There is an epidemic plaguing the sports world that no one appears to have noticed. It has nothing to do with concussions, steroids, illegal hits, or J.R. Smith’s Twitter account. It involves the only people not actually involved in the games themselves: the fans.
Yes you, the sports fan, the connoisseur of athletic knowledge, responsible for spreading the good news to sinful viewers of shows about vampires and werewolves. You are not doing your job properly and you probably know it.
Now, this is not meant to be a diatribe against the casual sports viewer. Most people are simply not inclined to invest emotionally in a team. This is okay. What is not okay is the growing number of sports fans who think they are emotionally invested in a team, but are sadly not.
If you’ve answered the question, “Did you see the game last night?” with, “No, but I watched the highlights,” consider yourself in sports purgatory. Yes, it is easy to watch SportsCenter, and most of us utilize a convenient sports information app on our phones in this day and age, but these are not excuses to eliminate from our sports diet the beauty that is all the random plays that happen during a game. That’s what makes being a sports fan fun all the time.
Last year, for example, I knew each Miami Heat highlight would probably include an impressive block, dunk, or assist from LeBron James, but this told me nothing about where the team would be in June’s NBA playoffs. But if I had watched Heat games and noticed their struggles in defending against the three-point shot, maybe I, like many NBA fans, wouldn’t have been so surprised when Danny Green of the San Antonio Spurs burned them for an NBA Finals record 27 three-pointers. For a sports fan in tune with all the variables surrounding a game, unusual events become less a shock than they are a confirmation of knowledge collected over time.
If watching highlights exclusively lands you in sports purgatory, then faking understanding or “hopping on the bandwagon” will introduce you to Lucifer. If you are not familiar with a sport to the level that the rules of said sport confuse you, adopt the role of the silent observer. Lofting out comments such as, “That was so crazy,” or, “He’s just too good,” mid-game are not helpful or encouraged. Enjoy the game and join the conversation when you’re ready. For example, I admittedly do not fully understand hockey. The puck moves too damn fast and Canada is far too involved. When I watch games with my friends, many of whom are avid fans, I willingly take a backseat in the viewing process; but, be sure, the day I figure out what the hell “icing” is, I will join the conversation.
I must clarify the difference between being a fan and being a fan. Take the aforementioned Miami Heat. During their most recent championship run (and eventual victory), media pundits criticized Heat fans for leaving Game 6 of the NBA Finals early. They were called “fake” and “an embarrassment,” among other things. But how quickly we overlook the “new” Miami Heat fans that had popped up all over the country over the course of the playoffs. Maybe they started watching the Heat because “they’ve always liked LeBron” or “their brother-in-law used to live in Miami, so it’s cool.” This is not being a fan. The real fans were praying for something, anything, to change.
To reach the level of fandom where close games bring you to your feet and crushing losses have you shouting irrationally at players that cannot hear you, is to experience something that will become a part of your life. Go out and find a team and commit to them for a season. You’ll be amazed how quickly you shed the role of silent observer and experience the rewards of being in the conversation.