Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Jonathan L. Burbridge: Fandumb

I grew up in a little town in the middle of the desert just outside of Palm Springs, CA called Desert Hot Springs. Its two claims to fame were that Al Capone had a hideout there, and for several years in the late 80's and early 90's it was the Meth Capital of the World. We had more crystal meth and less teeth per capita than any place on the entire planet!

(The second part of that sentence may not be true, but any visit to the local supermarket sure made it seem that we only had enough teeth to make a complete set for about a third of the town’s population)

I was what you would call an “Indoor Kid,” and when you live in a place that gets in the 120’s in the summertime, quite frankly I can’t see why all Desert People aren’t Indoor Kids.

The only local sports for kids was a non-AYSO soccer league that I played on for one season during my third grade year. I can’t remember the position I played, but that’s because I am pretty sure it isn’t a real soccer position. The lazy Indoor Kid that I was, running wasn’t my strong suit, but I wasn’t nearly agile enough to play goalie, so my coach had me hang out maybe a dozen yards away from the real goalie as some sort of pre-goalie. I don’t think my foot ever touched the ball in any meaningful way the entire season. Thanks in no part to my awesome pre-goalie footwork, but mostly to a giantess of a girl ringer who towered over and intimidated everyone else on the field, we went undefeated that year. Even then, I knew the benefit of going out on top, so that was the last year I played any kind of organized sports, unless you count the ones I was forced to participate in during P.E. classes.

Being from a crappy town, and without the benefit of any decent local sports, I never developed either any interest in sports or any sort of pride in my home town. Which is why I will never understand the phenomenon that is the Sports Fan. What mystifies me about sports fandom is very akin to what tends to mystify me about patriotism, and that is the fact that both things pretty much come down to the circumstances of your birth, and very little else. But both things also inspire so much passion and fervor that it seems downright blasphemy to question either. Now, those of you who know me know that I LOVE blasphemy, so let me first start off by questioning patriotism and the knee-jerk tendency of most people to blindly proclaim patriotism without giving it so much as a thought, let alone a second one.

Sean Hannity is a big fan of saying that America is, “The single greatest, best, freest country God ever gave man.”

And I am sure millions, maybe even hundreds of millions, of Americans would agree.
But why? How do they know? And who’s to say that if they hadn’t been born in Mexico they wouldn’t say the same thing about Mexico, or Canada, or Pakistan, or Iran for that matter.

I am reminded of a conversation I was having with a friend from Nebraska who was considering moving back there from California, and I ask, “Why would you want to go back there? Nebraska sucks!” She said, “Hey, I’m from Nebraska!”

Well? So fucking what? Just because you’re from a place doesn’t make it good. Just ask the Indoor Kid from the former Meth Capital of the World! I mean, the FORMER Meth Capital. We couldn’t even keep it together enough to hold onto that dubious distinction!

And just because a sports team is from the same place that you're from doesn't make them good either. I don't think I will ever understand the undying allegiance to a team that just happens to have your hometown name on their jersey.

Perhaps if there was Desert Hot Springs Speed Freaks team playing Major League Baseball, I might feel different. Perhaps if I hadn't been a terminal Indoor Kid, I may have played more sports and gotten a different perspective, but alas I did not.

And so what if they are good? How do people let the outcome of a game between groups of strangers affect their lives so strongly? So much in fact that they get into fights and destroy property if their local team wins a game!

I wonder about the Good Old Days, back when teams were made up of people from the local area. So when you were rooting for the Brooklyn Dodgers, you were actually rooting for people from Brooklyn. If you grew up there, you felt a connection to these people who may have been your neighbors, or your friends, but something tells me that it wasn't very long before sports got to the way they are now.

If you're from New York, you might love the Yankees, but if you were born a short few hours away, say if your dad had gotten a great job and your parents moved shortly before your birth, you would hate the Yankees and cheer for the Red Sox. Why? The people who play on a team aren't from the town they play on. Sometimes they're not even from the same country as the team they play on. A team rarely has the same members for very long, what with trades and free agency, people called up from farm teams and sent back down, and so on and so on.

So in the end people are rooting not for a home town bunch of heroes, but rather for a uniform, a name on a jersey that happens to be the name of the place you call home.

Don't get me started on the people who love teams from a place they've never lived! I can almost understand the love of your home town's team, it's pretty much expected. But people who love a team from a town they've never even visited, let alone lived in, boggles my mind more than people who wait until they get up to the register before deciding what they want to order.

I enjoy a good game every now and then. One of those real nail biters that comes down to the last few seconds on the clock, or the final inning and one last pitch. I am not immune to the come-from-behind victories where the underdog finally triumphs over the juggernaut favorite. I understand the love of Sports, and the thrill of competition. But the undying devotion to a bunch of guys who get paid to play games in multi-million dollar arenas is something I think that will bewilder me to my dying day.


  1. This is exactly how I feel about sports. Very good point about people not really rooting for people from their hometowns, though it doesn't hold for college teams. Much as I hated UK Wildcats fans while I was in college there, at least they're cheering for true hometown heroes, or heroes who reside locally for the part of the year that counts ;)

  2. I remember when I first moved out here from Michigan, the Pistons had just won the... superbowl? the stanley cup? some kind of championship for basketball.

    anyway, people wouldn't stop talking to me about the Lakers and how the Lakers should've won and I must feel pretty proud to be from Detroit or they just simply looked at me like they were going to kick my ass. eeeeek!

    p.s. I am pretty sure I played that same position in soccer.

  3. I have an undying love the the Detroit Lions because I grew up in Western Michigan (even though the team hasn't really had a good season since I was born in 1957!).

    But the best part of being a Lions fan is sporting the apparal when I travel around the nation. I get the coolest comments from people.

    Strangers stop me and shake my hand for "keeping it real" or (I guess) for being so non-threatening.

    I can wear Lions gear in Chicago and no one minds. I think they actually get a chuckle out of it when I wear it in Wisconsin or Minnesota!


  4. good points jonathan! i think your essay here covered some ground i wanted to hit but missed completely. go team! wait...

    also josh, the tag for this is really funny

  5. I completely understand that the only reason I like the Red Sox is because I grew up in Massachusetts. If I grew up in San Diego, I'd be a Padres fan, if I grew up in Toronto, I'd be a Blue Jays fan.

    The reason you become attached to a team is because they're the team that's on TV in your town. They're the team you go see when you go to a live game. Without getting too maudlin and shitty, they're the team your dad loves, and his dad and his dad. I don't have much in the way of familial pride (spoiler for next week!) but I do have very fond memories of going to Red Sox games with my dad, my grandfather and my brothers. Those memories boil down to a sort of happiness essence, and the constant during those happy memories was the Boston Red Sox. Rooting for them feels like rooting for happy memories.

    Wait, did I say I wasn't going to get maudlin? Fuuuuuuuck. Too late!

    And thanks, Hate Noyt.

  6. Where your from, shapes who you are, whether you want to admit it or not. If you were born and raised anywhere else than the Hot Springs you would be a slightly different person, or even a very different person. If you have no pride in where you came from, than you have no pride in yourself. Even the worst things about where I'm from are still a part of the culture I was brought up in.

    And as far as being obsessive about your local sports team, I carry a 1992 Buffalo Bills East Division Championship coin in my pocket everywhere i go. And the reason why people feel so strongly about local sports team is because there is a sort of brotherhood, a bond amongst all the fans. Anywhere I go, if I meet another Bills fan and show them that coin, we are instantly friends. I can't think of anything else like that, other than maybe a Fraternity or something.

  7. @mikegamms...

    Allow me to respectfully disagree. I don't believe in being proud of things you have no control of. That's why I think racial pride is ridiculous, as well as sexual orientation pride. I think one should have pride in their accomplishments or well earned abilities, like, say, good grammar...

  8. If I had gotten my act together, I was going to write an essay about how different my man and I look at being a sports fan. My allegiance comes from things like how cohesive the team is or how "nice" they are. He picks a team and sticks with it no matter what. It's like we speak different languages. It happens that I like his teams not because of allegiance to him but when I liked them, the players had "heart" and were "nice guys".

    The only team that I love because they are from my town are the Blackhawks and it is mostly because they were treated terribly by the owner. When he died, a cloud lifted and now they won the Stanley Cup. It's the drama and the perceived personalities I am drawn to, not the town.