“Stop givin’ juice to the Raiders,
Cause Al Davis never paid us.”
Imagine a girl. Very pretty, a joy to be around, and a nice person that is kind to animals and people alike. She’s a good person, and deserves a good boyfriend, someone who is nice and kind to her.
She has a boyfriend. But he sucks. He makes her pay for everything. When they do something, he tells her what they’re going to do, never asks what she want to do, and never makes any accommodations to her wishes. He only pays attention to her when he wants something out of her, but when she needs something, he is totally unresponsive. He relentlessly lies to her, and is transparently dismissive of their relationship and her as a person. He makes important decisions that impact her without asking her, or consulting her or even considering what she wants. He takes her completely for granted, and almost seems like he holds her in contempt. In essence, he treats her like garbage. Yet, she worships him and supports him no matter what.
What would you tell her? You’d say what any reasonable person would say: What the hell is wrong with you? Why are accepting this? You can do better. He’s not worth it, there are so many other great guys out there who won’t treat you so badly, stop putting up with this.
Now, think about this: If you are a devoted fan of a pro sports team, you have the exact same relationship…with that team.
You are the girlfriend, the team is the boyfriend, and they don’t give a shit about you, and you love them anyway.
Yes, yes, if you aren’t a huge fan of a pro sports team, I’m sure you are smugly saying, “Well of course!” Fuck off. This post isn’t for you. If you’re not a complete loser and actually like sports, then this probably applies to you. I know I see these people everywhere; on TV, on the street, in bars, on my Facebook feed. They are the majority of America.
Stop and really look at it, especially if you are really intense about your team. Why do you buy their gear? Or emotionally invest in their results? Why do you put so much effort into them? Why do you identify with them…when they don’t give a fuck about you? In what other arena of your life would you accept such incredibly awful abuse and one-sided loyalty?
I am not excluding myself from this analysis. I used to be like that. The specific pro football team I root for doesn’t matter, but I used to be a diehard fan, as intense as anyone else out there. I didn’t paint my face or act like an idiot to get on camera, but I was a close.
I’m not sure when I changed. I think it was about ten years ago, maybe fifteen. I can’t even remember the incident that triggered it, what made me actually think this through and undertand not only that I was in such a one-sided relationship, but that it had all the hallmarks of an abusive relationship. I just realized I was expending all sorts of emotional energy on this perverse relationship that took all this time and effort from me, yet gave me back nothing except the vague and tenuous association with a company that existed to do nothing other than take my money from me.
And I stopped and thought about why I even cared at all. This tem had literally NEVER done one thing for me personally, or even acknowledged my existence. So why care so much? I realized it was because of the memories I had with people I cared about that were associated with the team. Going to games with my mom, or rooting for them with friends, reveling in victories and suffering in defeats as if we were part of the organization. What I valued was the relationships and social bonds and memories I had with people, and since some of those formed around that team, I imputed them on to the team.
But the team itself could literally have been ANY of the NFL teams. Once I really looked at it for what it was and realized this, I could never really go back.
I still love pro football. And I still watch pro football; I think I always will, because it is a great game to watch and I enjoy it immensely. And yes, I still follow my old team, and I guess in a sense, I still root for them. I mean, I prefer to see them do well as opposed to poorly. I’m not angry at them–they didn’t force me to be a fan, after all. They just treated me the way I let them, the way that fans have always allowed that relationship to exist.
But I now invest the same emotional energy into them that they invest in me: virtually none. I watch pro football because I enjoy it, and I enjoy the things that happen around it with the people I care about–no other reason. I don’t misplace my emotions in things that don’t deserve them.
I want my relationships to be meaningful, and meaningful relationships require emotional connection, a core component of which is reciprocity. You will never get that from a professional sports team, because they don’t care about you as a person at all. Only people can care about people.
EDIT: I hadn’t read this, but apparently Justin Halpern wrote a similar thing, only about the Chargers. It’s good, worth reading he makes very similar points to me–probably because they are all correct and pretty obvious when you think about them.