Archive for fandom

Why So Serious

Posted in sports with tags , , , , on March 17, 2013 by cueball

Fans are passionate and they are loud.  True fans love their team through wins and losses.  They understand that to truly enjoy the mountain top of championships you have to suffer the valleys of many, many losses.

For all this love and understanding however, sometimes fans forget that this is supposed to be fun.  They forget these are games and to enjoy the ride.  They also start to believe the lover of their team is a moral choice and that because they like team X and you like team Y, they are superior to you.  This is where sports stop being fun and start being dark and painful.  It is falling in love with something and then becoming so obsessed by it that you lose touch with reality.  Ride or die turned bad.

This the thinking that leads people to start poisoning trees and going to away games looking to fight the other team’s fans as some kind of statement.  Let’s not worry about those people right now.  Let’s think about why we started playing and watching in the first place.

At some point, you fell in love with a sport or a team.  It was pure and wonderful.  Every day that you watched or played, it was like something was the best day of the week.  It was just the joy of reveling in the moment where each play and each shot made you happy regardless of outcome.

Then comes that first heart break.  That first big loss and it was the first time you knew this love of your life was not infallible.  It was the first time you noticed the other teams wanted to win just as much as you did.  This is the point where you either deepened your love or you ran off to another team.  If you stayed you were in for life, if you didn’t, well I don’t understand you.

Then you won again and lost again and lost again and won again.  The cycle repeats itself for the rest of time.  Kind of like love if you look at it long and hard enough.  You have your ups and downs and your fights and disagreements, but you stay in it because it is worth it.  That is where the difference ends, because love is actually important.

Unless you are on scholarship or somehow your paycheck is dependent upon the team, this is nowhere near life and death.  Cheering for people you have never met playing a game at a level that you cannot is not a moral choice.  You chose to cheer for this team because your personality meshed with the team’s personality, but that doesn’t make you better or more important than anyone else.

If your team loses it is not God judging you or some evil plan hatched by Satan himself to deny your team its rightful place in history.  People take all of this too personally after they have been a fan for a few years and lose the joy they had when they first fell in love.  They lose the sense of wonder and anticipation that comes from that first moment of discovery.

This isn’t about the money and the media crush, this is about putting things in perspective, not taking yourself too seriously and respecting each other as fans and as people.

Now I have to finish setting up my spreadsheet so that I can crunch stats that will help me win my tournament bracket contest.

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The Erosion Our Trust In Sports

Posted in sports with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 12, 2013 by cueball

I’ve been studiously avoiding writing about the NCAA for the last week.  I am tired of it.  I still have the same feelings about the NCAA as a failed organization.  I am still baffled by some of its decisions and its institutional arrogance.  I will probably write something when its review of the Miami investigation comes out later this week.

What I am tired of is the relentlessly bad way the things surrounding the NCAA make me feel about sports.  The problem is it is not just the NCAA but the use of performance enhancers by athletes, the ubiquity of match fixing in the soccer, the glass ceiling for non-white coaches in the NFL, and finally the weird dance the NFL is doing around injuries.

Sports are supposed to be a fun way to get away from all the crap of your daily life.  That is getting harder and harder as time goes on and information from “the inside” is more available to us.  The more we know about what is going on in places we as fans never had access to before is changing our relationship with the games we love.

The Europol match fixing report came out after the Super Bowl.  It and the reporters who have been covering this for the last few years like Declan Hill lay the ease at which matches can be fixed.  It is rather amazing how easily the fixers operate aided by the fact they are moving across jurisdictions and the sheer number of games on any given weekend at all levels.

This information made me cast a jaundiced look at the 34 minute blackout at the Super Bowl and look more closely at the lower Division I basketball scores scrolling at the bottom of ESPN Saturday night.

This is where we are sometimes as sports fans.  We see a score between two Sun Belt Conference teams and wonder, “Did someone shave points in that game?”  We could not pick any of the players in the game out of a lineup, but as a slightly more than casual fan, we know the possibility of point shaving exists.  A lower Division I starting basketball player who is “going pro in something other than sports” (thanks NCAA marketing) could possibly be convinced that there is no real threat to his career for taking a $1000 to shave a few points here are there.  It isn’t like this has never happened at a major school in the NCAA (This provides a nice primer on the most recent NCAA basketball scandals.)

What about the guy refereeing the game?  We have actually seen someone getting caught doing this, not in lower Division I, but in the NBA.  It is possible, to say the least.

The problem isn’t that these things are happening.  The problem is that serious sports fans have to entertain the notion that they might be happening when something abnormal goes down on the field of play.  If  you watched this year’s Super Bowl, admit it, for a moment, you thought the blackout could be some nefarious plot to change the outcome of the game.  You may not have Tweeted it, texted it, or said it out loud, but you thought it.

That is the problem.  All the things that are wrong with sport are starting to erode even our basic trust in the fundamental fairness of what is going on the field and the final score.

Something ugly maybe/perhaps happened during the Duke/NC State game last night

Posted in college basketball with tags , , , , , on February 8, 2013 by cueball

The first damn Tweet I saw this morning was about Duke’s Cameron Crazies chanting about Tyler Lewis’s recently deceased grandmother.  story.  Here is a summary:  Last night during a basketball game, a small group of douche-bags maybe/perhaps did something douche-baggy and got called on it by people who maybe/perhaps heard them do it.  Reporters at the event who didn’t hear it defiantly and categorically claim it didn’t happen simply because they didn’t hear it.  Tweeters spent this morning arguing among themselves over what maybe/perhaps happened.  Everyone then claims what  maybe/perhaps happened says something bigger about something.  No one is quite sure what though.  Then everyone grows tired of it and moves on.  The End.

I had a longer more involved post with how this says something about how uncertainty, nuance, and saying “I don’t know” is forbidden on the internet, but I realized I was only contributing to the pollution.

This Is My Toy Box, Keep Your Hate Out Of It

Posted in sports, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 27, 2013 by cueball

Why is fandom so important to some and why do they let their favorite team be the most important thing in defining who they are?

There is a difference, however slight, between being a fan of a team who cheers for all the wins and mourns their losses and being a fan whose whole emotional wellbeing is tied to whether the team wins or loses.

I don’t understand how an adult can create the type of emotional investment usually reserved for close friends and family for players on their favorite team.  I can understand it a little better for college fans.  Universities and colleges usually represent something a little more emotionally resonant for people then do professional teams.  However, even there people lose the perspective of why the university exists.  It isn’t so you can have a football or basketball team to cheer for on the weekends.  It is to educate the children of the state in which it resides.  Sometimes the fandom for a university is more akin to be a fan of the tail rather than a fan of the dog.

The older I get the more I cringe when rivalries particularly college rivalries are described with the word hate.  Really.  Hate.  Back here in the real world, there are truly very few reasons to actually hate someone.  None of those reasons include attending a different university then you are playing for a rival team.  (I also want to crawl through my television and strangle any announcer who calls the athletes on the field or court warriors or soldiers especially at a time when our military is actively fighting wars.  Yet, I digress.)

These emotional ties are particularly stupid in professional sports.  If you are a Yankee fan you may hate a certain Red Sox player today, but you are then forced to turn around and love the same player when he signs a free agent contract with the Yankees tomorrow.  In that sense, you are truly only cheering for laundry.

Maybe that is why college sports rivalries have the resonance they do.  Once you wear Carolina blue, State red, Alabama crimson, or Auburn orange you are tied to the lore of those places forever.  The history of college sports is what makes it special.  Those ties of the past to the present are what set it apart from the corporate slickness of professional athletics.  Each game in a collegiate rivalry is another link in a never ending chain of history.

These games engender passion.  These games engender emotion.  If you are seven years old you should be emotionally devastated that your team lost to its most hated rival.  It should eat at you as the most important thing to happen to you ever, because you are seven.  At that age, you should not have the emotional traumas that put sports in a different, less emotionally important perspective.

As an adult it should be different.  I understand being emotionally spent and devastated in the moment of the game ending, if your team loses. I understand wanting to avoid certain friends and or websites to not relive the loss.  However, as an adult, you should be able to put that to one side and remember that it is just a game and move on with your day.  We may have pumped these games up past their actually true importance with the approximately 100 television channels dedicated to sports, but they are just games.

The central question of this post has been a reoccurring theme on this blog for me.  “Am I as big a fan of sports as I was when I was younger?”  I think I follow sports just as much as I did when I was younger, and maybe even a touch more.  I do think I am a less emotional fan than I was.

Life has layered emotional experiences on me both good and bad.  These things and moments have placed sports in a different place in my life.  Not a less important place, but a different one.  It is the toy box.  It is where I try to go to get away from all the big important pains of the day.  I don’t want to spoil my refuge with hate and anger.

This is why the hypocrisy of the NCAA (and their network partners and the NFL/NBA) annoys me so much.  This is why I keep looking at all the information gathering from concussion and brain trauma research and feel a growing nausea at what we are doing to our athletes.  These are real world things spoiling my sanctuary.

This is about a letter to the editor of the DTH

Posted in college basketball with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 14, 2013 by cueball

Fans are not entitled to championships.  Fans of some sporting entities feel that they should not lose and if they do someone should be fired new players should be found.

Fans should be disappointed with losing.  They should be borderline angry when their team does not execute the basics.  That is perfectly reasonable.  Sometimes I forget that fan is a shortened version of fanatic meaning fans are by definition a little irrational.

However, there is a difference between irrational and delusional.  Fans of historically successful teams sometimes forget how hard it is to win and that everyone else is trying to win.  That mental blindness makes them prone to overreaction and panic, and often makes them forget what bad really looks like.

A team with the talent to win if and when if figures itself out and a team that has no hope of winning because of lack talent and coaching are two different things.  The first team usually plays good for a half and bad for a half and loses games like that until they start putting together consistent effort for the whole game.  Those teams are frustrating, but that happens with inexperience.  The second team is just bad.  Think 8-20.  Fans with common sense and a bit of perspective know the difference.

Another thing that happens for fans of ultra-successful teams who forget what bad truly looks like or what losing feels like, is that they forget to enjoy the wins.  Winning is the result of hard work and timing.  It is very hard.  Winning isn’t something that is a given or a birth right.  Therefore it should be enjoyed, but it often spoils the wrong people.  It doesn’t usually spoil the ones actively creating the success (coaches and players) they are too busy working towards it.  It spoils the fans.  They forget winning is a precious thing that must be tended to and respected or it will go away completely.

For coaches to achieve the type of consistent success fans clamor for, requires a borderline insane focus on the task of winning and being successful that most fans can’t begin to imagine. Urban Meyer risked his health for that type of success.  People laugh when Nick Saban wins a national championship and starts worrying about off-season training and recruiting 10 minutes later.  That is how you build something that successful for a long period of time.  The fact that more coaches, particularly in college, don’t go completely off the rails mentally or physically surprises me.

There is some ephemeral line that separates fans demanding success and fans petulantly lashing out at everyone and everything when they don’t win.  I think it is somewhere between the difference of fans being disappointed with loses and angry at bad play and fans impatiently screaming for their next hit of winning and the accompanying superiority.  Winning allows fans to talk crap on Facebook because their team beat their friend’s team.  Of course both contributed to the game by watching on television and drinking beer.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve dropped a lot of things from my fandom.  Chief among them is the moral superiority of my team to yours.  I haven’t lost my love my teams, but I’m not playing so winning or losing really says very little about me.  Therefore, why would I talk smack about a game to an opposing fan?  Somewhere along the line, I have managed to untie my self-worth from my team’s success or failures.  I learned during a very cold February that no matter what befalls you personally, the world will keep spinning.  I think that is even truer when it comes to how good or bad your favorite team is.  My team’s losing may make life a little more annoying, but it will go on regardless.

I may die today

Posted in sports and society with tags , , on December 27, 2012 by cueball

“I may die today,” is a Buddhist mantra used especially during morning mediations to remind oneself that you should live in the present and to the fullest because today may be your last.  That is one of the things I admire about professional athletes.  They are always present and they always play as if this may be their last play.

By the time they reach to professional level, athletes have seen every kind of injury and every type of game loss imaginable.  They understand instinctively not to trust any gambling lines that they should win easily.  They know to never take a play off because that is when you get hurt.

That is one of the things I work on every day.  Living in this moment and not worrying about the things out of my control.  The old saying is, “Half the things you worry about will never happen and the other half are going to happen anyway.”  When you watch the best teams play, the whole team seems to have this very understanding in the front of their minds.

One of the things you often hear from players on the New England Patriots is that everyone just does their job.  Meaning, each player does what he has been told to do on each play without worrying about whether his teammate is doing the same.  They have developed a trust in their teammates through continuous repetition in practice, in the film room, and on the field.

That is one of the things you can gain from playing sports and participating on well-coached teams:  the ability to always be present, to focus on the task at hand, and to take advantage of every moment by doing your best.

I may die today.  Am I doing what I love?  I may die today.  Am I living my life to the fullest of my abilities?  I may die today.  Will this life have been worth it?

Athletes do not ask these questions.  They are too busy living each moment to ask these questions or to worry.  The best athletes always push themselves to use every ounce of their abilities and to do whatever it takes to get better.  This sometimes makes them horrible people to be around.  That is not to say, this expression of that drive is inevitable.  Some athletes spin that drive into more positive ways and do not seem to have demons following them.

For better or worse, athletes have taken their place as our modern pantheon of public gods.  And we let them because we have been taught that we need that pantheon.  We need our heroes.  They make our lives a little happier; they give us hope that things are possible.  They do provide that solace, that hope; however it is only a transient feeling.

Even in this age where we have so much more information about them, we know less about these public gods.  Most of the things we know come from the athletes and their P.R. machines.  We get information from their official Twitter handle or their official Facebook page, and if we get any kind of stories on ESPN, Sports Illustrated, or name your website it is usually some story out to prop up their official hagiography.

Even if we know it is not quite the truth we keep coming back.  Even if you have seen too much and lose that childlike fandom, you keep coming back with the hope of glimpsing something that makes you forget your worries and make it OK that you may die today.

Sports, They are something

Posted in sports with tags , , , , , , on December 26, 2012 by cueball

I cried on January 22, 1983.  My then favorite team, the Dallas Cowboys, lost to the San Francisco Forty-Niners in dramatic Joe Montana fashion.  A year earlier on March 29, 1982, I felt just as much emotion.  This time it was the opposite because my beloved University of North Carolina Tar Heel Men’s Basketball team had won the national championship in equally dramatic fashion.

I wish I could go back to that 8 and 9 year old child’s attitude towards sports.  It was pure.  The games were pure, the players were pure.  Everything was hopeful and everyone seemed to give a damn.

If you’ve been one of the three people who have read any of my posts, you have probably noticed my disappointment in what sports are.  I did not say, “…in what sports have become,” because I suspect sports have always on some level been this disappointing once you skipped past the surface, but we did not know as much.

I do not want to say we know too much, but knowing as much as we do takes away the mystery and some of the joy.  Mickey Mantle was a tragic hero beset by injuries.  Now, we know he was a drunk whose alcoholism exacerbated the failings of his career.

However, how much more do we really know.  We know how dirty, greedy, and hypocritical sports are at every level.  I suspect we don’t know even of half the real dirt that goes down.  Players and teams all have their own Facebook pages and Twitter accounts to get out the information they want us to have and to hide that which they don’t.  We have more information, but are we really learning anything more.

We do know more with statistics.  With computers and instant communication we have to ability to break down a player and his play into quantifiable numbers.  This is actually helpful up to a point.  That point is when you actually put players on the field.  That is why it works best in baseball.  It is the easiest sport to statistically breakdown for individual players because all the skills needed to be successful in baseball are individual and discrete skills performed in isolation from others.  Football, basketball, and soccer are sports each individual’s performance is based upon the performance of the other players around him, making it harder to use advanced statistics effectively.  That is the next frontier of sports statistics.

We also don’t get to know the players as well because of free agency.  Players deserve the freedom to move to a different team for more money, a better chance to win, or just to live in a different place.  However, in life, for everything you gain, you must give up something.  In this case freedom of movement means the loss of a more intimate fan/player relationship.  There is something special about watching a young draft pick grow from a boy to a man, literally.  Now, instead of players we have brands.  Today’s athletes sometimes seem merely like conglomerations of advertisements that blow into your town for a few years before moving on to sell more stuff somewhere else.

That is how I feel in my more cynical moments.  Then I’ll sit down and start watching a game and something amazing/interesting/funny happens and I can almost see that kid sitting in his grandmother’s house crying as Dwight Clark spikes the ball in the back of the end zone.