Never forget a popular yet unofficial sports idiom, perhaps one of the most important of all: “fan” is short for “fanatic.”
To be “fanatic” means to be filled with excessive zeal, or be a person who displays such behavior for an extreme religious or political cause. Sports are most certainly a religion to many, and for sure these days they’re filled with politics.
I was reminded of such a thing last week when I spoke with a local public official who had taken to social media and let it be known they were finished with pro football. As in, after a lifelong dedication to Washington’s NFL team, currently in search of a new nickname, the public official told us all, publicly, that enough was enough.
It’s a hot topic, for sure. And I could tell during our chat that the person was adamant and passionate in their stance. No more ties to the team, since the official felt it buckled under corporate pressure to remove its nickname. Whether you agree with the D.C. team’s recent decision, the idea is fans do these things when faced with a turning point such as this.
But my discussion with the public official felt unique. In this case, the fan in question is an outlier. And there are certainly other cases in which fans break their allegiances with their favorite sports and/or teams.
On the whole, though, fans come back.
Are there periods of unrest in sports and of low attendance numbers? Of course. The NFL, for instance, took a hit in 2016 when players knelt during the national anthem in protest of racial injustice. And yes, some fans never returned as a result.
Baseball had a tough time coming out of the labor strike in the mid-1990s. I know a former family member who swore off the national pastime, and hasn’t paid for a ticket in nearly 30 years (he has been to a few games for free, though).
Hockey and basketball have had similar setbacks. Yet fans returned to follow.
And they will again, even amid this coronavirus pandemic that has us yearning for sports with each passing summer day.
Baseball’s all-star game was supposed to be last week. Instead, we’re waiting (with fingers crossed) for “Opening Day” at the end of this week. Then it’s a 60-game dash to the finish, so long as everyone stays healthy.
The NBA is preparing its bubble in Orlando, Florida, where all games will be played, while the NHL is making plans to head to Canada at a pair of sites to host its remaining regular season and then playoffs.
Fans will watch. That’s what they do, as fanatics. They compartmentalize and cast aside any aspersions for prior wrongdoings. They want sports back in the worst way.
And when fans watch, they want their teams to win. No matter the cost, a lot of the time.
It’s why Orioles fans held their noses in the 2000s and rooted for Albert Belle to drive in runs, trying to forget what sort of a jerk he was during his days in Cleveland. (Feel free to insert a few other players who came to Baltimore around the same time.)
It’s why Ravens fans (and you know you’re out there) would do their best to support, say, Antonio Brown, should Baltimore have him on its free-agent radar. Business would be booming if AB found the end zone and the Ravens found a way to keep him on his best behavior. Just keep it on the down-low that you’re cheering for him.
Remember when Deion Sanders showboated after an interception or a touchdown? Disgusting, until he’s doing it for your team.
Steelers fans still wear Ben Roethlisberger jerseys despite his discretion from a decade ago. Eagles fans should be upset with wide receiver DeSean Jackson for his recent remarks (he apologized publicly), but don’t look for Philadelphia to cut ties with him just yet.
And that means Philly fans will be looking for Jackson to put up big numbers this fall, whenever the NFL can play its games.
Boo and hiss when it’s the other team, join forces to spew vitriol when your side isn’t getting the calls. But when a former public enemy No. 1 makes his or her way to your squad, well, let bygones by bygones.
It’s what fans do ― forget about how much they disagree with, or even hate, certain sports figures for their opinions and lack of social grace, just as long as their favorite team is winning.
And with sports trying to survive during this nationwide hiatus, fans can’t wait to have their games back.
Are all fans like that, blind in allegiance no matter the circumstances? Of course not. Plenty of fans left and, well, went and found something else to do in their spare time.
I say kudos to you, because it’s not as easy as it sounds.
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As for the rest of the you, hold your nose if you must for what feels like a variety of reasons. But try to have fun when sports welcome you back.