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America's Dangerous Obsession with Fandom: Politics and Sports

There are two ways to look at why Americans love being fans in every aspect of their lives: they want to belong to a group to feel a wider connection or they want to have a cause in order to narrow who/what they connect to. Increasingly, the line between the two reasons for being a fan are treated as one in the same or even more disturbing is that defining group identity through exclusion could be the more common purpose many of us form group identities. The idea of fandom and its purposes whether intended or not in our search to find "self" is not isolated to sports. It is a naively foolish belief to think the way we treat everything like sports fandom will not have large both micro and macro consequences on our society.

I personally know how sports can be a much-needed individual pilgrimage or escape from the everyday stresses of the modern world that is irreplaceable for some. The connection sometimes is felt just from a passing glance at a favorite team's recent result. At other times, it comes while sitting completely still except for darting eyes, which are anxiously fixated on finding out what is about to happen. For a sports fan, watching the ebb and flow of a favorite team's game becomes emotionally like riding an out of control rocking horse. For many, there is an odd sense of joy in helplessly devoting their feelings to a specific team. It is that strong bond which allows fans to "join" the members of their team in simultaneously fearing falling off the rocking horse completely or riding the high of self-affirmation as far as it will take them.

For me many of my happiest memories came from my love and deep fascination for hockey. As I grew older I began to think, read, and write about many aspects of hockey at an intense level. However two things changed my outlook during that process: I wanted to be a member of professional hockey media and became a fanatical fantasy hockey nut. I quickly started to see the people in the sport differently through my involvement in all-year leagues that pooled knowledge of hockey prospects from all over the world and salary cap rules during had summer long drafts. It forced me to take of the blinders of pure faith and devotion to a team. I had to make my assessments be as accurate as possible balancing factors though research like current production vs. perceived future production, production as a result of team talent or individual talent, amount and likelihood of significant chances, etc.

How did this change me? I was happier because I could appreciate the sport instead of limited window of one team's fortunes. I still play some favorites but even when I am rooting for my team, I always find more things that reaffirm hockey's various types of beauty that transcend the two teams the varied beauty flows through in any given moment. The negative side of this transformation is that "pure fandom" disturbed me and made me sick. Athletes are generally expected to be flawless, which neither is fair when they do not perform nor when they live their own lives. Should it really be shocking that they have some of the same vices as any other person? The fact that they have money and fame does not make them "better" people automatically. I understand that they are role models to many people and while many embrace that it is an unfair expectation to put on all athletes. I am not making an excuse for any personal issues that an athlete has or will have. I just see the myths we build around them as unhealthy for everyone and distract the public from the fact that they are not well-known athletes because they are the people best equipped to be role models, it is because they're good at a certain sport in some exceptional way.

As connected as a fan might feel to a team or athlete it is not fair or healthy to be personally offended when they fail to succeed. Especially when they give their all, as many athletes do in my opinion, why should they have to apologize or be ashamed of failing? It is reasonable for these highly competitive individuals to feel disappointed in themselves, since likely for most the many the various types of pressure help them achieve more. However when the game ends there is nothing the fans or they can do that will change a result, something many fans try to deny.

So go ahead find a scapegoat. Blame the refs, your coach, general manager, one player, the mascot, or whomever else you feel like simplifying the result on almost every time your team loses. Even worse is when we displace this anger physically or verbally on to fans of another team. I'm not saying sports fans should be as bland and shallow as a PG movie. Instead I am saying what is the point of throwing beers or verbal attacks at people who support a different team? Forgetting that you probably don't know them, is making one "opposing" fan's experience a nightmare worth anything except providing an illusion of righteous dominance? Discouraging opposing fans has little to know impact on the game itself, even if it did blatant intolerance and aggression is hardly justifiable rationally.

So politics?

Unfortunately how we approach politics has become just like sports from the gamesmanship of candidates to garner the most votes possible, regardless of what they actually believe or what is best for the country, the most important thing is to win. The goal is not to govern in a way that they believe is best for the country. The true goal is to hold as much power for your party and personally for as long as you can.

Politicians and many media groups whether intentionally or not try to make us predictable. They frame the issues and it is strongly implied that if you are a member of the party you say you are this is your stance generally without thought to what is best for the country. Questioning anything your party believes often results in your loyalty to your "team" being questioned and any hint of support other party is like seeing the opposing team's jersey as a threat.

Difference of opinions and voices is what makes the American system work by addressing issues without a one-track mind. The catch is that at every level of politics, people are encouraged to tune out and shut down other views. Actual discourse about weighing what is best for our country's future is completely subordinate to the power struggles of our favorite political teams. The scary part is this approach of opinion and belief has become the unquestioned free license to imagine whatever reality you want to be real. Few care if a policy is likely to benefit wider society. It is all about if you think it backs up the reality you and others want to have, often completely unchecked by the idea that it might be detrimental to the rest of the U.S.

I'm glad you wear team colors proudly- our political system needs that. I'm just depressed by where and how tightly we draw our allegiances.

Your candidate may win but why should I congratulate you? You voted, helped campaign, and raised funds, which are all good things to do. It shouldn't make you feel superior to any one else who voted differently because America thrives on multiple views being valued. You are not "right." They are not "wrong." It is not the final score or popularity vote you have mentally in your head of your team vs. their team that matters. It is if our country is actually going to head generally toward a better future and not who politically gets to hog the silly rocking horse longer.


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