[originally published on Yahoo! Sports in June 2012]
With the recent passing of Rodney King, it’s prompted us, as a nation, to revisit race relations in this country. Without getting too much into that, I’d like to stride along a parallel path to point out that as civil rights have navigated peaks and valleys throughout history, there is an issue that has run consistently over time, under the radar, an unspoken ill, eschewing logic for gut feelings and emotion.
Fanism in this country (the generalized labeling of an entire group of fans with a single, specific characteristic) is still rampant. So I say, as the late Rodney King said on that fateful day in 1991, “Ow.” (He also said “Can’t we all just get along?” And upon further consideration, I’d say that second quote probably resonates more with my article, so I’ll go with that one instead.)
Think of those fans you hate, or those fans that drive you nuts. It’s not only them as individuals per se, but everyone like them. What traits do they all have in common that bug you, that you’ve seen as a recurring theme among them?
We stereotype. It’s human nature. When you get down to it, aren’t we all a little bit fanist?
Stereotypes are a funny thing. They begin when there is a recurrent theme pertaining to a certain group, whether focusing on region, gender, Veganism, whatever. Sometimes they are exaggerated, like, for instance, not all Jews have Chinese food on Sundays and not all Amish like to polka. Sports fans are no different.
Are the stereotypes true? There are things you think of rival fans that have become engrained in your mind as fact. It may be an accurate description, or you may be manifesting something unfounded, but convenient. What do we base them on? Sociological studies? A coin flip? Some prankster with a popular blog? There isn’t a think tank out there that holds a meeting and decides, “We’ll start saying that Milwaukee Bucks fans are bad tippers.” (Although if there was some office to manipulate these kinds of made-up labels, outcomes, and so forth, I would imagine it would be overseen by David Stern.)
Fair or not, these characterizations are stuck with fans of these teams. And sometimes, the actual portion of the fan base that resembles this may only be a very small percentage, if you will -- the one-percenters. (Except these outlier fans have a lot less money and a lot more free time to do stupid, mean things than the one-percent of guys who are too busy ruining the American financial system.) Yet it sticks to them.
Let’s go around the country. What do you think when you think of certain fan bases?
Let’s start in the Northeast and my ol’ stomping ground (Ironically, that’s where the term stomping ground began as well as there’s actually a stomping ground dating all the way back to revolutionary times when patriotic Colonials would come home, tired from a long day of rabble rousing just to stomp around for a while to let off steam. It was a forebear to Zumba classes.)
When you think of Boston fans, you may immediately classify them as the racist city in the sports landscape. This image has formed over decades, beginning with the fact the Red Sox were the last team to assimilate black ballplayers onto their major league squad, continuing through the 60s, even as Bill Russell won championship after championship on a predominantly white ballclub, to when former Celtics player Dee Brown was pulled over and charged with DWB (“driving while black,” to those not hip to the slang), up to the present.
Last month, Bostonian’s seemingly sunk to new lows with racist tweets after the Bruins loss to the Capitals. A few weeks later, they were caught dumping beer on Lebron (technically on top of the screen that covers the tunnel back to the locker rooms) as Lebron passed underneath. Now fans are calling Boston fans racist and classless.
But classless doesn’t stick as a label for Boston. Every fan base has classless fans. That’s an unfortunate fact. (Sports are there to give the lives of such fans some worth by providing them a team of their chosen to put their energies in the hopes of that team succeeding where their lives have failed.) But in terms of classless, I think fans would call out Detroit or Philadelphia before Boston. Racist? Well, yeah, Boston fans still can’t get out from the grinder on that one.
If you’ve been to Philadelphia, you know their fans to be among the least civil of all. They have that reputation. They’ve thrown ice balls at players, and Santa Claus. They boo visiting players who get injured. Philadelphia’s a tough town. It comes from circumstance. They’re not as big as New York and not as historic as Boston. It’s cold there and everyone’s internal chemistry is messed up from eating scrapple and cheesesteaks. They have an inferiority complex bigger than any other city. In fact, they are superior to other cities when it comes to feeling inferior.
But we mustn’t forget New Yorkers. They are brash and confident. It comes from living in New York. If they weren’t, they’d be eaten alive. But to others, it comes off as being obnoxious. Couple that with a sense of entitlement from decades of championship-winning, even before they were born, and it comes out to the world.
Oh, and before I leave this region of the country, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that New Yorkers also like to point out that Boston fans are whiney. Not all of them, but an inordinate number of them. It comes from having to deal with Yankees fans for decades. Strange how the successful of the Celtics has not tempered this character flaw.
Proximity contributes to these depictions, but not always. For instance, Dodgers fans are all the way on the other side of the country. And they are very knowledgeable.
They enjoy the game and seem to have an East-Coast acumen toward it, seemingly from their Brooklyn lineage. (Save for a segment of the fans with anger management issues, but there are many fan bases who have that. It could have been as a response to Frank McCourt’s horrible management of the team.)
Down the road, the (whatever city they are claiming to be a part of this week) Angels fans are nowhere near as knowledge as Dodgers fans. They wait for the Rally Monkey to tell them what to do. Truth be told, even he doesn’t know what’s going on.
Then there are Lakers fans who are, by and large, not knowledgeable at all. They’re not really fans of the NBA, which is an odd thing to say. They love the Lakers and have a knowledge of that team (except when trying to make the case that Kobe is a better player than either Magic or Jerry West, and even Kareem), but are woefully misinformed when it comes to reality. Many continue to call their giant Spaniard Paul Gasol.
Conversations with their fans might find you listening to their claim that their team is a top-notch defensive unit in spite of statistics that would betray their argument quite uncompromisingly. They might be 11th in the league, but what do numbers matter?
Interesting that Los Angeles is known, as a city, for its non-reality. The weather is always nice, breasts are always perky, and time does not progress. So it would stand to reason that they could attempt to make a case that a mediocre defensive team is, in fact, among the best in the league.
But they are certainly passionate toward their team. Seattle is a different beast. In football, the Seahawks possess one of the loudest fan bases and home field advantages, but once the game is over, they are surprisingly calm. It’s a relaxed, laid-back region. It also rains a lot, which may do some to cool emotions.
Remember the Super Bowl that Seattle won, but the officiating team presented to Pittsburgh instead? Egregious call after call went against the Seahawks until they could no longer regain momentum. In 2010, four-and-a-half years later, referee Bill Leavy admitted to blowing the game. But Seattle fans took it all in stride, with disappointment, but civility. Could Philadelphia fans have done that? Oakland fans?
How many times have you cringed when someone mentions the term “Raiders fan?” They have the reputation of being criminals which isn’t fair... since they can’t defend that rap because they’re all in jail.
I kid! I kid! Or do I? Are you saying you place Raiders fans in high regard? Chargers fans certainly do not. When the two teams play each other in San Diego, Raiders fans draw very well because Chargers season ticket holders frequently give away that game because they don’t want to deal with Raiders fans. Is that unfounded? An urban myth? No. It’s what they’ve found out over the years.
St. Louis fans are nice, Chicago Cubs fans are resigned to failure, Cleveland fans make Cubs fans look like Yankees fans, Miami fans are Cuban, Texas Longhorn fans hook things, Duke fans are spoiled, Alabama fans are morons (if you’re an Auburn fan), Auburn fans are morons (if you’re an Alabama fan), the list goes on and on.
Remember, these are stereotypes. You’ll be able to point to fans in each of these cities that don’t fit, but this is how a city is perceived.
I’m sure there are people reading this (or having it read to them due to the big words) who slam their fist down and scream, “Who the hell does this guy think he is?! We’re not like that at all.” Or the ones who equate my article as the lunatic rantings of a typical bitter, jealous, and whiny Boston fan who just enjoys watching his gums flap in the wind.
But that’s just blatant fanism and you should be ashamed of yourself. Rodney King was right, we should just get along. But then, in sports, where’s the fun in that?