There is a dude in my fantasy league who refuses to have Yankees or Mets on his team. Doesn't matter to him how good those players are, his burning hatred for those squads cannot be compromised. We play in a full keeper league, and he's had Mark Teixeira on his team since Teixeira was a rookie, and now he's currently shopping him around because he signed with New York in the offseason. He'll probably take less than what Teixeira is worth because he hates the Yankees that much. I admire that stubborn loyalty to a principle, because much as I wish that I did, I don't share it. A few years ago, when the Tribune Company was negotiating a new contract with our newspaper guild, and it looked for awhile like we might have to go on strike, I was so frustrated, I decided I would never own any Chicago Cubs on my fantasy team. Ever. Problem was, Aramis Ramirez was coming off a really good season, and you know how hard it is to find a young third baseman who hits for average and power. In the end, I kept him, but I felt a little dirty about it. I wonder if fantasy sports hasn't dulled me a bit in that department. People who take their fantasy leagues seriously end up developing an emotional connection to their players, I think. And so rivalries get tempered a bit.
I suppose this is why professional sports seems so silly to some people, mainly snotty intellectuals who think it's beneath them. But I sort of enjoy studying the way we balance an emotional connection to an athlete vs. an emotional connection to a team. As you know, I'm a Kobe Bryant fan, and I've been one for his entire career. But if I had to be honest with myself, it's probably only because I'm a Laker fan. I think I feel about him the way Buffy, Xander, Willow and Giles felt about Faith in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. As long as he's fighting for the good guys, it's cool, sexy, even fascinating to watch. But if Kobe switched sides and suited up for the Celtics, kind of like when Faith started fighting for the mayor, I'm sure he'd become my sworn enemy. I actually really like LeBron James, both as a person and as a player, but if the Lakers meet up with the Cavs in the NBA Finals, I know I'm going to be irrationally furious every time he gets a favorable call.
As a journalist, though, I do wish sometimes that fans would step back and be a little more objective in certain situations. When newspapers run stories about NCAA violations that coaches or players have allegedly committed, rarely is the reaction "This looks like it's true, and I'm really disappointed in our staff or our players." It's usually more akin to "This is perfectly fine if another school does this! Why doesn't the media write stories about their dirty program! This is just another opportunity to sell newspapers!" Yet those same people snicker when it's another school. Sometimes the athlete playing for your favorite team actually is an SOB, and that doesn't mean you have to defend him just because he happens to wear your team's colors. It doesn't make you less of a fan if you say, "You know what? The hell with this person. I'm loyal to the team, not this guy."
By the way, if Greivis Vasquez played for Duke, you think he'd make it out of College Park alive?