The complicated divide between sports love and sports fandom

fans

One of the sports ideas I cling to most I heard from a good friend of mine when we lived together in college. We were talking about fan reaction to a story I can’t remember. I was having trouble understanding how people could react how they were. It was unending and vile, lacking in all substance.

That’s when he hit me with something that would resonate in me to this day.

“There’s a reason that fan is short for fanatic.”

Has anyone ever looked at the definition of fanatic? If not, today’s your lucky day!

“A person filled with excessive and single-minded zeal, especially for an extreme religious or political cause.”

Setting aside the idea that most US sports fans treat their favorite team/sport like a religion, it’s safe to say the definition’s first half is spot on. Take a visit to Rangers Twitter or Facebook, and you’ll see plenty of single-minded zeal. Poorly spelled, all caps zeal.

It even reared its ugly head Tuesday and Wednesday. Both games featured Texas in a favorable position, before the law firm of (Shawn) Tolleson, (Tony) Barnette, and (Tom) Wilhelmsen sent the Rangers to a pair of losses with their lackluster outings. Pitchforks were sharpened, torches were lit, and the red-clad mob was off to the races wanting heads to roll and changes to be made one series into a six-month season.

It gets even worse when you consider the fan to fan harassment. Watch an exchange between an Astros and Rangers, or Rangers and Angels pair of fans. That takes it another step further when God forbid you’re a woman and some jackwagon wants to play 20 questions with you to “prove you’re a real fan.” Because apparently having a different gender means you can’t POSSIBLY be as real a fan.

This is the normal state of affairs when it comes to fandom. It happens all day every day, and in reality, it’s been this way forever. We’re just more aware of it now because of social media making it so easy to access and view. It gives us a window into the lunacy, a front row seat sans  additional safety nets into what it looks like to be deep in the pits of sports fandom.

All of that is why I can’t call myself a fan anymore.

This is a weird conflict within myself that I deal with. I love the Texas Rangers. I grew up loving them. They have helped me bond with people, build bridges that likely wouldn’t have been possible without Texas baseball. It’s afforded me great opportunities, like the one where I get to write words you can read on this very website. A large part of my sports existence is based around this team and my affinity for it.

All that said calling myself a fan of them feels wrong.

For awhile I considered myself a fan, just a better fan. My attention and effort towards knowledge of the team and the game somehow elevated myself above the Facebook commenter and Twitter egg, at least in my mind.

Not the case, though.

The realization came to me that by doing all that, I became something similar to but not a fan. The real fans are those Facebook commenters and Twitter eggs who are full throat supporters. They eschew critical thought and nuanced conversation because they love the team with their entire heart. That love blinds them to anything that isn’t pro-Texas Rangers.

It’s why when Josh Hamilton says Arlington isn’t a baseball town, Ranger Nation rises up and wants him drawn and quartered. When national pundits say anything about the team that has a tinge of negative, even neutral, they’re right there to defend the team with their cape firmly secured. It’s why when Game 6 footage finds its way onto their screens, they take severe umbrage to it and want everyone to know.

The fan base would be better if those things didn’t happen. Not just Texas, but all of them across all sports across all nations. The best thing that could happen to fans is a drop or two of moderation to balance out the borderline crazy.

That won’t happen.

It should, but it won’t.

Because that’s not what fans do.

What fans do I can’t identify with and support. Yes, before you send the tweet, I know #notallfans. I know you’re the exception and you’re better. You might well be, I’m not going to deny that.

That said, no longer can I deny the ugliness of fandom. If that means I have to work harder to figure out how to identify myself I can live with that. It’s a matter of principle, and everyone needs to have principles about something.

One day I hope I can call myself a fan again. One day hopefully the vitriol, misogyny, and mob mentality nature of fans will calm and I will feel better about the idea. Trust me when I say no one will cheer that day more than I.

Until then I will continue to write about, cheer for, and love the Texas Rangers.

I just won’t call myself a fan.

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Samuel Hale
When Samuel isn't displeasing you with his opinions about the Texas Rangers, he's trying to corral young broadcasters at UTA Radio. If you buy him pizza and high class chocolate milk, he'll probably be your best friend. Probably. He got to see Texas clinch a World Series berth in person, and sports cried when Pudge Rodriguez went into the Rangers Hall of Fame. He enjoys the Oxford comma and over tweeting.

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