For Your City, For Yourself

September 16, 2012

How far would you go to express the loyalty to your favorite sports teams?

Some people would go as far as to permanently display their colors, no matter how poorly it is done. Others are willing to take part in deplorable acts that change the course of another’s life just because of the colors they’re wearing. But standing alone, are people really fans of a team or more what the team represents?

I had an interesting conversation with my roommates last night. In some ways, you could categorize it as our first actual argument since we began living together last month. My roommates are, bless their hearts, Cleveland sports fans. They live and die (mostly die) with the Browns, Cavaliers and Indians, annually suffering enough heartbreak that would rival a lifetime of disappointment for a non-Cleveland sports fan. I only share their pain during baseball season, as the Indians are the one Cleveland team of which I would consider myself a fan.

In the past, I have really hammered them with jokes, most of which are aimed at the Cleveland Browns organization. Until last night, I’m didn’t fully realize how much that actually affected them.

In order to understand why I was unable to understand them, you have to know what kind of sports fan I am. Passionate, sometimes irrational fandom has never been my deal. Other than the past few years where I firmly believed that Boise State deserved a shot at the national title (had they gone undefeated), I don’t think there are too many instances where anyone can accuse my sports opinions of being irrational.

It isn’t that I don’t have favorite teams. I do, and I fly their flag on game days just like any other fan. However, I am also a self-described “fan of the game”. I can and do watch NFL games without having a horse in the race. I can have a discussion about an NBA or NHL issue without seriously caring how it will affect a particular team. I enjoy sports in a “big picture” kind of way, which is why I seem to care more about the hypocrisy of college sports than the average fan and also why I don’t seem to hate ESPN as much as some of my friends.

The situation that put me into a corner of sorts with regards to my roommates was this: I argued that if they were really Browns fans, they wouldn’t have a problem with the Baltimore Ravens. A perfectly rational statement, I think. The Baltimore Ravens are, technically, the real Cleveland Browns that won four NFL championships in the 1950s and 1960s. They Ravens still even play like those old Browns teams; serviceable offenses with tough, hard-nosed defenses.

Making this argument was, of course, a big mistake. Obviously, I am aware of Art Modell moving the team to Baltimore in 1996 and the way that Cleveland fans still think of Modell. But I overlooked a key part of the equation in fandom when I made my case.

Like fans in Pittsburgh and other Rust Belt towns, Cleveland sports teams are symbolic with the struggles of the town. In a way, the small proportion of men that put on a uniform bearing the city’s name are representative of the people who inhabit the town and surrounding area. There is a feeling of pride, much like the one we experience when the United States takes on other countries in athletic competitions. In addition, Cleveland was the closest city to my roommates growing up, meaning that they learned to love the games by watching Cleveland teams play.

 Unfortunately, I thought about that a little bit too late, because the conversation had ended. They are really no different than me. I have odd allegiances to teams such as Boise State and Tim Tebow, but not because I simply like the blue turf or Tebow-mania. No, instead, and much like my roommates, my allegiances are representative of something bigger, something that transcends the gridiron or the court. Whether it is diehard fans of particular teams or those who root for athletes more on an individual basis, we need those type of fans.

Sports by themselves aren’t that important. Honestly, it’s just entertainment. However, when you think of them as representations of more important things, they become something that actually makes sense to love.

Hopefully, my roommates can accept this as a sort of apology. I’m going to make an attempt to cut down on the amount of jokes about Cleveland sports that I share. Without my roommates’ undying and sometimes admittedly irrational opinions about their Cleveland teams, our house would suck. And so would sports.

– K. Becks

One Response to For Your City, For Yourself

  1. […] It’s been awhile since I’ve written anything about the NFL. Almost three months, actually, and it’s been even longer since I’ve posted something NFL related that wasn’t essentially an apology to my roommates (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, read this). […]

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