One of my favorite sports weekends of the year is the NFL’s Wild Card round, this past weekend being extra special as my Miami Dolphins were participants for the first time since 2008. They got manhandled, too many injured players leading to a 30-12 drubbing and prompting many to question why I’m a fan of theirs to begin with. I’ve lived in New England all my life, all of my other teams are based in Boston. What’s the story?
As a young kid just starting to become interested in watching sports, I wasn’t concerned with regional loyalties or what teams my friends liked. I wanted to watch the guys that were fun to watch. In those days that was a long haired quarterback named Dan Marino chucking the football all over the field to wide receivers Mark Clayton and Mark Duper. Thirty five years later I’m still waiting for them to reward my loyalty with some sustained success.
How we choose what teams, and more precisely, which players, we root for has been on my mind a lot these past few days.
Last Tuesday the NBA’s Boston Celtics hosted the Utah Jazz, defeating them 155-104. The biggest stories to come out of the contest were before hand, Celtics fans cheering for Utah’s upcoming free agent Gordon Hayward, and after the game, when current Celtic starting forward Jae Crowder voiced his displeasure about the reaction to reporters and went on a Trumpian twitter spree.
What started as a disgruntled player feeling disrespected by fans that would like to see him replaced soon turned into something much different. Members of the national media, including ESPN’s Bomani Jones and Israel Gutierrez suggesting that Boston fans wouldn’t only rather have Hayward than Crowder because they think he’s a better player, but because he’s white. Jake O’Donnell of SportsGrid.com going so far as to call Boston fans “gross.”
It’s an idiotic premise, but one that is good for debate and inciting emotion, two things that sports coverage, like just about every other corner of the news world, seems to be more dedicated to than actual reporting.
I don’t think that anybody would disagree with the notion that sports fandom is itself inherently illogical. Those players I watched as a kid are long gone but I still find myself emotionally involved in the success or failure of other guys, strangers all, that are playing games wearing the same jersey.
Our reasons for liking individual players can sometimes make sense. There are players that simply awe us with their skill level. Michael Jordan, Walter Peyton, Ken Griffey Jr or Serena Williams. Other times it is the player’s backstory that appeals to us. Monica Seles returning after an on-court stabbing or Josh Hamilton’s battles back from addiction. When he was just a gritty, hardworking rebounder with the San Antonio Spurs and not yet a cartoon character I always enjoyed watching Dennis Rodman play.
Sometimes they make less sense. I don’t watch much NASCAR but my favorite driver would be Joey Lagano because he’s from Connecticut. On the PGA tour I like Bubba Watson because it’s fun to say Bubba. Shaquille O’neal has always been entertaining but my favorite non-Celtic center of all time is Hall of Famer Arvydas Sabonis – because he’s Lithuanian, of course.
The one thing that we all want is to have the players on our teams that will give us the best chance to win.
I’d personally rather keep Jae Crowder’s defense over the extra scoring we’d get with Gordon Hayward and don’t like the idea of cheering for any opposing player when they come onto our court, but there is a lot to like about a 26 year old player averaging 22.4 points and 6 rebounds a game, especially compared to Crowder’s 12.7 and 5.
There are a number of other reasons that some might like Hayward better. He grew up in Indiana, the same as Celtic legend Larry Bird. He played his college ball at Butler under current Celtic coach Brad Stevens. Maybe some people like that he’s a tennis player or that he’s a twin.
Chances are there really are some that would just rather have a white small forward on the team than a black one. To assume that the majority feel that way is not only insulting but ignores the simple truth about who we choose to cheer for : it often makes very little sense at all.