I'm getting this out there right now: For a sports fan, I'm remarkably uncompetitive. Beat me at anything, and I probably won't care that much. I hear so many stories about professional athletes who try their hardest at every competitive thing they do (the common “He'll try to beat you at tiddlywinks” pronouncement).
Me? I don't care. I truly don't. The same thing applies when I'm watching sports, too. Apart from a very few select teams, I never care who wins.
This flies in the face of most sports fans I encounter; they watch to see the outcome, to see a remarkable ending in which the team they're rooting for wins. Me? I like exciting endings, too; I just don't care who's happier at the end.
I remember the Lakers-Celtics final last year. I was on a little vacation up at my mom's house, and my brother was there. Both of them refused to let me watch the series on the big plasma screen, so I recorded them and watched the games after they concluded (and after I already knew the result).
My brother walked in one time and asked, “Why are you watching this? You already know who wins.”
I shrugged and replied simply, “I just like watching basketball.”
That's how it is with most of my sports-watching habits. I barely ever have a rooting interest. Even with my home teams, I sort of care, but when it comes down to it, I never take it very hard if they lose. Why? Because I had no input on the team. I didn't make a block, make a three, sack anybody, whatever. All I did was watch, so why should I care if they lose? I'm not part of the team.
I also never use the term “we” when referring to a home sports team. That's another difference I find between me and most sports fans. The vast majority (even the famous Bill Simmons) use “we” when referencing their favorite teams, like they're part of the teams.
They're part of the city, I'll give them that. But they're not part of the team, and apart from buying tickets and attending games, they did nothing to help the team win.
I suppose one can consider purchasing tickets, attending games, studying the rosters, and writing articles regarding the team as reasons why that person can be considered a “part.”
But are they? Really? I've bought plenty of merchandise from teams with which I only have a casual acquaintance (e.g. I bought an Atlanta Braves hat some seven years ago. Not because I feel like I'm part of the Braves, but because I like their hats. That's it. That's all).
But a decent amount of Steelers and Penguins merchandise hangs in my closet (with a few Pirates things stashed in there out of a sense of obligation. Forty-seven straight losing seasons really removes the appeal from a franchise). However, even on game days, I only don those pieces of clothing by accident. I don't make a conscious effort (Of course, if going to a Pittsburgh sports bar during a game, I have to wear those things; I'd be beaten to death otherwise).
Does this make me an apathetic sports fan? Does it mean I don't care as much as other people? In a word, yes. It absolutely does. And I'm okay with that.
I view sports much more as entertainment than some fans. Insult “my” team, and I won't take any offense, because I can't do anything about it. If someone tells me the Steelers suck, well, whatever. If they don't, then the person making that accusation is an idiot. If they do, then that person's correct, and I have no recourse.
Some fans get unbelievably indignant when someone attacks their beloved franchise, but I've never understood why.
At least in the pro ranks, most players don't originate from the city for which they play. Take a look at the Toronto Raptors roster, and look at how many of them are Canadian (you don't really have to).
Not only are none of them Canadian, but almost half the roster doesn't even come from the United States. Turkoglu's from Turkey, Bargnani and Belinelli are both Italian, Calderon was born in Spain, and Nosterovic's from Slovenia.
The other locations? Dallas, TX (Bosh); Los Angeles, CA (Johnson); Las Vegas, NV (Banks); Compton, CA (DeRozan); Pensacola, FL (Evans); Fort Washington, MD (Jack); Okaloosa, IA (O'Bryant); West Memphis, AK (Weems); and West Covina, CA (Wright). Not one from Toronto. Not even close to Toronto.
I can understand why Raptors fans would root for their home team if all the players were from Toronto, because then fans are cheering for players who share the same roots.
But basically, they're cheering for a uniform. They're not cheering for players who represent their city—because the players probably don't care nearly as much as we think about the city in which they play. You can see it when players act like children and demand trades (Brandon Marshall comes to mind), and yet, Broncos fans will cheer and support Marshall if he plays well—even after all the ridiculous behavior he displayed in the offseason (punting balls all over the place. Oh, and that whole “abusing women” thing. Plus all the derogatory remarks he made towards the city and its fans).
Fans just want to win; they don't care how the team does it, or who does it. I've come to that realization, anyway. It's pretty obvious. For all the statements fans make about wanting “quality” players and “good” guys, those two traits fall far, far below the “talent” trait.
But if the fans believe the team represents the city, and that's why fans cheer for the players, why would they cheer for people who misrepresent the city like Marshall does? Like I said, because they really just want to win.
...But they don't win. The fans don't win. The team does. The players do. The fans most certainly do not.
They may win metaphorically—a more upbeat attitude the next day, the chance to rag on friends who supported the opposing team—but they didn't win the game.
Don't get me wrong, I am by no means criticizing these fans or for that type of behavior. This is simply a case of me not understanding.
Growing up in Pittsburgh, sports were—and still are—the most unifying element in the entire city. Everyone follows the teams; everyone has an opinion; everyone cares . It's really amazing. Nothing else does that.
Think about it. Every single aspect of our society creates major divisions, even within cities. Two people can be Steelers fans and root for the team together. But bring up politics or religion, and both of them could be at each other's throats.
The scene in New Orleans after the Super Bowl was absolutely spectacular. A bunch of citizens claimed they stopped believing in God after Hurricane Katrina. But after the Saints won, people's fundamental faith returned, for crying out loud.
Their hometown team winning a football game made them believe in God.
A team, of which fans are not truly a part, wins a championship, and New Orleans citizens go ballistic. They get the date tattooed on the arms and legs, leave ever-growing amounts of gifts on players' properties, call their family members, just bawling, in complete shock and jubilation. And like I said, people started believing in God again.
Granted, a Saints championship had not occurred in absurdly long time (they'd been around for 44 years. Incidentally, check out the Page Two section of ESPN The Magazine's recent issue, and read all the eerie stats surrounding the No. 44).
So part of the bombastic reaction undoubtedly stems from the fact that the situation had never happened, a case in “The first time is always the best.”
But take it out of sports, and I guarantee the reaction won't even be CLOSE to that. If a scientist from New Orleans discovers the cure for cancer (purely hypothetical, so go with me), a bunch of people will care, most definitely. But not nearly as many people will say, “We cured cancer” as fans who claimed, “We won the Super Bowl.” The pride in curing cancer will pale in comparison to the pride of winning a football championship (that's only my opinion . It might not be true, but I think it's likely).
Why do people connect so much with teams?
When the Steelers won their recent championship, I got excited. I got happy. The next day, I was back to normal. Hell, I was back to normal an hour after the game ended.
That may have something to do with the fact that I'd seen it before, whereas the Saints fans never had. But I think it has more to do with me. Plenty of Steelers fans spent days in a drunken haze (although they kinda do that on regular Tuesday-Thursday span).
Anyway, I guess my point is that I don't truly understand why fans care so much about their home team. I watch sports for entertainment, purely and fundamentally. Watching people at the absolute top of their profession, a profession with a path that makes it nearly impossible to reach the highest level, a profession that is so cutthroat, a profession that is comprised of arguably the most competitive people in the entire world. Watching those athletes is what intrigues me. I love watching people who are nearly perfect at doing something.
I get the same thrill when I read truly great writers or watch films by truly great directors.
Watching sporting events to see “my” team, or a team I sort of care about, win—that's not me. But it's probably the majority of sports fans, which is why I'm posing the question to you, the Bleacher Report faithful, who follow their teams and sports and write articles out of passion , not for money. The question is this:
Why do you watch?
P.S. I have a feeling the commentators will really trash me on this one, but I'm okay with that, too.