They Don’t Care The Way We Do

The price one pays for pursuing any profession, or calling, is an immediate knowledge of its ugly side.

-James Baldwin

Your favorite athlete does not care the way you do.

Fans and athletes look at the sports to which they are tied together differently.  For fans (short for fanatics), it is a passion that takes them from their everyday life; for athletes, it is a job.  It is a job that they love and probably would not trade for anything, but still a job.  One in which they know all the good and the bad that goes with that job.

That changes to relationship to what they are doing.  They are now inside the buildings inside the ropes that keep the rest of us away.  It shows the athletes the pettiness and harsh realities of sports as business and it gives the fans the illusion of a game played by overgrown children.

The reason college sports are so important to so many fans, is it is the last time fans and athletes are that close to each other.  They live and eat at the same places as “regular” students.  They walk around campus and go to class with everyone else.

The moment they sign a professional contract, things change especially if you are a high draft pick.  The size of those contracts and the expectations of being a high pick in some ways separate you even from other athletes much less the normal public.  The athletes are inside their own world and the fans only catch glimpses just before, during, and just after games.  Often what we see we don’t like.

Fans have become conditioned to think of their athletes as super heroes who stand above the petty issues that plague the rest of us.  They do not.  The grounded and mature ones understand that.  Many fans do not.

However, most athletes do care about what they are doing.  Their job is to practice, travel, stay in shape, eat right, etc.  Most athletes manage to separate their job from their joy, which is playing.    That is why during the game I actually think they care more than fans for two reasons: 1) they are the ones in the field of play and 2) all the people yelling stupid stuff at them while they are doing their job.  Fans have come to think of themselves as part of the show in many ways.

They pay money for tickets thinking going to the game makes them a part of this special club of professional sports.  They think going into the arena to watch the game puts them behind the curtain.  To be a part of that special club that plays sports for a living lets them out of their own lives for a few brief moments, making them care more than is rational or sometimes healthy.

That is the real difference between athletes and fans.  No matter how crappy practices may become, no matter how much other stuff they have to hustle to do on the side to keep making money, most athletes know how lucky they are to have their primary occupation on their IRS form read “Professional Athlete.”

That is what fans want: Athletes who know how lucky they are, athletes who don’t insult them, and most importantly athletes that seemingly care as much as they, the fans, do during the games.  If athletes give them that, fans will forgive almost anything.  Ask John Terry.

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