Rooting Interests

It’s time we all sat down and had a little talk about rooting interests.

Now, I warn you in advance:  this is all completely subjective.  What I am going to say here — what I am going to lay down as universal law that should be followed, with the punishment for deviation being social alienation at best and a light thrashing at worst — is entirely irrational, emotional, unreasonable, and prejudicial.  Not one single sentence of what I am about to tell you would withstand a minute’s worth of scrutiny, analysis, or rigor.

And that’s fine!  Everybody has one thing they get to be completely irrational about.  Unfortunately for most of us, that one thing is usually politics or economics.  For a lot of people, it’s religion, or something that’s kind of like religion, like that one person you know who’s really into astrology or chi balancing.  For others, it’s the idea that their children are super special angels instead of loutish, dull-witted post-toddlers who are on a fast track to becoming really dumb stockbrokers or slightly smarter than average mall security guards.  For me, it’s sports, so leave me alone, you big bullies.

Anyway, what I’m getting at here — and I feel like I can finally discuss this safely, now that baseball season is over and we are forced to contend with the most obnoxious four-month period of American football’s year-round media dominance — is this:  no one should ever root for more than one team in a single sport.

I know some of you do this.  You are doing it right now, even as you pretend to deny it!  I see you sweating in the November chill, tugging at your collars and making Jerry Lewis noises.  You are guilty! Guilty like O.J.!  Guilty like Haldeman!  Guilty like George Washington!  You have a “back-up team”.  Or you have “an A.L. team and an N.L. team”.  Or you “root for whoever’s doing the best”.  Front-runner!  Vermin!  Coward!

Never do any of these things!  They are terrible and will consign you to Hell when you die, where you will have to listen to Henry Kissinger describe fancy parties he went to for all eternity.

Now, keep in mind, I am only condemning the crime of having divided rooting interests.  There is nothing at all wrong with having no rooting interests, with not caring at all who wins team sports games, for picking who you root for based on ad hoc qualities like whose uniforms you like the most, who has the best-looking third baseman, or whose team just hit a home run.  You can do this all you like and then immediately forget about it, changing your loyalties as soon as the next game of a double-header, without any criticism from me, because all this means is that you don’t give a shit about sports.  And that’s fine!  No one should care about sports at all because sports is profoundly ridiculous, and the only reason anyone is interested in it is because we are all developmentally damaged.

If you are interested in sports, however, you must pick a team — one team — and root for them exclusively.  Once they are out of contention, you are allowed to hope for the outcome that will damage your most hated team the most, but you cannot actively root for another team.  When your child dies of tyrotoxism, you don’t head over to your neighbor’s house and corner his kid, yelling “Okay, Jenny, it’s all on you now!”.  You just suck it up and hope a wizard will bring your dumb loser kid back to life next year!

Likewise, this whole wishy-washy “A.L. team and N.L. team” thing (or whatever variant you prefer in other split-league team sports) has got to go.  Sports is war minus the shooting, people!  Don’t you read Orwell?  You don’t have one favorite infantry in the Union and one favorite infantry in the Confederacy!  You don’t say you’re really rooting for the Big Red One, but your back-up is the Wehrmacht 352. Infanterie-Division in case D-Day doesn’t work out!

There are any number of ways that one may come to root for a sports team, none of them shameful. You can root for a team because of family history, geographical proximity, urban boosterism, the preference of a significant other, or the desire to clean up at a Vegas sports book.  You can root for a team because your cousin plays for them**, or because you like their club culture or reputation, or because, in the case of the Chicago Cubs, you have a deep-seated and masochistic self-hatred.  There are as many reasons to root for a team as there are to get married, and like marriage, sports fandom is occasionally miraculous and wonderful and often the biggest mistake you’ll ever make in your life.  But like marriage, at least if you’re devoutly Catholic, sports fandom is hard to dissolve.  You don’t stop rooting for a team just because they lose all the time.  The only reason to start rooting for another team is if they leave town, cease to exist, or are the Chicago Cubs.  Otherwise, like all failed marriages, you stick together for the sake of the children, which, for the purpose of this metaphor, is your own completely misplaced and absurd sense of pride and loyalty.

Look, I’m not stupid*.  I know that the loyalty doesn’t go both ways, and that most professional athletes would play for a team of demons owned by the ghost of Adolf Hitler and managed by the reanimated corpse of John Wayne Gacy if they got paid a dollar more a year to do so.  I know that owners of every team in every sport take systematic advantage of your loyalty to sell you a $2 hat that was made by one-armed Bangladeshi orphans for $55.  But damn it, loyalty is all we have***.  If we don’t have that, what are we?  People who just aren’t interested in sports at all?  The next step is calling it “sportsball” and making suspiciously high-profile ‘casual’ Tweets about how you’re spending Super Bowl Sunday listening to NPR.  And that’s not a future anyone wants to grow up in.  Pick a team — one team**** — and stick with them.  The suffering, like winter in Chicago, will be good for your character.


*:  Program subject to change.

**:  The sole exception to this rule is if you have more than one child — not relatives, not distant kin, but actual biological children — who play for opposing teams.  Otherwise, knuckle down and pick one.

***:  “But what,” some of you are asking, “about college sports?”  Simple:  do not watch college sports.

****:  Another exception can be made for professional soccer.  You must pick one team within each league, but there’s no reason you shouldn’t root for a team in multiple foreign leagues to maximize your insufferability.  You must, however, pick only one national team, and if you’re an American, that has to be America or else you are a dirty rotten traitor who should be shot.  This will result in a lifetime of disappointment, but will teach you empathy, as you will learn what the rest of the world thinks about us in every other aspect of existence.

One Response so far.

  1. Josh W
    11/23/2015 at 7:08 PM

    I am all-in on the condemnation of bandwagon jumpers, fair-weather fans, and interleague bet-hedging. However, I must grudgingly admit there are acceptable edge cases. So I petition you for an exception. For I, sir, am a sports bigamist.

    I grew up a fan of Team A (I will keep things anonymous). I lived in their region of the country, and my dad was from the actual city. I was a very serious, devoted fan. They were bad, I stuck with them. They won titles, it was amazing. Then I moved.

    Life took me to a very different part of the country. I was no longer able to watch my favorite team more than a few times a year. Since I couldn’t watch my team, I didn’t watch much (and actually became a much more serious fan of a different league entirely). But I still kept track of them, even though I was mostly stuck watching the new local team, Team B, which I utterly rejected for several years. However, after a while, my stance began to soften. It was Team B or nothing, mostly, and at least they did me the service of being likeable and local.

    Then I got married. My spouse had no loyalties, or really, any interest. But as I got into the habit of watching more and more of Team B, she got in the habit of at least hanging out with me during that time–I believe I am a good person to watch sports with, I do not yell, and will make it interesting for the uninterested via explaining the narrative, pointing out fun stuff, or providing snacks and drinks–though she would still mostly do something else while watching. Over a few years, however, she herself started looking forward to game time, and less because that was time we’d hang out together and more because she was getting interested in the actual games. This merely reinforced my own interest–such a cycle is not unlike any other fan community, really.

    In recent years, on account of this family shift, I have found myself very involved with Team B, without ever really losing my loyalty to Team A. It is not because Team A is bad and I need something–in fact, Team A has been better than Team B over this stretch. I have strong feelings about team loyalty and do not take this lightly, so I can say this: I believe I am morally in the clear.


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