A funny thing occurred to me the other day as I surveyed the sporting landscape and thought about all of the teams my friends and people I knew cheered for. And as I thought about them I took a look at myself and wondered.
Does playing a sport make you less likely to have a favorite team in that very sport?
Perhaps some insight into my situation will illustrate my point.
From the ages of five to 19, I played hockey year-round and at some of the highest levels in North America. If you've ever played hockey from an early age or known someone who has, you'd know it is very time consuming and takes a lot of effort and sacrifice from parents and players.
In this regard, hockey really became my life, something that came to define me as a person. As a kid, I rooted for my hometown team the Buffalo Sabres and every night that I could watch a game on Empire television was a special one.
But then things started to change as I became a teenager and there was more traveling, more pressure, and more people to meet. As I grew into a better hockey player I began looking at hockey differently. Realizing how hard it could be to do some of the things NHL players do on a regular basis made me appreciate them all the much more.
And it happened: Sometime in my early teens I began following players instead of having a favorite team. No longer was I a fan of the Sabres, but had become someone heavily involved in the sport of hockey, but without a team to cheer for.
What actually happened was the Sabres had traded Alexander Mogilny, my favorite player at the time, and I slowly drifted away from the Sabres. By the mid-90's I had switched to defense and had come to admire the play of Paul Coffey, but I still didn't root for a team.
Eventually I came to admire Eric Lindros and I followed the Flyers intensely although I never felt comfortable calling myself a fan of the team. Once Lindros left Philadelphia and headed to New York, I did the same as before. I followed the Rangers hoping the best for my favorite player.
However, it is a funny thing that I have never played organized football yet I am the most ardent Notre Dame fan in the world. Does this make any sense?
So one day this difference occurred to me and I started thinking about all of the people I've played hockey with. Then I thought about the people I'm friends with, but who never played sports or did so only minimally.
It turns out that the people with little or no sporting backgrounds tended to be the biggest and most obsessive fans in my life. That's not to say some of the hockey players weren't loyal fans of the Sabres or other teams, but there was a strong trend of hockey players who simply liked hockey and didn't root for one team exclusively.
I think there is some correlation to be made here.
If someone plays a sport, especially at a very high level and into college or beyond, they are much more likely to not have a favorite team in that respective sport. However, if you never played a sport, or only played through high school and weren't very good, chances are you have a favorite team in that sport that you follow.
Why does this happen?
From my experience I think there is a bit of a journalistic effect that takes hold once you've played a sport long enough and traveled around the country. You learn to take a step back, meet other fans, meet others who love the game, and see all the little nuances that make it such a wonderful sport.
In a way, you come to appreciate the GAME itself. And afterall, the game is played by individuals just like you and me. There's a sense of connection there that is lost on people outside of the sport or who never play it.
In this regard you find yourself appreciating the talent in the sporting world and it makes you less appreciative of the logo on the front of a jersey and more in awe of the name on the back. Of course this is in direct confrontation with how coaches want players to think, but I can assure you most players do.
You only have to look at kids being drafted in the NFL, NBA, or NHL as young kids. Already at that age they have played for such a long time and been so successful that they have been desensitized to the world of fandom.
Sure you'll find a few who really want to get drafted by their favorite team, but the vast majority simply want to make it to the "big show" and play on a good team, meaning one with good players.
In summary, I was wondering if anyone out there has ever thought the same thing?
Is there any plausibility to this theory?
Have you ever played a sport for a long time and found yourself detached from your hometown team?
Have you never played a sport but find yourself a massive fan of a particular team?