On Being a Fan
A friend today shared this story with me. He was in a grocery store in the Seattle suburbs buying some snacks. The checkout person said to him: “Oh, you must be stocking up for the game today” and pointed out a bunch of other people in line with their own snacks. My friend is not much of a football fan and grew up in the Bay area. He replied to the checker: “Actually I am a 49’er fan.” Then he told me: “I have never seen a face change like that. She went from friendly to hostile in a moment." He went on to tell me that every time he went back to that store and saw that woman she gave him the stink eye.
Fans can be like that. They have an allegiance to their team and anyone else who roots for another team is viewed differently. Especially if they root for a rival. Being a 49’er fan was one of the worst things my friend could have said. But, as I mentioned he is not much of a football fan and so most likely did not know the etiquette of fandom.
I had a friend who grew up in New Jersey that I took to a UCLA basketball game. Wisely, he rooted alongside me for UCLA, but would yell out at the referees and other players in such a way that he told me “People are looking at me very disapprovingly.” His behavior was quite acceptable in Jersey, but stuck out in Los Angeles as too disparaging. Different areas, different sports, different groups have differing norms about behavior.
One thing I particularly like about being a fan is it allows you to fully, or in the case of my Jersey friend, not quite fully, express yourself. You can jump up and yell out at the top of your lungs and more often than not no one looks at you funny. You do that at home and someone is filing an abuse report. Fans get to feel the range of emotions and express them in a wide array of options. This is especially liberating for men as they so often keep a lid on their emotions. It is perfectly acceptable for a man to cry, scream, yell and pray out loud for his team.
Having an outlet for your emotional life is a bonus. A person can get heavily emotionally invested in how their team does and be fully involved and interactive while the game is happening. And for the most part, since the game does not really affect your life, you can get on with your life with little consequence. Sure, there are those major losses that have an after-life, but they pale in comparison to the downside when there are major losses in your life. When your team losses you get to experience that set of emotions without the heaviness associated with your real life dramas.
Being a fan gives you license to connect and be emotionally involved and not really have to deal with the object of your attention. Our person-to-person relationships require give and take and evoke actions and reactions. Your team doesn’t ask you for much aside from your viewership and maybe buying a ticket now and then. But truthfully, only a small portion of fans actually attend games.
Being a fan is akin to owning a pet before you have children. If you can’t handle the responsibilities of having a pet it is going to be hard to step into parenthood. Being a fan is the starter kit for learning about devotion, hanging in there through the good times and the lean times and managing your time so you can do your homework and watch the game.