Get on the Bandwagon, Ya Jerk: The Moral Reprehensibility of Fair-Weather Fans

If you are either a human being or a resident of the United States, chances are you consider yourself a sports fan in some capacity. Typically, most rooting is targeted toward a few particular teams. This is no revelation, but bear with me.

Some time ago, a man by the name of B.D. McPherson posited that there are four defining factors of what qualifies someone as a fan. They were:

The fan has some degree of knowledge about a sport/team. This can include basic concepts, such as the fact that it is not customary for pitchers to remove their uniforms and sing ABBA at the top of their lungs when a batter swings and misses. The baseball fan knows that this unwritten rule saves a lot of time, and also saves our ears from infectious Swedish pop.

The fan experiences mood swings in relation to the success or failure of his or her team. This is why if you see someone from Cleveland or Buffalo, you should give them a hug.

The fan arranges his or her lifestyle around sporting events. As a manly man who enjoys a manly sporting event or two, I can attest to this. One time Barack Obama knocked on my door and he was all like “Hey dudeman, wanna chill?” And I was all like “Hang on a couple hours Barry–my team is on the Gridiron AS WE SPEAK.” He understood, though, so that was cool.

Lastly, the fan uses his or her team and/or sport as a topic of conversation with some regularity. They might say things like “that player from that team is really something,” or “Wow! Sports!”

I am assuming that if you read Crooked Scoreboard, you are either a fan who can identify with these four items, or you are my mom. If you are the former, please skip the upcoming sentence. Hello Mom, thank you for reading this!

Now for the rest of you, it’s time to get serious (cue the walking standup bass). Because as wonderful a fan as you are, there are impostors among us! In fact, some people are what we call “fair-weather fans,” or “bandwagoners.” They are the scum of the earth. They are the grime that grows on the underside of your toilet bowl. They are the filth that accumulates in your cuticles after you’ve been digging around a pool that’s filled with the feces of every animal that is currently existent. It’s like the story of Noah’s Ark if it went incredibly awry. I know this it’s dramatic, but it’s true. Fair-weather fans are the worst.

Or… are they?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a lunatic when it comes to my teams. I once squeezed 36 saltine crackers in my hand because I was so upset about a play at first base where Paul O’Neill was CLEARLY SAFE DO YOU HAVE EYES UMP ( I know this raises a lot of questions, but long story short I grew up in a saltine-rich environment). But is it possible, is it just possible, that maybe fair-weather fans aren’t the worst possible thing, worse than stubbing one’s toe on a rusty scimitar?

The phrase “fair-weather fan” comes from “fair-weather friend,” which is a person who ditches you the moment things get rough. Being a fair-weather friend is an extremely despicable thing to be, because what is a friend but somebody who supports you with unconditional love? I believe Marilyn Monroe said something to the effect of “if you can’t handle me at my worst, when I’m kicking kittens and telling people that 9/11 was a government-created conspiracy, then you don’t deserve me at my best, when I’m only implying the conspiracy business.” She was a complicated lady.

But fandom and friendship are entirely different beasts. The Yankees never held your hand at the hospital when you got that ballpoint pen removed from your ear canal. The Raiders didn’t write to congratulate you when your sisters planted a ficus in the front yard. And the Grizzlies don’t know that your favorite rap album with a baby on the cover is Ready to Die by Notorious B.I.G., although one would think that they could get that right in a few guesses.

I think before we can delve further into the discussion on fair-weatherism, we should first go through some of the factors that lead to someone going for a particular team in the first place. The way, I see it, here are those factors, sorted from most respected rationale to least:

The team is close to where you grew up. This is why such a high percentage of Jazz fans are Mormons. This was discussed by one of my partners in crime last week right here. (Note for my mom: I was just kidding about the crime thing–I lead a very wholesome life! I even cooked my own dinner last night!)

Growing up, your role models liked the team. For example, although I plan on raising my fourteen children in Fiji, where the beaches are as crisp as the potato chips that I had for dinner, I would be sorely disappointed if they didn’t appreciate the same teams that I do. Of course, they would be in constant competition for my affection, there being fourteen of them and all, so the fandom thing can be a nice piece of bribery to work into the mix. “Chewbacca, if you really want to be my third-favorite son, just how many times was the number eight retired by the Yankees?”

Your favorite player is on the team. Of course, sometimes someone becomes your favorite player because they play for your favorite team. But let’s not get too tied up in semantics–life is too short for things such as correlation and causation. Maybe I did kick you in the shin, and maybe your shin is bruised, but the universe is just random chaos, man! Entropy is everywhere!

The team is successful.

The team is successful? That’s where the needle flies off the record, the wolf howls at the moon, and Mike Ditka wakes in the middle of the night in a cold sweat. There is a prevalent notion that fandom requires loyalty through the lows and highs, the botched field goals and the 80-yard runs, the turnovers and the alley-oops, the wild pitches and the web gems, the bad hockey plays and the good hockey plays. The theory goes that if you didn’t stick with the team through 500 yards of shit, then the eventual joy of victory won’t be as great. But is that fair? Try telling someone that they can’t be truly happy in their marriage until they’ve had a failed marriage before, or that they can’t appreciate how fun it is to be a millionaire unless they’ve worked at Wendy’s at one point. Winning feels good no matter what, and it seems a bit masochistic to require years of anguish before one can be a true fan.

For the past four years I have lived in Washington Not the State. The biggest team here, by far, is the Redskins, the unfortunately named football team that doesn’t actually play in Washington, and which hasn’t won it all–or been particularly close–in my lifetime. Yet cheering for them is a badge people are proud to wear. No, they haven’t been good, and they probably won’t be good this coming season. But there is no other team Virginians and Washingtonians and Marylanders would rather root for, because, as they say, “No pain, no gain.” And there are a whole bunch of people enduring the former just for the faint possibility that one year their Redskins will be better than 31 other teams.

HOWEVER, if that day ever comes, the fair-weather fans will plop into the bandwagon like so many tunas in a can. And suddenly Redskin nation will endure the HYPE, that dreaded beast that goes hand-in-hand with success, and suddenly a line will be drawn in that Fijian sand separating the “real” fans from the clowns who never crushed all those saltines into a fine powder.

Does this seem at all odd to you, though? Doesn’t it make a little sense that people should root for successful teams? To me, the sports world is unique in this regard. Look at music, for example. I love Yo La Tengo more than Spongebob loves superheroes who wear bras made out of shells, but if they made a really lousy album I wouldn’t necessarily listen to it nonstop. If they made several more, I might go elsewhere when I develop a jonesing for droning, melancholy music about being diffident and such. Apple makes great products and so they’re quite popular with folks these days–but if they release an iPad that explodes whenever you touch it, I might go elsewhere for my technology needs. And though I think McDonald’s double cheeseburgers are delicious, if it came out that McDonald’s food is in any way unhealthy I might think twice about going there. All right, that last one is too far from reality to be useful here, but you get what I’m saying.

And then we have sports, which are just as interested in taking your money as any other industry. They give you some of your most wonderful highs and crushing lows, but at the end of the day when they look at you all they see is a potential profit. We look at the NBA’s tankapalooza, and we are almost comforted by the thought of Sam Hinkie doing a pure rebuilding, scrapping everything and constructing a team that will compete in the years to come. But the bottom line is still always the bottom line, and none of the process would be possible if the team didn’t have a loyal fan base (i.e.: collection of wallets) to rely on (i.e.: open and remove money from). They are selling hope, just as the Redskins are, just as every other North American team besides maybe the Cavaliers are.

We tend to view our favorite teams as beacons of light, wonderful constants in a world that is filled with unpleasant things such as taxes, mortgages, and the fourth season of Arrested Development. But would this change if we looked at them as they really are–collections of rich people trying to turn a hefty profit? I think we both know the answer, in that people will continue to feel loyal through rebuilding, mediocrity, and outright failure. It doesn’t completely make sense, but we are tied to the teams we are tied to, and that is a bond thicker than Mikhail Prokhorov’s accent.

Still though, questions remain. Namely, is it really that morally reprehensible to expect your team to succeed, and to perhaps question your allegiance after years of unrewarded pain? Maybe I was spoiled growing up on the YankeesWhenTheyWereGood, but the point still stands. Being a fair-weather fan isn’t a respected move, but isn’t it just a lot more fun when the weather is nice outside?