Friday, January 8, 2016

What does it take to be a "real" fan?

I follow sports fairly regularly, particularly football.  I'm originally from the metro D.C. area, and I've been watching the Washington Redskins since 1987, when they won their second Super Bowl.  My knowledge of sports is probably one of the few things that allows me to small talk with other guys without it being terribly awkward.

I've been a big fan of the Redskins for a long time, although lately my devotion has waned, given the team's consistently terrible performance and the ownership's insistence on keeping the racially provocative team name.

Much to my surprise, the Redskins have done surprisingly well this season, and have secured a wildcard spot in the playoffs.  All of a sudden I find myself interested in the team again.

This change in attitude made me reflect on the notion of being a fan.  What does it take to be a fan of a team?  What does it take to be a real fan?

Being a mere fan of a team seems pretty easy.  All that's required is self-identification.  If you claim to be a fan of a team, then you're a fan.  Simple as that.

However, there are fans, and there are real fans.  What's a real fan?  Who knows for sure, but I thought it'd be interesting to list some oft mentioned criteria.

1. Knowledge
So to be a real fan requires that you have some non-trivial amount of knowledge about the team.  This comes primarily through watching games and reading about the team through various news outlets.  So you're a hardcore fan of the Cubs?  Can you name their rotation of starting pitchers?  You a LeBron fan?  Can you give his stats from the 2015 season?

Of course, there's really no saying how much knowledge is required.  

2. Support during adverse circumstances
Everyone knows that a real fan roots for a team regardless of whether the team is doing well or poorly.  Real fans will of course speak derisively about "fair weather" fans or fans that ride the bandwagon.

This is where fans can come to resemble cult members.  Will a real fan support a team no matter what?  Suppose that the owner of the team is discovered to be racist and involved ethically dubious business practices, such as exploiting laborers in developing countries.  Is a real fan obligated to support the team when it means that the owner of the team will be indirectly supported?  Furthermore, what does this support amount to?  This question leads us to the next point.

3.  Financial support
Some say that a real fan invests in the team in some concrete way.  This usually means something like buying merchandise or buying tickets to see games.  For instance, many teams will consider season ticket holders to be top tier fans.

4.  Community participation
Fans of sports teams quickly form communities.  These communities can be online through various forums or websites.  They can also be physical communities, with fans tailgating before the game at the stadium parking lot or congregating at bars when the game is on.  One might hold that a real fan is one that participates in these kinds of communities and, as such makes their allegiance publicly known.

5.  Sports tribalism
Many of the more established sports teams have notable rivalries.   Typically rivalries are between teams in the same division, or between teams that are geographically related.  Some rivalries can be quite intense, and have long histories.  Examples include the Yankees/Red Sox, or Duke/University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.  For many, to be a real fan of team it is not enough that you support and cheer for a team.  You must also despise another team.  You must go to their forums and wreak havoc on their discussions with incessant trolling.  You must get into shouting matches at bars.  Home games must be hostile war zones for visiting fans of a rival team.

These are some necessary conditions that I could come up with off the top of my head.  I'm sure there are more, and it's probably the case that some of these are not really necessary in order to be a "real" fan.  That said, how do stack up?  Am I a "real" fan of the Redskins.  Let's break it down point by point.

As far as knowledge is concerned, I think I have a fair bit of knowledge about the team.  Even though I don't watch as many games as I used to, I still read up on the team.  I can rattle off the starting lineup, coaching staff, and probably some of the more notable members of the front office.  I'm also conversant with the coaches' preferred style of offense and defense, and can usually hold my own in a bar conversation about the X's and O's.

Support during adverse circumstances is where my level of fandom has wavered.  Ever since Daniel Snyder bought the team in 1999, I've tried my best to be supportive.  Years of his inept ownership, however, have taken their toll.  It really gets harder and harder for me to get excited about this team.  I notice the same kind of attitude in the various Redskins blogs that I read.  It's nice that they made the playoffs, and I'll probably go watch the game, but not really expecting much.

Financially speaking, I haven't really spent that much money on the team.  I've never been to a Redskins game.  This is partly because I haven't lived in the metro D.C. area since 1996.  I do, however, own two jerseys: a Clinton Portis jersey and a Sean Taylor jersey.

Being a displaced fan, it's hard to find any kind of community physically speaking.  I've lived in Atlanta, Milwaukee, and currently live in Syracuse, NY.  Syracuse surprisingly has a community of Redskins fans that watch games at the local chain sports bar.  However, by the time I moved to Syracuse (2008), I've weathered almost ten years of the Snyder led Redskins, and I was gradually checking out by that point.

I will have to say, however, that I do despise the Cowboys, Eagles, and Giants.  I especially hate the Cowboys and their "America's Team" narrative.  They are by far the most overrated team in the NFL.  Every season talking heads predict the Cowboys to go deep into the season, and yet in almost 20 years, have won only three playoff games, only one more than the Redskins, a team almost universally dismissed by football pundits.

No comments:

Post a Comment