Advice to Your Younger Sports Fan Self

Laura Depta@lauradeptaFeatured ColumnistJanuary 11, 2017

Advice to Your Younger Sports Fan Self

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    Just as you evolve as a person over the course of your life, chances are you'll evolve as a sports fan too.

    For instance, maybe you once chastised bandwagon fans only to grow up and realize, "Hey, they're not so bad." You used to hate broccoli, and now you love it. These things happen.

    When Ronda Rousey lost at UFC 207, Kobe Bryant tweeted: "Instead of clapping for @RondaRousey defeat give her a standing O for putting the sport on the map #pioneer #muse."

    Be more compassionate when it comes to athletes.

    Mid-American Conference college football referee Tim O'Dey admitted an officiating mistake that led to Central Michigan's September victory over Oklahoma State.

    Sports aren't fair.

    Surely, all sports fans are different. Maybe you've always been cool with bandwagon fans—smart. The following are 10 simple statements and pieces of advice from one writer's perspective—things she might tell her younger sports fan self.

Recognize 'Loyalty' Is an Unfair Expectation

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    Contrary to what jersey-burners might believe, many athletes probably do not—and should not—operate solely on the basis of some type of undying loyalty to their team.

    Or, at minimum, their situations are far more complicated than simple team loyalty.

    That's not to say Kevin Durant wasn't sad to leave his longtime team, the Oklahoma City Thunder, in 2016. In fact, he wrote for the Players' Tribune: "There are no words to express what the organization and the community mean to me, and what they will represent in my life and in my heart forever."

    Unlike fans, who don't have things like paychecks and personal geography attached to their teams, professional athletes have much to consider when joining or leaving a team.

    Sure, OKC fans had a right to be disappointed when Durant left, but an older (and perhaps more mature) sports fan might recognize that he has every right to make those kinds of professional and personal decisions for himself.

Don't Act a Fool at Games

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    Warning: extreme generalization ahead. Some sports fans—some younger, some not—tend to treat sporting events as some type of ruleless free-for-all in which they can act outlandishly and consequence-free.

    How else do you explain streakers, court storming or Buffalo Bills tailgates

    Certainly, there are many sports fans who conduct themselves in a respectful manner at games—fans who realize that at any given event, there are likely to be families and children present, and perhaps they should give that some consideration.

    Not to sound like the fun police, but too much tomfoolery can be a real turnoff for fellow fans. 

    As author and sports journalist Justine Gubar explained, per Jerry Barca of Forbes:

    Even the guys who live for game day are losing patience with the atmosphere. I interviewed 'Fireman Ed,' a well-known Jets fan who used to spend his Sundays leading the entire stadium in the J-E-T-S chant. You could always count on seeing Ed on TV. But 'Fireman Ed' grew exasperated with unruly fans and the fighting and retired his super-fan persona.

    And a mob mentality can even be dangerous, so, you know, keep it classy. 

Realize Other Fans' Perspectives

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    It is in a sports fan's DNA to oppose his or her team's biggest rival—that's natural.

    And yet, there is a difference between blaming an opposing fan for his or her allegiances and simply recognizing them—and maybe even understanding them.

    For example, think about why you root for the team you do. It could be as simple as geography. You grew up in the Bronx, so you root for the New York Yankees. It could be about a certain player you like or coach you respect.

    Regardless, just as you have your reasons, opposing fans have theirs. For instance, think about that Yankees fan from the Bronx. If that same fan had grown up in Boston, what are the odds he or she would still root for the Yankees?

    In December, Scott Stump of Today.com wrote about a joint tailgate attended by two families with split sports allegiances. In each family, there are New York Giants fans and Philadelphia Eagles fans.

    Jeremy Shubach, the son of diehard a Giants fans, said: "I love my parents dearly, but they had to accept the fact that I grew up 15 minutes outside of Philly."

Accept That Sports Are Not Fair

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    Most sports fans probably learn this at a young age, but sports, like life, are simply not always fair.

    Was it fair when replacement referees botched the end of the Green Bay Packers-Seattle Seahawks ending in 2012? Or when umpire Jim Joyce robbed then-Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga of a perfect game in 2010?

    Officials miss calls, mistake happen and game results still stand.

    And while sports leagues continue to make advancements in instant replay in an attempt to get calls right, perfection is a seemingly impossible goal. 

    There is debate about the existence of the "human element" in sports officiating. Perhaps one day it will be completely eliminated, but until then, sports fans must realize that sometimes you get the call and sometimes you don't. It's not always fair, but it's part of the game.

    Oh, and also, sometimes your team actually does commit penalties. It's hard to believe, but true. 

Let Yourself Like an Opposing Player

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    It's OK for a New York Yankees fan to like Boston Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia. He's a likable guy.

    It's OK for a Chicago Bears fan to secretly (or not so secretly) wish Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers played his home games at Soldier Field.

    Original Six fans can admit Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews seems like class act.  

    Some athletes are likable. Some even approach "universally beloved" status. You are not a traitor to your team if you recognize respectable traits in others.

    In 2012, two Yankees fans approached Pedroia for an autograph. He later said, per the Associated Press (via Mass Live): "I think it's great. If you are a Red Sox fan or a Yankees fan, if you play the game the right way, there's mutual respect. Don't get me wrong, you want to beat them because you are competitive, but the respect level for those guys is through the roof."

Losing Always Hurts, but Realize It Gets Easier

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    Did you ever cry because of a sports outcome? Did a five-year-old you, say, burst into tears when Buffalo Bills kicker Scott Norwood sailed the Super Bowl-winning field goal wide right in 1991? (Hypothetically speaking.)

    One of the greatest lessons to learn as a sports fan is that losing happens. No team—not even the great Nick Saban and his Alabama Crimson Tide—can go undefeated forever.

    The longer you are on the earth, the more time you have to realize that life goes on. Losing hurts—it hurts badbut there is always next year.

    Just look at the Clemson Tigers, who avenged their 2016 College Football Playoff National Championship loss to Alabama with a 35-31 victory in the brilliant 2017 rematch.

    Or consider the Cleveland Cavaliers, who stormed back from a 3-1 NBA Finals deficit to beat the Golden State Warriors, avoid back-to-back Finals losses and win the city's first NBA title. It was a victory that, just one year earlier, might have seemed crushingly unlikely to fans. 

Treat Athletes Like People

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    Yes, athletes work in entertainment. Yes, they have a responsibility to fans who create the demand that results in their paychecks. However, it sometimes appears too easy for some fans to forget athletes are also people.

    When Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton walked out of his post-Super Bowl 50 press conference, folks criticized his glum demeanor, and some even called him a "baby." The man just lost the Super Bowl! Disappointment and frustration seem like understandable emotions. 

    More recently, New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. is getting all kinds of backlash for taking a trip to Miami six days before a playoff game.

    New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady showed some compassion for Beckham, saying, per A.J. Perez of USA Today: "When I was young I did a lot of things that when I look back, I wish I probably wouldn't have done [like] flying cross-country and things like that. It just wasn't publicized."

    As public figures, athletes will always be subject to outside opinions, but let's work on empathy from time to time, eh?

Understand Sports Will Evolve

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    Sorry Goose Gossage, Larry Bird and all the other "well back in my day" sports folks out there.

    It's hard for some people to accept, particularly the "purists," that sports are going to change. Rules will change. Instant replay will evolve. Superstars will join up with each other. You don't have to like it, but you do have to accept it.

    Did you know football used to exist without the forward pass? The three-point line wasn't a thing in the NBA until the 1979-80 season. So while proposed rule changes such as the elimination of the kickoff in the NFL or a four-point line in the NBA might seem preposterous, there is precedent for such impactful measures.

    Analytics, television deals, the rise and fall of baseball's steroid era—not all change will be good, but it will happen. Rest assured.

    One of the best things about being a sports fan is the endless supply of subject matter for differing opinions. It's fun to chat with others about all the aforementioned topics, but it's not realistic to hope sports will never change. 

Stop Judging 'Bandwagon' Fans

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    Here's a biggie. Some sports fans would argue it's a cardinal sin to be a bandwagon fan.

    Another fan might ask what's so wrong with joining in the fun?

    If you are, say, an Arizona Diamondbacks fan who rooted for the Chicago Cubs to win the World Series, that is completely understandable and OK. The Cubs' title was a joyful thing for baseball. It most likely brought happiness to folks who appreciate historic sports moments and fun storylines.

    Josh Terry of the Chicago Tribune's RedEye described the concept of bandwagon fans as "this nagging tendency among obnoxious people to delegitimize other fans and make sports, a fun thing, not fun."

    Sports are (spoiler alert) a form of entertainment. And different fans experience sports in different ways. So, if you personally feel bandwagonism is wrong, the answer is simple. Don't jump on one.

    Meanwhile, if a person who doesn't normally root for the Cubs jumped onboard the bandwagon during the World Series run, more power to them. 

Relish the Good Stuff

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    If you've been a sports fan long enough, you know the moments of glory can be hard to come by (unless you're a youngish New England Patriots fan).

    When your team wins a title, or even a big game, revel in it. Record the game and watch it again later. Buy the championship merchandise. Splurge on tickets, go to the victory parade.

    The good times don't have to be just about victories, either.

    A great sports moment could simply be watching a game with friends and loved ones. As much as sports fans love to debate, disagree and argue, they also love to share games with each other. 

    If you are a big-time sports fan, chances are you can look back on your life and pinpoint at least a few times when that fandom brought you an overwhelming sense of companionship and joy.  

    Relish that good stuff. It's what it's all about.