We Don’t Cheer Teams, We Cheer Corporations [On The Contrary] Mar07

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We Don’t Cheer Teams, We Cheer Corporations [On The Contrary]

We’re in that odd time of the year right now for sports, when nothing is happening and everything is happening. The two active professional sports, basketball and hockey, are coming into the final stretches of their regular seasons as teams start getting serious in jockeying for playoff positions. The NFL is getting ready for free agency and the draft. And baseball is starting its spring training, for anyone over 40 or the lame-o stat heads with social disorders who still watch that played out pastime. Oh, and March Madness is about to start.

Everything is about to happen, but nothing is actually happening at the moment. It’s like the scene in THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE TWO TOWERS when all the orcs march up to walls of Helms Deep and just stand there looking up as the defenders on the walls look down on them. We’re so intent on what’s about to happen that there is not time to consider how we got here.

But in this “deep breath before the plunge,” I’ve found the rare opportunity to evaluate my sports enthusiasm from a more rational and logical position, and have come to a realization. While pragmatism and logic must be deployed by the owners and general managers of sports franchises across the country, they have no place in fandom, and trying to think about why you love the teams you do will only make it apparent that you have devoted an inordinate amount of your life to watching and thinking about something that doesn’t make much sense.

Now don’t get me wrong, I think there is an absolute need to occupy our time with things that are inconsequential, especially in a modern world when our minds are free of spending every moment of our days toiling to keep ourselves fed, clothed, and sheltered and safe from predators and invaders. And sports is perhaps one of the best, in that it can cross political lines, social lines, and always gives me something to talk about with my dad. It also gives an outlet for vicarious aggression and the sense of victory — that is, so long as my team wins.

But what am I cheering for? Teams change every year, each season losing players and brining in new ones. If you stay behind a team long enough you won’t recognize any players. This week, my team, the Pittsburgh Steelers, cut loose three veteran players—Hines Ward, James Farrior, and Aaron Smith. These guys were on the team before I even cared to follow football (admittedly I was a late bloomer). Hines Ward in particular was THE quintessential Steeler — thinking of the team without him feels a bit like thinking of the Muppets without Kermit. And now he’s gone. Plenty of great players I’ve rooted for are still there, but one day they will be gone as well. And I will likely still be cheering for the Steelers, even though it will be an entirely different team.

In the world of fandom, we tend to respect, or at least give a nod to the “long suffering” fan bases (ahem, Cleveland), honoring people who support teams through losing years in hopes that some day they will turn things around. We also tend to demonize perennial powerhouses unless they happen to be our home team (I might not care about baseball, but I still hate the Yankees). But does this really make sense? A team is a product, and the franchise is the company that puts out that product. In other fields we don’t support the company — we choose the product that is best. I don’t go to see a movie because Warner Bros. produced it — I see it because it’s a movie I want to see. Yet in sports, the Steelers could field a terrible team of boorish thugs (some would claim they already do — hello again, Cleveland) and I would still choose them over an exemplary team of humanitarians who forfeit 50% of their salaries to charity. And I would be proud of it.

I think a lot of this comes from a misplaced sense of nationalistic pride in our hometowns. This is encouraged by sports franchises, which usually have no connection to their cities at all and could easily pick up and move towns on a moments notice should a better deal present itself (I’m really picking on Cleveland today). So they’re not actually a city, but just a company that happens to be working out of it and using its name as branding. (The public owned Green Bay Packers are the one exception.)

Collegiate teams are a little different, as your college is in fact a club to which you once belonged (and likely accrued tremendous debt for that honor). Ditto with high school, but in both these cases you are still not really cheering a team but the institution that fields the product.

If you’re like me, the idea of cheering for a company out to make a profit is a little unsettling. If not, you probably like Ayn Rand. Form me, I’d much rather think of cheering my team as supporting my city or my alma mater. Hell, it’s better to think of it as cheering for the colors or the logos. So many non-sports fans are ridiculed for cheering for the team with the prettiest uniforms, yet really this is something we’re all doing to a point. Most fans don’t look at the makeup of players and coaches each year and decide which team they will cheer on through the season, and those that do are usually put down as “not real fans.” And I suppose this is true—they’re not fanatics. They’re more like sports connoisseurs.

I’m not going to buck the trend. I’ll still support my Steelers and Penguins (note the possessive pronoun—I must be a fan). I’ll bond with the new players and chemistries that form in the next season, and the season after that, on and on. I’ll defend my position, and deny ever espousing an opinion belittling fandom, and pretend I never wrote this. But deep down I’ll always know the truth—my real loyalty lies not with people, but with colors and a logo.

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image credit: daveynin