March 6, 2014

For the love of the game: A call to true sports fans

In a Bud Light commercial that aired during football season, a Denver Broncos fan leaves a game to grab a beer from the basement, only to return and find that his team scored. Realizing that his trips to the basement must be causing the Broncos’ touchdowns, the avid fan selflessly ventures back into the dark basement for the remainder of the game, doing whatever it takes for his team to win.

This superstitious move is worthy of praise, no question about that. However, there’s a distinction between the everyday fan and the true sports team fan.

The definition of fanatic (often shortened to “fan”) is a person filled with excessive, single-minded, enthusiastic devotion to a cause, ideal, or goal. In the case of a sports fan, the goal is a team’s success, most likely how close one gets to the championship.

I’m from Ohio, so for years I’ve considered myself a fan of the Cleveland Indians, Browns, and Cavaliers (unfortunate, I know). Often, I would catch these teams’ games on TV, look for their respective standings every now and then, and even go to a game every few years. I rooted for them to win, surely, but a couple years ago I realized that I didn’t actually care about any of their successes deep down.

One such realization came when I was watching the Browns play the Patriots a few seasons ago. I like to say that I hate New England, not only because it wins too often, but also because Tom Brady went to Michigan, known as “that school up north” in Ohio. So naturally, I wanted the Browns to win, even more so than usual. In classic Cleveland fashion, they made a few great plays, toying with their viewers’ emotions, only to inevitably fall to the mighty Patriots.

I may have cursed once or twice as the game ended, but after I turned off the TV, I didn’t give the game another thought. I went on with the rest of my day as usual. Only later did I realize that none of my emotions whatsoever were affected by the outcome. This is why simple actions do not formulate the true fan of a team: true fandom transcends the physical world—it impacts one’s mind and emotions.

Similarly, I also follow Ohio State’s basketball and football teams, since my parents teach there and I grew up just blocks from campus. When the Buckeyes lost to Wichita State in last year’s NCAA basketball tournament, I was in disbelief. I remember it like it was yesterday, too. As the game clock wound down, my hands covered my face, concealing everything except my eyes, trying to fight the inescapable acceptance of failure and loss…to freaking Wichita State.

After the game and a wave of frustration, I could feel genuine sadness washing over me. I remember thinking that I had to distract myself with some fun activity. A casual observer probably would’ve thought a relative of mine had just died.

Looking at the definition of a fan, I ask, is my devotion to Ohio State excessive? Maybe (my friends would say so)—if watching every game, even at the dining hall or library, having an Ohio State phone case and wall posters in my room, and traveling to multiple games during the school year is excessive. Is this devotion single-minded? Yeah, pretty much—I only want wins. Lastly, is it enthusiastic? O-H! (Take a guess.)

Additionally, I believe that when the outcome of your team’s game or season affects your mood and happiness, that’s when you are a true fan. It becomes apparent that the success and failure are ingrained in your being, your soul, and your subconscious. There exists a sort of metaphysical relationship between you and your team. That’s not to say that you cannot be happy without wins—something out of your control—but your mood and attitude are lifted by your team’s successful performance, and vice versa.

Don’t get the wrong idea, though. I’m certainly not bashing the casual fan, because there are fans of varying degrees (even though casual fans likely don’t fit the definition of “fanatic”), and all are necessary. In fact, casual fans might be even more important to teams and organizations since they probably outnumber true fans. If you consider the occupancies of college and professional football stadiums (around 70,000, some 100,000), baseball stadiums (around 40,000), and basketball arenas (20,000), it’s likely that the majority of attendees are some variation of the casual fan.

I’m certainly a casual Browns, Indians, and Cavaliers fan, but there’s no doubt in my mind that I bleed scarlet and gray for Ohio State. If you ever find yourself wondering, “Am I a true fan?” don’t think about what you would do for your team—à la Bud Light-loving Broncos fan—but rather how its successes and failures (rationally or irrationally) affect your mental and emotional being.