Monday, October 5, 2009

No, you're not. Now shut up.

Normally, I consider it a positive attribute to be able to see the world in shades of gray. It's rare that anything's clearly one way or another. There are always several sides to most arguments, and I often bristle when people try to reduce the complexities of a debate down to a single mantra, slogan, or viewpoint.

That's why I love sports. It's one of the few things in life that's black and white. You win or you lose (ties are like kissing your sister). You score more runs/points/goals: You win, and everyone's happy. You get beat on the scoreboard: You lose, and you feel shame. But there's always a next game waiting, and you might win that one. Unless you're a Raider fan.

Being a sports fan is also very cut and dried. You root for your team, win or lose. You don't switch in the middle of the game when your team starts losing. You put up with lots of losing in the hopes that one day you'll be rewarded with your loyalty.

And one more thing: You root for the team that plays in the city nearest where you're from. You don't get to pick and choose. You don't get to throw darts at a board. You just don't.

This seems like a stupid, arbitrary rule. But that's the thing about sports: they're stupid and arbitrary. That's why it's easy to have a black-and-white set of values to abide by. Ultimately, we're all just "rooting for laundry," as Jerry Seinfeld puts it. There's no nuance to this. You grow up in an area, you root for the teams from that place, no matter how badly they may suck. You'll have some good years and some bad years, but no true fan abandons his or her roots in search of greener pastures.

There are only three exceptions to this rule:

1. Your parent grew up a huge sports fan in another area, has since moved, and has indoctrinated you as a fan of his childhood team. Sports fandom is like religion; it's passed down to you, and there's not much you can do about it. Unlike religion, which is actually an important life decision which should be based on careful study and personal beliefs, you don't get to change because your current team's performance isn't satisfying you. Again, this may seem stupid and rigid, but that's the code of sports.

2. The team you grew up rooting for moved away. You are now not beholden to them and may pick from any other team. There is a caveat to this: the more historically successful/popular a team is, the more douchey it is to pick them as your team of choice. Anyone can root for the Lakers, the Cowboys, or the Yankees year after year; it takes someone with cojones to randomly choose the Houston Astros, Seattle Seahawks, or Columbus Blue Jackets. Coincidentally, I've never known anyone from L.A. who was a Clipper fan or raised their kids as a Clipper fan. Always the Lakers. I'm sure it's solely due to the fact that the Lakers were there first, not because L.A. sports fans are largely frontrunning bandwagon posers who can't even support a football team.

3. You grew up in an area without a pro team anywhere nearby. Montana, Hawaii, Mississippi, etc. You are also a free agent. See #2 above.

There are no other exceptions to this rule. You can't say stuff like "I just really like Shaq, so I pull for the Lakers." It's fine to really like Shaq, except when he's playing your hometown team. Then he's the enemy. I was a huge Barry Sanders fan growing up, but when the Lions played the Niners, I wanted S.F. to shut him down. Ditto Tony Gwynn, Kirby Puckett, Mario Lemieux, Kevin Johnson, etc.

It doesn't make any sense to root for a team just because a player you admire toils for them. Players move around all the time. Even in the rare cases when someone like Puckett, Gwynn, or Magic Johnson plays his whole career with one team, that's just the luck of the draw. If that player had been drafted by someone else, he would've played just as hard for that team. Kobe Bryant is the notable, petulant, rapist exception that proves the rule.

Players don't care about what color the uniform is they put on. They play for money first and competitive glory second. Fans are the ones who care about the name on the front of the uniform; the players worry about the one on their backs.

Again, we're rooting for laundry. But there's honor in that. I wrote before that the rules of sports fandom are silly and arbitrary, but allow me to give a rationale for the idea that one should root for his or her local team exclusively.

Sports bind a community together. It's a common touchstone we can all share. When things are bad, we commiserate. When they're good, we are hopeful and optimistic. When they're great (which hasn't been for a while now), we hug total strangers in bars and experience a kind of communal euphoria.

Even within the community, there's diversity. Each fan base develops an identity. There's the eternally hopeful and knowledgeable Warrior crowd, the equally hopeful but increasingly nonexistent A's patrons, the proud but unsatisfied Shark followers, the sophisticated Giants crew with their blackberries at the ready, the Cal fans who absolutely know that the next disaster is around the corner, even as they hope against all hope for the best, the wine-and-cheese bourgeois Niner fans who mix easily with the fading blue collar San Francisco element, and of course the unwashed Raider masses, with their felony convictions and ref-hating paranoia.

For as much grief as I give Raider fans, at least they're loyal. I would much rather talk sports with one of them than a lifelong Bay Area resident who professes to love the Lakers. Because that person is not a real sports fan. Oh sure, those "fans" may get happy when their adopted, far-away team wins and dejected when they lose, but it's not real. It's not earned. It's not respectable. It's a cop out. They might as well be rooting for another region's weather.

A huge part of being a fan is giving fans of another squad grief. When I find out that someone's breaking the rules of fandom by rooting for a team he or she has no right to, I instantly break off the conversation. Because the person just doesn't get it. You want to talk smack to me about a team you chose because it's successful, while I put up with the Giants' woes (and lack of a single championship) year after year, and act like we're fan equals?

No, we're not. Now shut up.

"But I've always liked the Lakers/Cowboys/Yankees! I'm a true fan!"

No, you're not. Now shut up.

13 comments:

Nolan said...

And to Delessert, whom I am not encouraging by mentioning in the actual blog entry because your system of picking teams is simply unspeakable: If you root for a college, especially a frontrunner one like Florida, OVER THE SCHOOL YOU ACTUALLY ATTEND, or if there's even a conflict, you are a total dumbass. Your sentence should be all the hot girls of ASU ignoring you forevermore.

Jon Roisman said...

Glad to hear you're a Simmons reader. Too few educated sports fans in this area, in my opinion.

Sarah said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sarah said...

In Oklahoma they have just received their first pro sports team. The OKC Thunder. A horrible basketball team that markets it's cheerleaders as opposed to it's actual players. Bonus: If you donate blood you get free tickets that are worth about 5 bucks! Due to the lack of pro teams we have a die-hard following of college teams. I mean, it's scary. Fans in California have nothing on OU and OSU the people of Oklahoma. The city will actually become quiet on game day, particularly on the day Texas Tech played OU. Stores closed their doors, or had a TV on full blast while employees huddled around to watch the game. Being a student of OSU, I have learned to not wear an OU shirt, talk positively about their team, or hint that my husband watched the game (which he never does, because he doesn't care). The only time it was appropriate to support OU was against Texas Tech. It was the first time I saw a flurry of red shirts wandering around campus.

As far as sports fans go, Oklahoma takes the cake.
And I don't get it.

I grew up an A's fan and therefore liked the Raiders as well. I was raised in the system where the A's were the underdogs and to root for them. With the options you have in California as far as pro teams it's difficult to really get excited about any of them. The reason I loved the A's so much is my brother would take me to Dollar Wednesdays on summer vacation. It was our special sibling time and we'd eat crappy hot dogs and sit behind the opposing dugout yelling at the top of our lungs at the players who wore anything but green and yellow. I will always root for the A's due to those summers. I won't go out of my way to watch a game, but the A's have a special place in my lack-of-sport-watching heart.

How do the rules apply to choosing a hockey team in my situation? The Sharks were pretty big when I was little, but seeing as they didn't start up again until a few years ago make it difficult to feel real loyalty to them. I watched any hockey game I could this year and didn't find that I leaned towards any one team. Thoughts?

Andy Steinkamp said...

Great article Nolan, could not agree more. However, just to nitpick and give you a hard time:

1. "You root for the team that plays in the city nearest where you're from"- wouldn't that be the Raiders/A's for you, since they are closer than SF? Although I'll grant you the Raiders were in LA for most of our youth, so will give you a pass on that one.
2. I like Simmons too, but I believe the "laundry" comment was Seinfeld's originally. Also the more I read of his columns the more I hate Boston.

Nolan said...

Sarah-

First of all, don't hate on the Thunder. I'd much rather have their roster than the Warriors'. They'll be pretty good this year. Kevin Durant is a superstar.

Secondly, Oklahoma doesn't have the market cornered on college football lunacy. The scene you described is played out in tons of college towns throughout the South and Midwest. Bay Area college interest pales in comparison. Hell, HIGH SCHOOL football is a bigger deal in some parts of the country than college ball is here.

I don't know what you mean about the Sharks. They've been playing continuously since 1992, they didn't "start up again," unless you mean after the year-long strike a bunch of years back. If you're a hockey fan, you should be a Sharks fan.

Nolan said...

Andy, good points. Especially about the "rooting for laundry" thing. That is Seinfeld, quoted by Simmons. I should've recognized that.

As for pointing out that I grew up closer to Oakland than S.F., you're right. I probably should've written "metropolitan area," rather than "city." As I wrote before, my earliest happy childhood memories were of the Niners, and my parents made it very clear that I wouldn't be a Raider fan, not only because their fans are miscreants, but also because they were Charger fans from San Diego.

I grew up a fan of both the A's and the Giants; I even had one of those lame dual-sided hats. During the Bay Bridge series, I had to make a choice. Ironically, I chose the Giants largely because at that time they were the underdog, low-budget team in the terrible stadium that only the heartiest fans could weather. Things have changed on that front, obviously, but there's no going back now. The important thing is that I chose the LESS successful franchise, which proves I'm no frontrunner.

Sarah said...

I was not in anyway suggesting that Oklahoma had the college front cornered, merely stating that the fandom for college out here is about 3 times greater than that of California's pro sports fans.

I find it interesting that ones car will be vandalized if having any sort of Texas Tech. emblems on it, but if your vehicle is sporting the Dallas star or it's all gravy.

I personally find the whole thing psychotic.

And my apologies for misspeaking about the Sharks. I guess the lack of hockey in 2004-2005 affected me more than I originally thought. Seriously, I thought it was longer.

chet said...

The Clippers moved to LA for no good reason. No one wanted them there. It would be like adding a MLB team to Boston.

I grew up in LA, hating the the Giants and Niners. When I moved to SF, it just wasn't fun following those sports anymore, because of the community reasons, I think. Luckily, the Warriors were irrelevant to a Lakers fan, so now I'm more of a W's fan than Lakers. I switched!

Nolan said...

Chet, although what you did technically isn't allowed, I'm going to grant you a special dispensation because you gave up so much in the bargain.

I might have added another rule to my rant: That if you move and then live longer in your new environment than your old one, it just might be ok to adopt your current city's team. But you've gotta have one clear favorite.

gobaers said...

1. Even through I grew up in LA in the era of Magic and a little Kareem, I lost the Laker love sometime around '95. Then, sometime around '03 when I moved back to LA, I started following and falling for the Clips. So I guess there's me, Penny Marshall and Billy Crystal. Yay.

2. I think you need a corollary: If you move to your rival city, no matter how long you live there you CANNOT switch sides. Even through I take the 38 to work, I will never cease hating the Giants.

3. This is unrelated, but I hate LA-area non-alumni USC fans. The alumni too, but you know what I mean.

Nolan said...

You're right, Chang. I should've added a special section about college teams. You don't get to passionately root for one unless you go there, went there, your parents went there, or you are young and aspire to go there one day.

Rooting for USC is just as bad as rooting for the Yankees, Cowboys, etc.

justincredible said...

"or you are young and aspire to go there one day."

so i finally read this rant after months of delay, and first of all, ahahaha, i was young when i first started following college sports, and i aspired to be a florida gator. when i was old enough to apply to schools, it was my number 1 option, and i didn't even apply to the local big schools such as cal or stanford. so clearly i am allowed to be a florida fan yes?

as for the rest of it, my family isn't a big sports family. sure we had 49ers super bowl parties back in the day, and my parents took me to A's and giants games, but my family never cheered for either team vehemently and converted me into a fan for that team. because of this, every team i cheer for just happened to fall into my lap one way or another. for instance, the first team i played on was the braves, and after seeing them play on tv, my parents took me to see the braves beat the giants, where chipper jones (who then became my favorite player and 10 became my fav number) hit a grand slam. the fact of the matter is, with my parents not telling me who to root for, or displaying passion for any teams, i did my own thing. and by sticking by my teams and never flip flopping or finding new teams when my favorite teams are struggling, i think it validates my fanhood.

oh and one last thing, "Your sentence should be all the hot girls of ASU ignoring you forevermore." all the hot girls at ASU don't give a fuck about ASU athletics. i'm a more diehard ASU fan than almost every girl I know there. they don't even know who we play half the time. it's ASU nolan, not a big time school like Oklahoma. now don't get me wrong, i love ASU and cheer for them like no other, but i've loved florida for much longer, and am a much more passionate about them. this goes back to me picking teams and staying true to them. the gator nation is everywhere nolan. everywhere.