More people would be sports fans if sports fans didn’t suck so much

Photo by: Wade Ellis

Sports fandom, at its best, is a beautiful example of community, passion, and just general humanity. At its worst, it’s divisive, exclusive and seemingly untouchable. 

For people who love sports, the benefits of being a fan are obvious. There’s no feeling like seeing your team mount a comeback in the dying minutes of a game. The potential for collective joy and exuberance feels near endless. Even the catharsis of a bitter loss is something to be appreciated. 

To me, watching sports is a deeply enriching experience. I have never bonded with strangers more quickly than I have at a live sporting event. It’s the fastest way to feel like part of something bigger than yourself. This happens other places too. You can experience collective joy and sorrow at the theatre, or feel like a small piece of a larger picture by finding satisfaction in your job. 

But sport is spontaneous, and in that spontaneity is something special. Nobody knows what’s going to happen next. When you watch, you become part of the collective, all waiting to find out how it’s going to end. 

I don’t mean to wax poetic about sport, but I do it a lot, especially when I try to get my friends to sit down and watch a game with me. The amount of times I’ve said “Just give it a chance, I’m sure you’ll like it,” is more than anyone can count. 

Sports fandom can seem exclusive. People who value the things that sport celebrates;, teamwork, camaraderie, dedication and joy—, find themselves on the outside looking in far too often. Part of that comes from the stereotypes that seem to surround watching sports. If someone doesn’t feel “bro-y” enough to watch a football game, they’re probably not going to seek it out themselves.

There’s more to it though, and it has to do with how existing sports fans treat new fans.

I was lucky in the fact that the person who I grew up watching sports with had endless patience for my barrage of questions. I learned about hockey by watching, sure, but I also learned because my Ddad explained what the lines on the ice meant about a million times. 

Not everyone is so lucky. For new fans, especially those who get into a sport after childhood, their initial questions are met with scoffs and ridicule. There are some diehard sports fans who think it’s a crime to not know who won the World Series in 1994 (it’s always a trick question). It’s hard to blame anyone for being too nervous to ask how many innings there are in a baseball game when that’s the reaction they might be met with. 

I truly believe that more people would like sports if us sport fans were nicer. I don’t mean that we have to stop chirping or trash talking, or even climbing the lamp posts in Philadelphia after championship games. I mean that we should all do a better job of leading with kindness. Sports fanaticism is a labour of love; no one would cheer for the Toronto Maple Leafs after all these years of disappointment without some element of unconditional affection. 

Sharing the things we love is part of what makes loving them special, sports should be no different. Part of that sharing is explaining how it works, it’s taking the time with someone and looping them in on the things they might not know about. It’s letting a new fan pick their favourite player because they like their number, because let’s be honest, that’s how we all did it when we were kids. It’s about explaining the same rule until someone finally gets it, and then beaming with pride the first time they yell at the referee about it. 

Sports are for sharing, and the more people we can share them with, the better. 

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