That is, among your own fans. The difference between an asshole and a comedian might be the animal team logo printed on their shirt. The pain is real too; a really agonizing loss can have me in a funk for days.
Myth: Sports fans are dumb
Somehow, enjoying watching skillful athletes do amazing things with their bodies is considered highly cultured if the athletes are performing a ballet but not if they are performing with a basketball. Human beings who enjoy watching sports cross the spectrum of the human experience just like any other activity, and there is nothing any more or less noble about athletic competition compared with any other type of “non-essential” (i.e. “cultural”) activity humans do. I will happily discuss the Jayhawk basketball team’s rotation next season or football clock-management strategies, but if you get bored we can talk about the socio-political situation in the Roman Empire as it transitioned from the Principate to the Dominate, or statistical models of crowd behavior in panic situations. Or NFL officiating, your choice.
Corollary: Yeah, there are dumb fans too.
There’s dumb people too. They’re the ones that vote for the other guy and root for the other team!
Truth: The social aspect of being a fan is very important
If I were stationed in Antarctica, and was the only Jayhawk fan there, I will still watch games and enjoy the victories, but it wouldn’t be the same. There is an essential social aspect of being a fan, and interacting with other fans is like a catalyst in a chemical reaction. Watching sports socially – with friends at home or in a bar, or at a stadium, is immensely more rewarding then watching by yourself. Sports radio was (and is) driven by this, as is the explosion of Twitter, blogs, and social media among sports fans (and everyone else).
Truth: Nothing is dumber then the tired tropes of how sports fans are portrayed in commercials
There are so many cliches in sports-related commercials, both TV and print. Next time you see a print advertisement featuring a sports theme, check off as many of these cliches as you can.
- (1) multi-racial and multi-sex group of fans (this is a good thing, but it is also cliche)
- (2) impeccably groomed (are we watching football or going to a Parade Magazine photo shoot?)
- (3) in mid-cheer (hey, why not?)
- (4) sitting on a really clean nice couch (only the best furniture for my friends!)
- (5) with a couple artfully-placed foodstuffs (no crumbs or dead soldiers anywhere to be seen!)
- (6) with at least one person holding a ball, representing the sport being watched (I’d forget I was watching a football game if someone didn’t, you know, have an actual football in hand! This is even funnier for baseball…better have that glove on while watching in case Alex Gordon fouls one right through the TV screen into the living room)
- (7) wearing team colors for both teams (mixed company at home viewing party is about as common as a Loch Ness Monster sighting)
The ultimate dumb sports-themed TV ad is that Buffalo Wild Wings series about the football fans so enamored with the awesome environment at their local BWW that they conspire to artificially extend the game they are watching into overtime via various shenanigans. I don’t want the game to go on forever; I want my team to win. As hard as that is to believe, I actually want that more then another order of wings and watered-down American light beer. Ugh.
Do you have any myths related to sports fans that you think I missed? Let me know!