Pro sports brings out the best in athletes and the worst in fans.
“I am not going to emotionally invest in this team ever again”. Ever heard yourself say that after your team takes a loss? It’s draining, isn’t it? Funny thing is, it’s not the fact that your team lost that makes you sick – it’s the trash-talking that your friends and co-workers are going to rain down upon you that makes you ill.
Your phone is already ringing off the hook from people who aren’t respecting the 72-hour rule. You have 25 texts – 11 of them from that guy who only texts you when your team is losing. You’ve broken dishes, your girl is in the other room shaking her head – trying to understand why you’re so passionate about a game you don’t get paid for. If that sounds like you, keep reading.
Take a walk back in time with me to 2003 – FedEx field. Quincy Carter was under center for the Dallas Cowboys and he was (believe it or not) putting on a clinic against the Washington Redskins. The final score of that game was 28-0. This was during Bill Parcells first season as Cowboys head coach – back when I still had hope that my Cowboys would win a Superbowl before I die – but I digress. There I was, slightly right of the 50-yard line, sitting in the rain next to my boy Reggie, who was a lifelong Washington Redskins fan.
One of the things that Reggie and I did during the game (aside from dodging the torrential downpour) was stand up and signal every first down our teams made. With a final score of 28-0 you might imagine that I got a tad bit more exercise that day than Reggie did. It was all in good humor, and we found ourselves laughing about it for the duration of most of the game. Which is interesting when you contrast it with what happened towards the middle of the fourth quarter.
About two rows up, a heavy-set Redskins fan, Caucasian guy, pretty inebriated, stands up, turns around and mumbles something in my general direction. I laughed, thinking he was being funny – because I drove a car to the stadium and he was going on about some horse I had ridden in on. I looked at Reg and was like, “Is he serious?” He was indeed. He went on to talk about what he would do to me if I kept cheering for the Cowboys – and none of it was very pleasant.
Now, I’m far from being the hardest brick in the wall. Most of the fights I have gotten into I have lost, actually – but I am literally the black Rocky Balboa. I’m the guy that you keep bloodying your knuckles on, who keeps getting up talking about how your mom hits him harder. I don’t believe fights are over until I have won or can’t stand anymore. Part of the mentality you develop when you grow up where I did in DC without any real height (I’m barely 5 foot 9) and size (I weigh about 170 pounds). Suffice it to say, I wasn’t trying to fight this guy, but, had we started fighting I would have made certain he remembered that we fought.
What worried me wasn’t so much what I would do to the guy, but more-so, it was what my man Reggie would do to the guy. Reggie was about 6 foot three and about 225 pounds. Reg was a phenomenal high school athlete and before my antagonist could finish spewing the totality of his slightly veiled threats from his lips, Reggie was already inquiring as to which body parts he would break on the man first? I told Reg to chill and turned to the guy.
“Who are you rooting for?” he asked me in his drunken stupor.
“I’m rooting for you, my man. I’m on your side,” I answered.
This seemed to placate him and he returned to his seat. Reggie and I left about five minutes after that. I remember thinking about how stupid it was to get that emotionally into a game – to the point of violence – but I would be lying if I said I hadn’t felt similar emotions at times.
What is it about our teams – specifically our NFL teams – that makes fans passionate to the point of hate? I have tweeted that I hate the New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles more than I hate the Devil.
And I meant it.
The Dallas Cowboys organization would not know me if I walked into Valley Ranch wearing a field-ready jersey with my name stitched in the back. Jerry Jones never has written me a check for anything. I don’t currently work for, nor am I likely to ever work for the Dallas Cowboys. And yet I refer to them as “we” quite regularly.
I have more paraphernalia with that navy blue star on it than the Cowboys equipment manager. As a man who hopes to one day become a pastor, my dream job is to be the Chaplain of the Dallas Cowboys. This way I could pray for the Cowboys and be justified.
When the Cowboys lose I generally need about 4 days to get over a loss. I have a standing rule when we win not to call the fans of the team we beat for a minimum of 72 hours – unless they talked a lot of trash before the game, at which point I have been known to be merciless. But always respectful. Is this behavior healthy? Am I a few beers away from threatening two guys in the rain at a Cowboys home game?
To keep from becoming “that guy” I have developed my own personal code on how to conduct yourself as a fan. I am so passionate about it that I don’t associate with fans who don’t follow a similar mantra. Are you too passionate about the game? Do you know someone else who gets a bit too upset when his squad loses? Pass this information on.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the “10 Fan Commandments”:
1. Don’t Talk Trash If you cannot name at least 7 Starters On Your Favorite Team.
There is nothing more distasteful than a casual fan who can’t name any of their players beyond the starting quarterback and some other skill position player, talking trash to a die-hard fan. If you’re casual, there is nothing wrong with that – but keep your mouth shut. The only thing worse than this is a trash-talking front-runner, but we’ll get there…
2. If Your Team Lost To My Team Then You Really Shouldn’t Be Talking To Me if Some Other Team Beats My Team.
There is actually Biblical. Check out 2 Chronicles chapter 25:17-19…
After consulting with his advisers, King Amaziah of Judah sent this challenge to Israel’s king Jehoash, the son of Jehoahaz and grandson of Jehu: “Come and meet me in battle!”
But King Jehoash of Israel replied to King Amaziah of Judah with this story: “Out in the Lebanon mountains, a thistle sent a message to a mighty cedar tree: ‘Give your daughter in marriage to my son.’ But just then a wild animal of Lebanon came by and stepped on the thistle, crushing it!
“You are saying, ‘I have defeated Edom,’ and you are very proud of it. But my advice is to stay at home. Why stir up trouble that will only bring disaster on you and the people of Judah?”
And that’s pretty much what happened. When you boast to a fan about how his/her squad lost and you can’t beat them – you just come off looking weak.
3. If you can’t be realistic and objective about your team, I can’t talk sports with you.
There’s a thin line between love and Kool-Aid. I have had Cowboys fans cuss me out when I am critical of Tony Romo and point out his lack of the “Clutch Jean”. I have been called the “B” word on Twitter for saying that I wouldn’t watch the Cowboys on Sunday Night Football anymore following our loss to New York. I believe the exact quote was, “get a new team b**ch”. All I did was block the guy, but I have seen fans of the same team get into fist fights behind this very phenomenon.
4. You cannot root for a team in an up year – unless you move to that area or are originally from that area.
When I was 14 years old I watched my very first NBA Finals game (Lakers/Celtics) in 1987. It was game 2 and the Lakers completely blew out Boston in LA. Magic Johnson instantly became my favorite player and I was a die-hard Laker fan up until Magic retired. I had never even been to California – a fact regularly brought up to me whenever I touted how great “my” Lakers were to my friends. I was a front-runner, but I couldn’t admit it to myself. Nothing is worse than a front-running fan who jumps on the bandwagon in an up year – and then talks trash.
This is very different than how I became (and more importantly sustain) being a Cowboys fan who is not from Dallas. In 1979 I saw my very first Redskins/Dallas game which the Cowboys won 35-34 – Roger Staubach’s last home game as a matter of fact. At one point in that game the Skins were up 24-3 I believe. I declared (at age 7) that the Cowboys would win – and they did. They barely made the playoff’s that year and eventually lost to the Rams in the NFC Championship game – who then lost to the Steelers in the Superbowl. I lived through the Danny White years, the lean years in the late 80′s and the 1-15 year in 1989. So, by the time Dallas was winning Superbowl’s again, I had paid my dues. But I had still never been to Dallas. That was remedied in 1997 when I lived there for about a year. I also believe you’re not a “true” fan until you have seen your favorite team play at home at least two times. I saw two games in Texas stadium and the first win in Cowboys stadium.
5. Don’t fish for attention.
There’s not much that’s worse than that guy who knows little or nothing about what you and your boys are discussing, but he wants to chime in because he wants to be down. So, he “piles on” to get what I call “dap by association”. Because he/she provides an audience for the people talking trash to you they are momentarily socially accepted. I guarantee you that – if you’re not *that* guy – you know *that* guy.
He’s that dude who can’t beat you in Madden but likes to talk trash to you when someone else is beating you. He’s that dude that roots against your team and won’t let it go even when the joke has long outlived it’s expiration date. That dude with no inner clock to tell when he’s overstepped his bounds. The dude you don’t talk to about sports (or really anything) anymore. That dude who cosigns on comments dissing your team on Facebook. The dude who comes to mind when someone says the word “Frenemy”.
6. You should never have more than one favorite team per conference (if at all).
There’s a guy I work with who, when I met the man, declared himself a Redskins fan. He came by talking trash in 2005 when Satana Moss ruined my Monday night by catching two TD’s in 71 seconds in Texas stadium. When we defeated Washington in 2006 he was suddenly a Giants fan. He gave me some song and dance about how he was “from New York” and how he only adopted the Redskins when he moved here to the DC area. Anytime the Giants would beat Dallas I had to hear about it for literally months. If he wasn’t 6 foot 5 and 280 pounds I would tie our wrists together, put on a white leather jacket with matching pants and a black t-shirt, open a switch blade and put on “Beat It” by Michael Jackson. (Pause)
This guy isn’t a fan – he’s an antagonist, and there is nothing more deplorable to a die-hard fan. This guy has even adopted the Jets in their AFC title run years. He’s of no real consequence, but he comes around trash-talking after my team takes L’s – and it makes me hate his guts more than a little bit. I have had to avoid him in the halls to keep from having an emotional outburst at work.
7. Passion > Homerism
I respect passionate fans and give the Heisman to “homer” fans. If your squad is 3-8 and you’re talking unrealistic trash about your team that they can’t back up, then chances are the mouth that’s on the side of your neck is talking. You’re a homer who can’t be objective and realistic about his team. It’s hard dealing with those dudes – so I don’t.
A good buddy of mine named Jennifer is a life-long Steelers fan. Now, as a Cowboys fan, hating the Steelers is my birthright. They took two of my Lombardi’s away. We should have 7 and we only have 5 – and it’s their fault. But Jen is so passionate and realistic about the Steelers (not to mention she knows her stuff) that she has actually swayed me into rooting for them when my Boys aren’t playing them. We talk about how cool Tomlin is – or how much of a beast Troy is. She even goes as far as to say how she loves Ben the player, but not Ben the person. That’s objectivity. That’s passion. I can roll with that fan even though our passions lie in different colors.
8. Class is King
Your team just won and you’re hyped. You have (unofficially) one day to get it all out of your system and be as classless as you want to be. The minute the clock strikes hour #25, you’re basically a jack ass if you continue spouting off. This is worse if you’re “piling on”. I have quietly let cats know when they’ve overstepped their bounds and I am blessed with friends who respect those boundaries – and that’s mostly because I kick out the ones who don’t.
Why am I talking about this? I am bringing this to light because I think our passions speak to our character as human beings. My personal code comes out as a sports fan – and when that code is violated I end relationships. It’s a toxic way to live sometimes, but I have done it. I have forgiven people for stealing from me – but not for talking trash prior to the 72-hour grace period. That’s not healthy, man.
9. Always Show Respect
It was 2006 and the Cowboys had just lost to the Redskins on what has become known as the “Hand of God” game. Romo had become the starter about 5 games prior and was enjoying a Tebow-like rise to stardom. A blocked field-goal (that would have won us the game) ended up with a defensive penalty (on us – even though were on offense) that gave the Skins the ball within field-goal range. And they won.
Trying to get out of FedEx field wearing a throwback Tony Dorsett jersey was no small task. I received several “crotch chop” gestures and middle fingers en route to my car. I smiled the entire time – though I was seething on the inside. All I said to anyone within earshot was “good game” or “congrats”.
I’ve been on the other side of that too. In 2009 I watched the Cowboys win pretty decisively against the Skins in a Monday night game. As I walked out giving high-fives to fellow Cowboys fans I made sure not to say a word to any Redskins fans I walked past. Act like you’ve won before.
10. If You’re a Front-Runner, Shut Up.
You’ve been a Patriots fan since they won their first Superbowl. You like the New York Yankees. Your favorite NBA Teams are “Kobe” and “Jordan” and “LeBron” – until Dirk beat him. I got no issue with you. It’s fun to root for winners. As long as you understand what you are – a front runner – and true fans will never show you respect. You have what musicians like to call “Music Store Chops”.
Music store chops are when you walk into Guitar Center and there’s some dude in there not trying out a new instrument to see how much he likes it, he’s in there showing off the one lick he knows to get attention. And nobody cares. If this guy were to walk up to Prince to talk music, Prince would laugh.
Noting worse than a trash-talking front-runner. Again – I got no beef with your rooting choice. I have had dalliances with the purple and gold of the Lakers myself knowing full well that I’m a Wizards fan. But I don’t talk trash about it. Keep your mouth shut.
Why am I saying all of this? Because I want us all to be able to invest in our favorite teams without going over-the-top emotionally about any of this. It stops being fun when you can’t laugh about it anymore. Unfortunately, the thing that challenges the desire to be level-headed, is when you run into the guy who isn’t at that place where you are.
Interestingly enough, I find that to be true of life in general and not just as a sports fan. You could just as easily find these same examples in religion and politics. Perhaps then, this is about our collective character? Is it possible to be level-headed about your passions and get into a meaningful exchange (even if heated and emotional) with someone who feels completely opposite? I hope so.