23 April 2007

The Price of Loyalty, The Duty of Fandom

What's the point of being a fan?

I can't really answer the question, and I tend to believe the question has no answer. If you get something out of being a fan for a particular team, that's enough for me. I have personal reasons why I support a given team. For DC United, my place of residence, the culture of support, the frequent examples of enjoyable soccer, a sense of a decency and integrity... all of those things feed the reasons why I support this team as opposed to another. Others may have different lists, or different priorities.

The next question I find a little more interesting: As fans, what should our behavior be? What are the limits of support?

I bring this up because of Aaron Stollar's match report on the Kansas City - United game. Aaron has taken some hits, both on Large Message Boards and even in our comments when we reacted to his article. Essentially, the most frequently leveled charge is that he's bailing on the team in a rough patch. I can see how some people come to that interpretation, and as a good follower of modern literary theory I agree that authorial intent doesn't matter, but I'm not going to say that Aaron is less of a fan for what he said, even though I think his analysis is flawed. The fact is, you can't determine what kind of a fan someone is based on what they write, or even how they feel.

Here's my feeling on the matter. At the stadium, from the first whistle to the final whistle, I will cheer and support my team. That's my part of the bargain. And that word "team" is even a fuzzy concept. You'll hear people spout aphorisms like "No player is larger than the team." Well, sure, but what exactly does that tell you? Is the team then the sum of its players and management? Is there some platonic ideal of the team that we owe allegiance to, that not even the front office or the players really comprise? Personally, I tend towards that interpretation: There is a team in my head that I am supporting that may have nothing to do with what is on the field or is being managed.

And what is that team? One built around three co-equal principles.

  1. A team that works to win championships.
  2. A team that plays enjoyable soccer.
  3. A team that acts with integrity and dignity.

Can I say of DC United that it always exemplifies these principles? No, I can not. But I can say that more often then not it overlaps these ideals, and to that end I can feel that my support is not wasted. But if I felt that this team had abandoned those objectives for something else: whether winning ugly or dishonestly, or not caring about winning compared to bottom-line calculations, or by treating its fans like cattle, then I could walk away form this team. Really, I could. In a moment. There are limits which, fortunate me, we have not come close to. But loyalty should be circumscribed by something. I'm not going to root for an organization I don't share a vision with just because it's my organization due to an accident of geography.

Note that even if this team fails to win championships, I will support this team if the effort to winning is apparent. But I also recognize that to win championships occasionally calls for changes: In the players, in the management, in the executives, in the fans... whatever. And writing about the need for changes, when perceived, does not, in my mind, make you less of a fan. In fact, if one were to ignore such things I would argue you are less of a fan. Blindly supporting mediocrity is a stupid position, and counter-productive to a successful franchise at any level. I know we all have grandiose associations with unrequited love, but once you get out of high school you realize how stupid unrequited love is, A.E. Housman poetry aside.

In general, I'm not going to pass judgment on who is a truer fan. I think that such judgments are tacky, clique-building exercises that reflect a certain degree of immaturity. As long as you call yourself a fan, and have some idea why you're a fan, that's good enough for me. Now, does that mean that overly-cynical and pessimistic people can't be jerks (and I'm not talking about Aaron here at all, but rather the guy sitting two rows behind me looking at the pitch and yelling how everyone is crap at the top of his lungs.) Nope, he's still a fan, he's just also an unpleasant dick. The two aren't mutually exclusive. Aaron's criticism is constructive, so he is not a dick. It's clear that his objectives are for the success of the team. So he's a fan as well, and just as good as any other.

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At 23 April, 2007 14:02, Blogger Sean said...

Well said, d.

Some think that someone needs to be an unrelenting "homer" to be a fan. I, well, disagree. I remember getting a couple glares from people around me when I tried to stand up for the ref, even when the call went against United.

Apparently, when a DCU player goes down, it's a terrible foul that needs a card. When an opposing player goes down, it's diving. Every time.

At 23 April, 2007 14:17, Anonymous haveyouseenlucky said...

You think too much.

I am a fan because it's fun.

At 23 April, 2007 14:35, Anonymous Joanna said...

But, lucky, if D didn't think so much, what would we read while avoiding doing work?

Sean: when a DCU player goes down, it's definitely a terrible foul that needs a card. Sometimes after the second or third replay it becomes less awful, even to the point where it may be possible to admit he just slipped and fell down. It's funny how that works.

At 23 April, 2007 16:55, Blogger D said...

Lucky: Of course I think too much. I write a soccer blog. It isn't all Talking Heads lyrics, y'know.

At 23 April, 2007 17:41, Blogger The Manly Ferry said...

In case you're interested in another baseline definition of a fan, here's my stab at it: someone who buys a ticket to a sporting event featuring the same team more than, oh, three times in a given season with the basic intention of going to see said team.

Really, I'll go see whomever is in reach and within my life and income budget. When the teams in question sucks, I have fun; when the team wins, I may or may not have more fun - it all depends really. I'm a pretty basic animal.

Hell, I'd chuck the three-game minimum in a pinch. Anyone who can be bothered to know with ballpark certainty how Team X is doing in the current season counts for me.

And season-ticket holders: dang me, that's a "super fan." I've only managed that status three times in my life.

P.S. If you know Aaron Stoller personally, tell him some random dude in Portland, Oregon appreciates him typing out his thoughts.

At 23 April, 2007 17:47, Anonymous Laurie said...

"There is a team in my head that I am supporting that may have nothing to do with what is on the field or is being managed."

Interesting thought. I'm wondering if there is a male/female dichotomy here. For me to support a team, I have to support the people on the team. Or at least the majority of them. I have to feel I have some idea of who I'm supporting, or my emotions can't be engaged. (Okay, granted, there's no guarantee my idea of who they are is related to reality. But still. It's all about what my heart thinks.)

This is one of the reasons it's easier for me to support MLS than, say, MLB. You know off the bat that if somebody's making minimum wage to play, they're doing it because they love it. And that love of the game makes me value the player more and feel more connected to the team.

Although my favorite player in the universe is/was Zidane, and he didn't make pennies, so I guess this shoots that theory all to hell. But that's a whole 'nother story.

At 25 April, 2007 09:30, Anonymous Goose said...

Well, I certainly regret (and apologize for) going so far as to call Aaron a douchebag. I do feel, however, that there's a different standard among writers when it comes to fandom.

A a blog like this, while a "fan" site, is somewhere where objectivity and criticism has a natural home as it's got a certain amount of "neutrality" to it. I expect a different standard from commentary on an official supporters' club website. It doesn't need to be pollyanna-ish, but such a sharp reaction to bad early results seems unfitting for a place where unrelenting loyalty is the idea behind such a group.

I guess I was largely upset by the undertone that the club "owed" the writer something.


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