Thursday, August 25, 2011

The punch-your-ticket theory of fan allegiance

I am interested in the etiquette of fan allegiance. Humans are social creatures and look for connections that say "we're in this together, and those other people are not". Us versus them.

Why do fan allegiances in sports matter, and why do people wear them on their sleeves, literally and figuratively? Because they are safe. I could tell you my stances on politics and religion, and then we'd really have a connection -- or not -- because that stuff really matters. It affects how we live our lives and love our loved ones.

One's fan allegiances are stand-ins for the important social dividers. So, within that system of made-up battle lines, what is the ultimate transgression? To support one team in a given sport or league and then switch to another team within the same sport or league.

For example, here is a typical bit of trash talk in a forum about Arsenal FC:
Dude, why dont you go support Shitty [a reference to cash-splashing Manchester City FC] or Chelski [a reference to the Russian billionaire who owns Chelsea FC]? They need you there.
Translation: your opinion is so heretical that you might as well switch teams, and at that switch to a team that might give you a quick payoff on your fickle fan capital.

A while back some of my long-time friends playfully ridiculed me, because my political views migrated from one side of the spectrum to the other and then back to the first. I freely admit that in the middle phase, I was under a magic spell (read: girlfriend). I shake my head, because it points out a basic character flaw, that at base level I just want people to like me, and the result is intellectual laziness, hypocrisy, or dishonesty, in increasing severity of the crime.

So, here is the number one rule of fan etiquette: once you punch your ticket -- for example, once you become a fan of the Cincinnati Reds, at age six, at the smoothest hum of the Big Red Machine -- you can never un-punch that ticket. You can never be a fan of another Major League Baseball team. Sorry, Twins.

The Bengals keep me from being a true Vikings fan, ever, although enough current and former Vikings were Buckeyes to afford me associate fan status. Carter, Smith, Stringer, Winfield, etc.

Once you've punched your ticket, the currency in the community is how long you have been a supporter. The format of fan forums displays this for all to see! My BigSoccer profile says "Join Date: Jul 2006".

Here, for your reading pleasure, are tickets punched, and moment of punching.
All college sports: Ohio State, 1970s, blocked punt vs. Michigan, Kelvin Ransey, Clark Kellogg.
MLB: Reds. Damn, I wish I remember more about the 1976 World Series. All I really remember is the next year, Reggie, Reggie, ...
NFL: Bengals. Even before the '82 Super Bowl, before the -59 degree AFC Championship versus Dan Fouts. We're talking Bob Trumpy and Boobie Clark Bengals.
NBA: Never happened. Cavs, are you kidding? Leaves open getting into the Wolves on the ground floor.
Long period of thinking that being a rabid sports fan was somehow unbecoming behavior for a serious, thinking person...
Current period of not caring anymore, riding a wave of first escapism and then shared experience with kids...
Arsenal FC: semi-finals of the Champions League, when Crazy Jens Lehmann stared down Villareal's Riquelme and advised him not to make a penalty shot.
Lynx: Third home game of this season. I instantly knew we would be going back to many games.

So, to the long-sufferers, I honor your commitment and patience through the tough times and acknowledge that your experience of whatever fun things are on the way will be richer than that of a newcomer. But know that my ticket is punched.

And all you people who jumped on board more recently than the third home game of this season? Glory hunters.

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