I’m sure that, for as long as organized team sports have been around, so too has an unofficial, unwritten code of conduct for sports fans. The idea of the ‘true’ sports fan, the one who suffers through years of heartbreak, rides the ups and downs of their team and of course finally has their loyalty rewarded with a championship is an idea that most people think of with fondness. On the other hand, the ‘band-wagon-er,’ who changes who they support every few years as the cyclical nature of sports becomes evident, rooting for whatever flavour of the month happens to have a chance at a championship and celebrating as if there’s been no other team for them all along when they win, is despised among most people who consider themselves ‘real’ fans. But how much of these two very different archetypes are based in reality? And, similarly, is it possible to be a ‘true’ fan and support more than one team?
Personally, I too buy into these pre-conceived notions of what a real fan is. I myself have had more ‘successes’ as a fan than probably most. Only one of the major teams I support has yet to win a championship in my lifetime (thanks Bruins). So, when discussing favourite teams with other fans, I find myself often getting defensive about my fandom, feeling the need to prove to others that while the Yankees, Spurs, Cowboys and Red Devils may be more successful than most, I am certainly no band wagon-er.
All that being said, when I look back at how I came to find my various sporting allegiances, I realize that most of them started with a single player. Rickey Henderson of the Yankees, David Robinson of the San Antonio Spurs, Emmitt Smith of the Dallas Cowboys and David Beckham of Manchester United all attracted me to their teams and in my own personal situation, I kept my loyalty to these teams even after the player had moved on. But that in itself raises an interesting question, would it be wrong for my allegiance to lie with these players instead of team? Could I be considered any less of a sports fan if I had become an Oakland A’s fan in 1989 or a Real Madrid supporter in 2003 when Rickey and Becks changed respective clubs? I don’t believe so.
I’ve also found that in most sports, I have from time to time adopted what I call a “soft-spot” team. A team that I begin to root for based on the roster they have at that time, which usually have been unsuccessful in recent memory but have managed to put together some players or a style of play, or something that I like. Examples of these teams would be the 76ers in the NBA when they drafted Allen Iverson, a favourite college player of mine, or Tottenham Hotspur in English Football whose squad was full of young, skilful talent but hadn’t been able to achieve much with it. These kinds of teams I find myself rooting for unless they’re playing ‘My Team.’ Do these secondary, fleeting allegiances mean I’m not wholeheartedly committed to my teams? Again, I certainly don’t believe so.
If this is the case though, and it is indeed possible to, in this age of free agency, root for players above franchises, to have other teams that you root for on a temporary or conditional basis without affecting your status as a ‘true’ fan, then where is the line drawn? What separates a real fan from a casual one? If I’m able to truly support Tottenham against anyone except Manchester United, should I be labelled a fickle supporter?
What do you think?