All Fan Bases (Relatively) Suck


Yesterday, Mark Trible had heads nodding because with needed caveats, he implored fans to embrace the hate, no matter how irrational it may seem.

While sports "hate" is fine within the specter of just cheering for your team, it's fueled even more by the matters that make absolutely no sense. There’s arguably nothing more misguided and fully irrational in sports than how a fan base will prop itself up while tearing down others for mostly the same behaviors they accuse “them” of.  Three unfortunate side effects of blind and unreasonable fandom are common threads of all fan bases.

It might get ugly in here.


It’s the broadest and easiest stroke to paint in sports. A majority of fans root for their hometown teams, either through family inheritance (multiple generations of loyalists) or proximity (they’re here, I’m here, I like the history "we" have). Certainly there is nothing wrong with that, and because of such local pride, sports thankfully exist on a larger scale than the neighborhood park.

(Let it be said that unless it’s hopping bandwagons of whoever won championships last year, one shouldn’t exactly knock someone for rooting for teams outside of home.)

The weird part about geography is that we project an identity of the hometown — if not all of its civic issues — on to a bunch of athletes and coaches who are, more often than not, from somewhere else.  As an example, when some fans say that the Pittsburgh Steelers embody the city’s blue-collar, lunch-pail ethic, they may assume that both the city and team display such grit more than any other and that the players will carry that flag as well. These players are from Provo, UT (Brett Keisel), Detroit (Larry Foote) and even Bellville, Texas (Emmanuel Sanders).

The idea that fans claim superiority over another group because of their city or state is kind of ironic. “Our homegrown players from random locations and imported free agents that used to be on some other team are better than yours!”

Hometown pride is beautiful, if one is fortunate enough to have such a thing. However, the moment we choose to rip apart other fans because of where they call home is the moment where we conveniently ignore the truth about our humble abodes. And that truth can emerge when something despicable happens that shouldn’t have a place in the stands or anywhere else.



It rears its ugly head at every venue. However, when specific incidents make headlines, it becomes an indictment of the fan base, the city/town a team plays in and on occasion, the team itself. Take, for instance, the racist jerk that was tossed from Fenway Park on Monday night. Having already crossed the line between respectful fandom (and probably sexism; no way in hell he steals a home run ball on a man like that) and superbly asinine behavior, he kicked it up a notch by launching racial epithets towards some Detroit Tigers fans while being escorted out of the stadium.

Immediately, the expected condemnation of Boston rained down upon the news cycle and every comment section that discussed it.

Now, certainly Beantown has an unfortunate public history of racial strife that counters the liberal perception of Massachusetts and the uneasy trailblazing set by its NBA Celtics and the NHL Bruins. Even in a discussion of the incident Tuesday night on The Exchange, Sumit Dasgupta reminded listeners that though the drunken idiot is one of but very few Red Sox fans who openly express their bigotry, it was unsurprising that it happened.

However, this is where fan bases can get things twisted. The "isms," most especially racism, have no geographic bounds. Every place has its own ugly history, and while there shouldn’t be a competition over which is more open or closed to people of any color, fans shouldn’t be so quick to throw stones. As mentioned before, indicting a fan base while ignoring the skeletons in your city’s closet proves the phrase, "Ignorance is bliss.”

Whether it was the integration of SEC football in the mid-1960s or the rise of Jeremy Lin in 2012, racism seeps into everyone’s sports.

And it’s almost sad to say that there’s something that looms equally as large, if not more, than racism. It’s only obvious when a team is winning.



Remember when your favorite team was a wasteland of washed-out free agents, unpolished rookies, unstable management and an owner without an apparent clue? Well, here’s the thing about that owner: There was a clue, but you or the media weren’t in on it.

He/it (corporate owners) was itching for the day that the team has something that fills the seats of a quarter-filled stadium. Whether it was an actual contending team or the chase of a legendary record in a league’s history, the owner seizes upon an opportunity to find people with more discretionary income they haven’t targeted successfully before. And because big-time sports are exercises in capitalism and culture "vulturism," he/it knew that when there was something people wanted to be a part of, it was the right time to raise prices.

Chasing that cherished record could end up being a brief moment in the team’s history and accounting ledgers, but a contender plays games that matter down the stretch. A contender plays for titles and, at times, wins them. A contender creates a new kind of demand that didn’t exist when it was an also-ran. A contender brings in the moneyed crowd.

Instead of a couple of suites filled by birthday gatherings and small businesses, all are filled by every major corporation in town with a large sales team and a healthy hobnob budget. Where the cheap seat, twice-a-week attendees normally huddle together is now surrounded with Johnny-come-latelys who stopped being fans of the team until today. Ticket prices go up, family fun packages go by the wayside, and words like "premium" and "ultimate fan experience" make the “middle class” sick.

With the new fans come new problems as turf wars take place. Just look to the so-called wine-and-cheese San Francisco 49ers fans who have shown some “unbecoming” elements that made Raiders fans point and shout to the world about the bandwagoners who don’t know how to act.

(They aren’t exactly lying, but winning highlights all.)

Your fan base is not immune. All one has to do is take a gander through Deadspin’s “Why Your Team Sucks” series to discover the classism that envelopes some teams. The Jets (working class) are having a field day taunting Giants (blue bloods) fans about the dismal start. The Patriots (old money) didn’t have fans until 2001, if you heard it from Steelers fans who wanted their team to be called the team of the 2000s.

"Hate" might be fun when you want to see your favorite team snatch victory from a rival or embarrass them in a long-awaited rematch. Yet, whether we care to admit it or not, there’s not much different between the sporting tribes we choose to claim. It’s not always about counting the rings of yesteryear or signing the biggest stars in the sport. It’s not always about falling in love with a storied franchise or even coming aboard with a new team writing its own chapter.

At its worst, fandom is almost like the cliché about pointing a finger. When we point at “them” and scream about how much “they suck,” we’re definitely not looking at the three fingers pointing right back at us.

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