In Praise of Fair-Weather Fandom
In The Atlantic’s May issue, Derek Thomspon argued that rooting for great teams and great players is more fulfilling than unconditionally supporting your sad-sack local franchise.
Leave it to a Yankees fan to write the arrogant, superficial drivel of D. Thompson’s “In Praise of Fair-Weather Fandom.”
Thompson belies the fact that championships reward longtime fans far more than mercenaries. If someone roots for a team for three months and explodes in joy when they win, that person is purely a sociopath.
That team-owner billionaires are wolves in wolves’ clothing isn’t exactly news. Thompson almost makes a cogent point about following individual players in the era of free agency, but Seinfeld made that argument more clearly—“rooting for laundry”—decades ago.
For better or worse, team sports is culture, not a collection of tchotchkes set up to race.
Shea Stadium, N.Y.
Kudos to Derek Thompson for bringing fair-weather fandom out of the closet.
I grew up in Vermont in the 1950s and ’60s. The constant in Vermont is an absolute hatred of anything New York. This began in the 1700s when Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys tarred and feathered surveyors from the Empire State. It continued, in my teen years, with all those pushy intermediate skiers in the latest equipment clogging the lift lines at Stowe.
And the Red Sox just couldn’t get the job done.
Out of necessity I became a Dodgers fan in the glory days of Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale. As the Dodgers later demonstrated an inverse relationship between salary and success, I became more fickle. I mostly tune in towards the end of the season. Any team that might beat the Yankees is my team. If the Yankees aren’t there, the choice is random and emotional.
Of course, in 2004 I stayed up late listening to game four of the World Series, on a scratchy radio, to bear witness to the end of “The Curse.” I even pretend to take some small credit for that victory. After game three of the American League Championship Series, I was so frustrated I wore a New York bow tie to work. The Sox won the next eight games and the World Series.
Derek Thompson makes a persuasive argument in favor of bandwagon fandom. He even goes so far as to invoke Marxist thought!
But he ignores the fact that, along with food and sex, belonging is a fundamental human drive: that is, the notion of tribalism, identity, community. I think this is the powerful instinct behind hometown loyalty, and is not to be trifled with. Yes, it’s true: We die-hard fans are essentially cheering for a uniform, not an assemblage of stars and journeymen. So what? We are human, and in an atomized and individualistic culture, this is our belonging.
There is also the counterintuitive idea of suffering. In an age of self-actualization and the reckless pursuit of personal happiness, stoic ideals of perseverance, toughness, and the purifying power of pain have lost their currency. Suffering builds character. It’s excellent preparation for the many adversities of life. As the fan of a hockey team that hasn’t won a championship since 1967, I should know.
Finally, Thompson contradicts himself. He talks about the delusion of the “durability of happiness.” Yet he advocates selling one’s soul for the fleeting happiness of tagging along for the cheap thrill of a win by a team to which one has only the shallowest allegiance. I would argue that the deeper the attachment, the more durable the happiness. My Blue Jays last won in 1993, and I’m still dining out on that thrill. My simple arithmetic is that you get out what you put in.
It seems that everything these days is transient, contingent, transactional; the one thing that is constant and deep and meaningful is one’s hometown team. Thompson can sell his soul for a cheap win. Me, I’d rather suffer honestly than proclaim victory!
Thunder Bay, Ont.
In his wonderful article, Derek Thompson fails to recognize one highly valuable asset of loyal fans: romantic appeal. My wife of 51 years affirms that Cubs fans make the best husbands: loyalty, “for better, for worse.”
Derek Thompson’s article about “fair-weather fans” explains that it is okay to stop supporting the local professional sports team if they are on a losing streak, and root for winners instead. I agree, except that the article suggests that one reason locals feel pressured to support the local team, even if it’s losing, is that they don’t have a lot of choices. I don’t agree that having multiple teams per city would be a solution.
As mentioned in the article, London has several professional soccer teams. I was born and raised in São Paulo, Brazil, where sports are organized the same way as in London. One problem with having many opposing teams in the same city is that it can create conflict. I have witnessed multiple fights due to rivalry. I grew up as a soccer fan, but my parents didn’t let me attend games until I turned 15 because of how dangerous it can get. Confrontations like this can destroy the whole purpose of sports, just like they destroyed my passion for soccer; I started associating soccer with violence.
After living in the United States and experiencing sports here, I believe that having one team per city can really bring people together. Therefore, the issue is not whether one city has multiple teams, but how devoted the fans are. I think it’s okay to stop supporting a team once they start losing. Abandoning the local team shouldn’t hurt the “civic bonds” and can be a good way to pressure the owners to make a change so that the team can start winning again.
Sabrina Nicacio Gomes
Derek Thompson replies:
Thank you to everybody who responded to my modest proposal, especially to Josh, who in the process of calling me an “arrogant” “sociopath” (touché) revealed the true nature of his animosity. There are two New York baseball teams; and he’s sided with the one that hasn’t won the World Series since the Reagan administration. Josh, life is the sum of our choices. Choose more wisely.