Get on the Wagon
Sports fans. We need to talk.
But first, I’d like to set the record straight about myself:
I am a sports fan (not to be mistaken with athlete, which is its own animal), and have been for as long as I can remember. My earliest memories of fandom are from when I lived in Dubai in the 90s, watching Michael Jordan and the Bulls, Andrea Agassi, Sachin Tendulkar, and Brazil at the World Cup finals.
Then, my family moved to Canada where football and cricket were instantly de-emphasized as the North American ‘Big Four’ of basketball, hockey, baseball, and American football took centre stage.
Anyone who’s gone through a profound and permanent cultural displacement will know that grappling with your personal identity is almost always part of the experience. As a landed immigrant in a foreign country on the other side of the world, the last thing I felt when I got here was that I belonged, though it’s all I ever thought about and wanted. It was this sense of alienation (and desperate desire to overcome it) that really drew me into the world of sports and threw me off the deep end into hardcore fandom.
I wanted to earn the respect of my peers, so I imitated them by immersing myself in the same things they did. I was all in, and I kind of loved it.
For a short while, I was one of those guys who knew far more about a team than seemed necessary. You know what I’m talking about. The kind who knows the names of the owners and assistant coaches. The guy who knows the line-ups by heart and could recite last year’s RBI stats, save percentages, and total yards from scrimmage. From memory.
On demand. With Pleasure.
There was just one problem. My friends made fun of me.
But not because I followed sports like a fiend (they were doing the same) — rather, it was because of which teams I chose to support.
You see, being a landed immigrant doesn’t make you Canadian. In fact, it wasn’t until years after becoming a legal citizen that I actually began to feel Canadian. But in those early years, I lacked the immutable sense of local pride and loyalty so woven into the fabric of sports fandom. I understood that it made sense to cheer for the home team, but it didn’t make sense to me.
Why should I? I wasn’t from Toronto. I’d just arrived, an ESL student with one foot still on the boat. Pretending otherwise felt duplicitous.
But I still needed a team. Everyone had a team. So what was going to be mine?
And if it wasn’t going to be Toronto, then what?
- I learned who Michael Jordan was before I understood basketball. There was an article about him I had read during my intensive English course prior to immigration. Naturally, when we got here, I became a Bulls fan. I mean: MJ, Harper, Scottie, Rodman — who wasn’t a Bulls fan?
- A movie my brother and I used to watch ad nauseam as kids to absorb English was called Little Giants. We couldn’t really understand it, but I remember (like it was yesterday) jumping up with outstretched arms and mimicking the announcer every time he shouted: Touchdown Cowboys! (The little Cowboys scored quite a few touchdowns before finally being bested by the little Giants.) Low and behold, when I saw the Lone Star flash on screen all those years later, Troy Aikman instantly became a hero and the Dallas Cowboys remain ‘my’ — and America’s — team to this day.
- Living in Dubai — in the movies, on TV, and on the street — I’d seen hundreds of people wearing this hat without a clear idea of what it represented. When I came to Canada, not only did I recognize it, but finally understood it: the Pinstripes. How could you not stand in awe of that organization? Things got romantic. I became a Yankee fan.
- I didn’t like hockey. I didn’t understand it and couldn’t follow the stupid puck. But one night, watching the highlights from Game 2 of the 2000 Eastern Conference quarterfinals between the Buffalo Sabres and Philadelphia Flyers, I witnessed something I had never seen before. John LeClaire confounded Domenic Hasek by slipping the puck through the side-netting and into the goal. A ‘goal’ that shouldn’t have counted, but did anyway. What cheekiness! It was the strangest thing I’d ever seen in sports. It endeared me to this ragtag group of skating gladiators. The Flyers went on to win the series, and I’ve been a fan since.
It’s not hard to understand why people rolled their eyes at me all those years ago. They still do. It’s because I was a bandwagon sports fan, and I still am.
What’s more, not only am I proud of it, I think that bandwagon fandom is arguably the best way to be a sports fan. The only way that really makes sense.
Allow me to explain.
There is probably some nuance to parse through, but generally speaking, a bandwagon fan is one who cheers for a team — sometimes any team — so long as they are winning and doing well at the time.
If they’re not doing well, or the game isn’t important, we don’t watch at all.
If they win, we bask in a few minutes of temporary (illusory) glory.
If they lose, we don’t care.
Simple as that.
The best part about being a fan is watching your team win.
Except, it’s not your team. You are not on the team. You’re not affiliated with the organization. You neither profit nor lose based on their performance. You’re not paid. You didn’t train. Nothing.
Of course not. People aren’t idiots. Everybody knows that. It’s the emotional investment in an organization that has people all up in arms about any given squad on any given Sunday.
And the real crux of the issue is that die-hard fans will contend that you can’t have real emotions about a team / game that you’ve just stumbled upon while channel surfing.
I believe that that’s false.
In my case as a life-long bandwagon sports fan, the emotion, passion, anger, excitement, delight, relief, and devastation that I sometimes experience throughout the duration of a game (or match!) is bona fide.
And goddamn does it feel good!
There would have been no difference between a life-long Golden State Warrior’s fan and I during the 2016 NBA Championships. Man oh man was I into it! Had you witnessed me watch the final series, you would have thought I was born and raised in California and Steph Curry was my step-brother. The difference is that when the series ended, I instantly got on with my life without a moment’s lag while the team’s diehard fanbase reeled for weeks.
Tony Santorsa doesn’t mince words when he opines about bandwagon fans on on Bleacher Report:
Bandwagon fans are arguably the most annoying aspect of sports — they simply go from team to team depending on who’s winning or who’s popular.
Tell me how you really feel.
The most annoying aspect of sports? Really? Not the commercialization and politicization? Not the baked in bigotry? Not the phoney woke-ness? Or the tawdry sensationalization? Not the overpriced tickets or exorbitant salaries? Not the ads? Not the fads?
No. That’s all gravy. Par for the course.
But me deciding to cheer for Tom Brady out of the blue because I feel like it? Apparently, that’s just not fucking cool buddy.
Look, of course we go from team to team depending on who’s winning or who’s popular. That’s the point. It’s because we love sports.
And what are professional sports but an Opera of Athleticism:
An extraordinary, dazzling, spectacle of skill, luck, talent, and drama.
That’s what we want. That’s what we can get behind. That’s what allows us to transform ourselves into a fucking fanatic for 90 minutes, banging on the table and shouting at the TV, before reverting back into a calm and collected human being, regardless of who won, because it’s just a game.
Diehard fans get offended when I get all excited about “their team” during a particular sporting event. I suspect this is because they think it’s impossible for me to really care, not like them who’s cared their whole life, and that I’m therefore somehow faking it.
Well, I’ve got news for everyone: as a true sports fan, I’m not faking it. I’m never faking. It’s simply a matter of me enjoying the sport when it’s on (because sports are awesome), and part of that enjoyment means getting caught up in the fervour of the moment, or the month-long buzz of a championship run.
Jessica Marie, also from BR, echoes a similar sentiment:
Bandwagon fans are the worst to those of us who put our blood, sweat and tears into our fandom.
Ummm. Okay. That’s a little alarming.
If you’re not watching the team and caring about the team during the regular season, you shouldn’t be able to flaunt your fandom during the postseason.
When my team loses, it hurts me. Deeply. If you don’t have to deal with the same horror when the team loses, you shouldn’t be able to have all the glory when it wins.
And there’s the rub.
Perhaps Ms. Marie and everyone else out there needs another, resounding reminder:
YOU ARE NOT ON THE TEAM
So if your blood, sweat, and tears are being poured into an entertainment industry beholden to capitalism, completely unrelated to you, perhaps a re-shifting of priorities are in order.
Sports are fantastic, but if you are being “hurt deeply” and experiencing “horror” by the fact that a bunch of millionaires weren’t able to score a goal, then maybe an examination of that is more prudent than getting angry at me for wanting to see Lewis Hamilton win a record-breaking 8th F1 Driver’s Championship.
So what if I haven’t supported him my whole life? Who gives a shit? I am supporting him NOW. I am into the action NOW. When did we have to justify liking something? When did getting excited today need approval based on a sufficient historical precedent?
Do we take fandom too seriously? Yes, but they don’t take it seriously enough, and it’s annoying.
There’s that word again, annoying. But is it annoying that I am able to enjoy the same sporting event with the same level of knowledge and excitement without the baggage of being a “real supporter?” Or is it annoying that diehard fans realize they’ve become psychologically dependant on their teams and find those of us who aren’t so emotionally entangled with sports an unwelcome reminder of that.
Like a social drinker who hates hanging out with people who abstain, labeling them as “lame” and not knowing how to really have fun.
Despite my best efforts, I fear this essay is going to come off as preachy, but I don’t want it to.
I believe bandwagon sports fandom is the best way to go. You get all the benefits of entertainment, without the baggage that comes before and after the game. Because that’s what sports are for the fans: entertainment.
Like watching Netflix.
But I’m not here to tell anyone to live or think like me. I’m not advocating taking away the pleasure that countless people feel when they give their full support to a team. They are not just part of a fanbase, but a community.
And that’s great. Go for it.
But please understand that there is nothing wrong with someone getting equally excited about “your team” although they just learned about the sport yesterday. They have every right to enjoy it, and every right to feel the excitement.
Being called a bandwagon fan is NOT the insult you think it is. It is a compliment, if you ask me. A sign that you’re in charge of choosing your hobbies, not the other way around.
Tomorrow is Game 7 of the 2022 Eastern Conference quarterfinals. The Flyers are out. So …