So, maybe after 43 years, I’m not a fan.
That’s the prospective conclusion I’m contemplating considering the fallout from Andrew Luck’s retirement. I’ll get to him a bit later, but I need to talk about being a fan first because that’s what really came into focus for me. And please keep in mind that this is meant to be an Introspective train of thought for me.
This isn’t a snap decision, but instead something I’ve been considering for some time.
History of Sadness
What I need to confess is that I was a fan. I bought the gear, the hype, and the hope. Yearly.
You know the merchandise that says “Property of (fill in your favorite team here)”? I owned it all without realizing the irony of the wording.
As a young fan in Cleveland, every year we were waiting for next year. And every year, next year never came.
I sat in a near empty 80,000 seat stadium for years to watch my subpar baseball team play with few positive results. One year Sports Illustrated picked us to win the World Series.
Then we finished fifth. In our division.
I mourned when Byner fumbled, when Elway drove, and when MJ flew. (Ehlo, by the way, had a monster game that day that no one acknowledges because of “The Shot”).
I crumbled when David Justice and the Atlanta club bested my upstart squad.
I was shocked and disheartened when the invincible Jose Mesa seemed pedestrian and Craig Counsel ended my hopes for a World Series. Again.
For decades I would answer the question of why I would root for any team from Cleveland with a simple reply: “Because it’s home. Cleveland is always home no matter where I live.”
Home is always something of which I can be a fan.
History of Pettiness
I grew offended when the homegrown superstar disrespected my city with a show. I wasn’t mad that he left. I was mad how he did it. (It was a cop out, but how I felt. For the record, I didn’t burn any jerseys or memorabilia.)
And then I rooted against that guy because I didn’t want to see him succeed. I rooted for teams I didn’t care for because I was convinced that a man, who didn’t know I existed, had wronged me. Slighted me.
I was just a part of the mob. And we were angry.
He made it to the Finals that first year after he left. He lost. I celebrated.
Then I watched a press conference after that game and he said something – almost like he was speaking to me-
“Ummmm, all the people who are rooting for me to fail, ummm, at the end of the day, they have to wake up tomorrow and have the same life that they had before they woke up today, they got the same personal problems they had, today. You know, and I’m gonna continue to live the way I want to live, and continue to do the things I wannna do with me and my family …they gotta get back to the real world at some point.”
He got some heat for that statement. And you know what?
He wasn’t wrong.
Here’s the crazy thing. The day after he lost, to the team I had never rooted for but became a fan of because they were playing him, I still had to take care of my kids, pay my bills, get work done. And you know what else? My paycheck didn’t increase.
Maybe it was meant as a dig. It probably was. But maybe it was also a wake up call.
The real world, good or bad, was still the same. Sports is a livelihood for some, but entertainment for most.
I felt kind of defeated. Somewhat ashamed of where I had let “fandom” take me.
Next Year Finally Comes
I will admit that I got a little teary eyed and jealous when I saw the homegrown hero cradle his trophy while wearing that other team’s jersey.
I got choked up when he acknowledged that he shouldn’t be there. That he was just “a kid from Akron”.
I realized he was living my dream. And I could no longer fault him for that. And while I couldn’t support his new team, I could no longer root against him.
And then a few years later, he came home.
And WE won.
I cried tears of joy. My sister went to the parade. My hometown was a championship city.
And the next day? I still needed to work. I still needed to take care of my kids. My paycheck didn’t change for better or for worse.
My life didn’t change. But you know whose lives did change? The hundreds of students the homegrown hero provided opportunities for with his endeavors off the court. While everyone can debate his legacy on the court, he was doing more important work off of it. He was more than an athlete. He was more than an entertainer.
That’s something of which I can be a fan.
Sports has been dubbed the original reality television. And it is. There are so many storylines. It’s entertaining.
But let’s consider that concept. What does it mean to be entertained?
We root for teams and “live and die” for every game. But how many minutes do we play? How many innings? How many contracts do we sign or personnel decisions do we make?
I’m not going to pretend that fans don’t matter. And I’m not trying to infer that sports don’t matter. That’s not my point. But at what point do we take it too far?
At what point do we take it too personal?
We can buy all the tickets, go to all the games, buy all the gear, merchandise, and memorabilia, but at the end of the day we don’t actually own anything but trinkets of our appreciation. Memories of being entertained. Perhaps found memories with friends or family. Yes, those things are valuable, but none of it is guaranteed.
All that is owed to us is entertainment. We take a chance when we back a team that they might not win. They might not do well.
But in the end, can we really expect anything more than entertainment?
So Maybe I’m Not A Fan
I watched the footage of the Andrew Luck scenario breaking. Him being booed off the field by some and then him nearly breaking down at the mic explaining why he made the decision that he made.
Was he lying? Was he overreacting? Was he too soft?
I don’t know. And I don’t think that’s my call to make. What I do know is that he didn’t owe me anything. And if he was making a decision that he thought was the best for he and his family? Then it isn’t my place to argue.
I’ve actually met Andrew Luck. I had the opportunity to speak with him at the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis. I can’t say that I know him or that he actually remembers me. What I do know is that he was very kind, very compassionate, and seemed like a very forthright person. He was also pretty funny – he called me out onstage for being a Cleveland fan. He was great with the kids – not in the sense that he had to be because there were cameras there, but because he wanted to be. He seemed genuine to me. He’s the kind of athlete that I am a fan of – even if I don’t root for his team.
As upset as people were about the potential loss of a season, or the timing of the announcement, or the purchase of jerseys – I respect the feeling because that is hard earned money. But did we need to boo? Did we need to boo him?
What I started to wonder was when those players whose jerseys we have owned need a walker to be mobile, or can’t keep up with their kids or their grandkids, when they can’t live their best lives, are we still fans? Are we still supporters? I’m not saying we owe them anything, but where is the point where the applause ends? Why do we cheer and why do we jeer? And when do we just forget?
I don’t say this to be critical or condescending. I’m thinking out loud and questioning what it means to be a fan.
Some will say that this line of thinking and questioning is too Pollyannaish, that to be a fan you have to be hardcore. After all, fan is short for fanatic.
So maybe I am not a fan?
I love sports. I love how they can test the mettle of the human spirit. I love how they can reveal the depths of character. I love how it brings out the clash of competitiveness and sportsmanship. I love how it tests limits. I love the storylines and entertainment.
I played sports for years and coached for nearly two decades. I have a big spot in my heart for sports.
I will still go to games. I’ll still get excited about big plays and great games. I’ll still even wear the gear.
But I don’t think I can be die hard about it anymore. I want to be entertained. I want to appreciate talents (that I surely don’t possess) of men and women who have worked hard to hone their crafts. And I want to be respectful of the person behind the mask, jersey, helmet, or whatever.
Maybe I’m not fanatic enough to be a fan.
And I think I’m okay with that.
What does being a fan mean to you?
One Last Thing
I guess the final train of thought I have is what if Andrew Luck (or any athlete facing the same quandary) were my son, best friend, sibling, etc. And what if he called and spoke to me about the dilemma – where to continue or whether to focus on he and his family?
What would I say?
I would hope that I would encourage him to do what is best for he and his family.