Sports for Dummies: A self-inflicted emotional battering ram

Michelle Fredrickson

As sports dummies, we have become pretty good at one thing – dealing with the crippling feelings of defeat in our sports-loving friends whenever their team does not win.

My brother-in-law, for example, is a huge Broncos fan. I recall the year the Seahawks, my home team, played the Broncos in the Super Bowl – I was secretly hoping the Broncos would win so my brother would not feel sad.

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Even I have felt this from time to time. In my last column I mentioned that baseball is the only sport I like – specifically the Seattle Mariners. This weekend, the Seattle Mariners snatched defeat from the jaws of victory and lost a six-run lead in the 9th inning. Some of my friends were distraught by this, and angsty Facebook statuses abounded. Even I felt a twinge of sadness.

There are some teams, like the Mariners, that always seem to lose, but those teams still have loyal fans who endure the emotional pain of loss after loss after loss. We all know somebody who is really into Ram football, convinced they are the best team in the world, even though ostensibly they are not a very good team.

This weekend’s game got me thinking – why do people continue to root for losing teams when it seems to be a self-inflicted emotional battering Ram?

I thought about this and asked some of my sports-loving brethren for their thoughts, and it seems to come down to an unspoken code of conduct. Most sports fans are raised on a sport, and it is considered a treacherous act to stop rooting for their team just because they are not performing well. It is a social code as well – those who leave when the team is down on its luck are dubbed as ‘bandwagon fans’ or ‘not real fans,’ all of which could have negative ramifications for the social expectations built up around sports.

Being a fan of anything comes with certain expectations. I am a fan of a lot of things, and even if they are not sports related, the principle still applies. It is like when people call themselves “Lord of the Rings” fans but have never read any of the books.

We all have criteria for what makes a ‘true fan’ of something we care about. Am I a true “Doctor Who” fan if I have not watched the original seasons? Am I a true pizza fan if I only eat cheese pizza?

The criteria for true sports fandom are no different. It is interwoven into our society that a person cannot be a ‘real’ sports fan unless they stick with their team through thick and thin. However a person finds the team they decide is theirs, once they have committed to that team they are in it for the long haul.

My brother-in-law grew up in Portland without a football team. He decided as a kid that his team was the Denver Broncos. Ever since then, he has been extremely committed. When he married my sister, orange was one of the colors at the wedding. He might live in Seattle now, but the Broncos are still his team, and he watches and cheers for them every single game they play.

Sports are an important part of a lot of people’s lives. Just as it matters to me to always win trivia contests to be perceived as a ‘real’ fan of “Lord of the Rings,” it matters to them to keep their reputation as a true fan strong.

I try to keep this in mind when my friends are miserable because a team they root for lost, yet again. I have to maintain sympathy for them, rather than simply rolling my eyes and asking them why they care. We all have things that we have to be true to.

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So fellow sports dummies, if you find yourself in the company of others who are bemoaning a losing team, try to be nice to them about it. They are just fulfilling society’s expectations.

Collegian sports columnist Michelle Fredrickson can be reached by email at sports@collegian.com or on Twitter @mfredrickson42