Whoa Nelly!

What is it about sports that turns some people into irrational, angry freaks? And I’m not talking about violence at ball games. I’m not touching that. It’s stupid. It’s wrong. The end. I’m talking about people who get all fired up and mad at other people, or other teams, over something as silly and relatively meaningless to life as a ball game.

I’m a big sports fan. I’ve always loved sports. If there’s no NFL football this season, I will be beside myself. I’ll watch college games, though; I’ve been a Penn State fan all my life, and by invoking a woman’s prerogative, I’ve allowed myself to also be an Ohio State fan even though they’re both Big Ten teams, because Penn State was an independent school until 1990 and I went to a tiny college in Ohio which had great academics, but craptastic sports teams, and therefore I had to adopt OSU if I wanted to maintain my sanity.

That is the only thing in sports for which I’ve invoked a woman’s prerogative, by the way.

I’ve been well-versed on IndyCar racing since 1985. I’m not a huge baseball fan, but I watch the World Series and maybe a random game here and there before that. I don’t generally watch the NBA because I don’t care for that particular brand of showboating, but I’ll watch college hoops, and I do all the same grunting and shouting and throwing my arms up in the air that everyone else does during March Madness. I’ll even put a hockey game on, even though I really don’t understand hockey very well and can’t figure out why its season seems to be approximately 13 months long, nine months of which most people in the Lower 48 are unaware that the game is even being played, and the other four months of which appear to be playoffs.

On any given weekend afternoon, if the television is on, there will be a sport displayed on it. It’s part of the fabric of my life; I’d rather see a golf match on a Sunday afternoon than a bad Lifetime movie. And I don’t really like golf. I suppose, for me, it’s the shared experience and the fact that it’s a measure of actual skills, abilities and talents. It’s also that I grew up with a father who watched sports on the weekends, and that’s how I connected with him sometimes.

But there are a lot of things about sports fans that I just can’t abide. Irrational anger being one of them. How many of us know someone who we like just fine except when they’re watching their favorite team play? My college roommate’s boyfriend (now husband) threw plates at the television during Cavs games when we were in school. My plates. And my television.

I don’t understand people who want pitchers to bean batters with baseballs just to get even. Try winning, instead. I can’t be near someone who spends his or her time trying to shout someone else down or using completely irrelevant arguments roughly akin to “Oh yeah?! Well you’re ugly!” to try to make a point. Why do the successes or failings of a team of people you don’t know have such a profound effect on your feelings of self-worth that you have to pick a fight over them? I’m a loyal fan of Philadelphia teams, and I cannot tell you how often someone’s feelings of inadequacy over their own team results in them yelling at me because, in 1968, some Eagles fans booed Santa. “You booed SANTA!” they yell at me.

Well, actually, no, I didn’t. I wasn’t born until 1977. I don’t even know anybody who was there when that happened.

See, I don’t associate myself with entire throngs of people and/or entire teams of athletes who compete in a sport I don’t play. And you probably shouldn’t associate me with them, either. I’m an Eagles fan, a Phillies supporter, a backer of the Sixers and the Flyers (despite previous declarations of relative ambivalence toward their sports; I get the hometown pride thing, and I’ll never fault anyone for theirs). I’m pretty vocal. I’ll yell at the television. I’ll cheer. I’ll bang on the table or the couch (that’s pretty much just for Eagles games). But I do not play for the team, nor do I behave the exact same way as what in all reality is a very limited number of their fans.

And I don’t think you’re a loser if your favorite team loses. So stop trying to prove something to me with your fury. It’s juvenile.

Also, it makes your face look funny. There’s a vein in your forehead that sticks out when they screw up, and it scares me.

Don’t get me wrong. You’re allowed to have fun and be a goof when you want to lighten up and cheer on the team. Wear a foam finger. A hat that appears to be made out of cheese. A pig nose and a dress (though we’re already going to be at odds if you wear that, because it means you’re a Redskins fan, and I, as an Eagles fan, cannot possibly be your friend.)

But if you ever – and I mean ever – paint your chest and stand shirtless at a game where the temperature is somewhere in the vicinity of non-existent on a thermometer, we’re done.

But that’s sort of extreme, and most of the people in my life are at least old enough to know better at this point.

So those are the really freaky fans. Most people, I’ll admit, aren’t like that. When it comes to what is arguably the average sports fan, here’s what cracks me up, or makes me want to tear my hair out, depending on my mood:

-People who call in to radio sports talk shows and rant about one person – an owner, a manager, a coach, a player – being the entire reason for a whole team’s consistent failure. You’re delusional. Find a new point to make.

-People who don’t call in to radio sports talk shows, but still rant about one person – an owner, a manager, a coach, a player – being the entire reason for a whole team’s consistent failure. You’re delusional, too. But I’ll give you some credit for not being narcissistic enough to think an entire listening area should hear your ignorant opinion.

-People whose allegiance to a team extends only so far as when the team wins. I’ll give you a pass if your team’s suckitude forces you to endure more than ten losing seasons in a row.

-People who start altercations in bars over games (and, by association, people for whom alcohol is a catalyst for argumentativeness).

-People who seem to believe they actually play on the team. These folks turn up on those sports radio talk shows fairly often. “We need to improve the right outside linebacker position.” “We need more depth at center.” “We need better pitching.” Who is “we?” Are you on the roster and nobody knows? Are you 117th in the depth chart?

-People who feel the need to dress head-to-toe in their favorite team’s gear on game day.

-People who feel the need to dress head-to-toe in their favorite team’s gear on a day on which a game is not being played (that’s worse than the game day one).

These last two points have become particularly interesting to me. Jack, who works around sports types, finds it demeaning to wear a jersey with another man’s name on his back. He thinks that people who do so are insecure to some degree, and feel better about themselves via the association to some random person who happens to be talented enough to go pro. He thinks that’s kind of pathetic.

Jack’s kind of a deep thinker sometimes.

But he has a point, and frankly, not only have I come to see it; I’ve come to agree with it. Don’t be offended if you own a jersey with some player’s name on the back. I wouldn’t refuse to associate with you or anything, unless you’re a freak fan, but I think it’s an interesting topic for sociological study. Why do we think that professional athletes or celebrities are better than us? That their signatures mean more than ours? That they have outpaced us in accomplishments or live better lives?

Other than the fact that they’re rich. That’s a given.

My theory is that whatever it is that makes some fans think that those athletes are better people is the same thing that makes those fans irate at the smallest error in a game, or makes them lash out at a fan from an opposing team. Insecurity and immaturity. Napoleon Syndrome, in a metaphysical way.

Enjoy the game. But I’m going to sit waaaay over here, ‘kay?

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