I woke up on Saturday morning feeling a little sad. And no, my sadness did not come from the fact that my wife and I were embarking on the three-day sojourn of potty-training our 2-year-old. It was because my Timberwolves lost another heartbreaker the night before, eliminating them from the playoffs.
Isn’t that a little pathetic that a grown man is emotionally affected by a basketball team losing? Sort of. But there’s more to fandom than being overly invested in a team’s performance.
A good friend of mine from South Dakota cheers for the Baltimore Orioles, Boston Celtics, Tennessee Titans, New York Islanders, and Duke Blue Devils. He blames his dad for his strange allegiances: “I’m a second-generation bandwagoner,” he says. That’s not normal. Most sports fans cheer for their hometown team. There are outliers like those who jumped on Coach K’s bandwagon this March; those who cheer for a team because there is a certain player or coach you really like (for me that’s LeBron James); those who you really appreciate a team’s culture (a popular one here is the Tim Duncan Spurs teams); or those who just like a team’s uniforms (yup, clothes).
Being a fan means being a part of something bigger than oneself: a fanbase, a culture, a team. Depending on level of commitment and following, it can often feel like you really are a part of the team. I followed the 2020 Twins closely, watching portions of all 60 games that year. That highly-anticipated season was filled with adversity, struggles, and resilience. After rallying to clinch the division on the last day of the season, the Twins were quickly extinguished in the playoffs by the Houston Astros. When I heard Jorge Polanco strikeout looking to end the series on the radio, tears rolled down my cheeks as I drove home. Not only did I ache for some long-awaited playoff success (it’s been 20 years for crying out loud), I wanted it for those players. I “knew” this group of men as much as someone can without ever having met them or even attended a game in-person that season (thanks, Covid). I watched them struggle and overcome. I saw their joys and pains. Sure, my reaction to their loss may have been a little much, and quite frankly had more to do with my emotional state and level of energy (we were new parents of a six-month old at the time). But that team made me feel something, be a part of something, and just have something to cheer for.
Life is hard. We need things to pull us out of our own heads, out of our own agendas and plans. Sports is one such thing. It’s a chance to cheer. To take joy in something external to yourself that you have no control over. We try to take control over far too much in life; the outcome of your team’s season is not something you can control. Fandom is a chance to let go and just enjoy life. Sometimes, the lack of control can be painful: it can be even more agonizing to watch my team lose than it was when I was an athlete and lost a heartbreaking game. Because then, I was able to influence the outcome; I knew I had given every ounce of effort to succeed. So if I lost, I could live with it. When the Timberwolves lost on Friday, it continued to sting because I felt helpless in front of the situation. I watched as their season wilted away and couldn’t do anything to stop it.
Often when fans feel this helplessness we rush to Twitter and b**** and moan about the team doing this, or failing to do that, as if we are owed something by our sports heroes. We so often forget that these animatronic athletic machines are human beings. They have families. Hopes and dreams. Fears. Wounds. Suffering. Contrary to popular opinion, money and fame don’t cover up the human condition these men and women deal with every day. Just like you and me. So next time your team loses, and you’re about to go to Twitter or your group chat with the boys, remember that there’s a person behind that uniform that has “failed” you.
Quite honestly, the more I read what is written about them, hear their interviews, and watch their games, the more I can see the goodness inside of them and the humanity within them; which in turn has led to an appreciation for them outside of what they can do for my team. Take Patrick Beverly and Carlos Correa. I have always known that Pat Bev is a whiner, agitator, and kind of a jerk when he plays basketball; he’s the kind of guy you hate playing against, but love having on your team. Since he’s been in Minnesota, I’ve grown to appreciate the toughness, leadership, and energy he brings to a team and fanbase, without ignoring the not-so-good things about him. I hated Carlos Correa for what he did to not only take part in but lead the Astros sign-stealing scandal that helped win them a World Series in 2017. So, when he signed with the Twins in March, I was torn. I had “decided” that I loved the player (damn he can play) but hated the person. Ever since he put on a Twins uniform, he’s grown on me. He brings accountability to a clubhouse that is in desperate need of a bounceback year. His constant smile plastered on his face while patrolling shortstop reveals how he relishes playing a kid’s game as a grown man. He has his baby boy’s name etched in his glove, where most players have their own name and number. He’s shown deference that despite his massive salary and pedigree, he’s not trying to take over as the big man on campus.
Thanks for showing me that you’re people too, C4 and Pat Bev.
There’s a reason why we pace around our living rooms with the game on the line. Why we covertly pull out our phones at weddings to check the score. Why we rush to the nearest TV when the game’s on the line. Being a fan shows our need to belong to something, to find joy in daily life, and just let go of all the s*** that life throws at us. It isn’t just an obsession. It’s an expression of who we are.
Check out my other unique sports content at the Bad Loser Blog; covering basketball, football, baseball, and the human side of sports.