Sports, Reading and Belonging
First of all, let me start with the confession: I did not watch the Superbowl. Okay, stop throwing rotten tomatoes at me – I know plenty of people who didn’t. But, I do hope that those who watched it had a great time. More power to you! My husband is a maniacal sports fan, as is my dad, so I’ve been exposed to sport my whole life. I admit that sometimes I shake my head at their fanaticism and wonder why it all matters. I think my husband’s dedication to his teams borders on the insane sometimes, but he insists that he’s no different from any other fan. It has been an ongoing discussion for our entire marriage, the same way he shakes his head at my desire to read a novel in a day. He’s a big reader, too, but he savors books while I tend to inhale them.
To that end, my husband pointed me toward this article on a site called the Volokh Conspiracy, which is normally one of his favorite law blogs (he’s a lawyer) but sometimes tackles other topics as well. This particular post compares sports fans to fans of literature and posits that one is not crazier than the other, and in fact, perhaps they have a lot in common.
My grandmother, who I called Grammy, was an educational psychologist and she always said that a human’s strongest need is to belong. She said it didn’t matter to what you belonged – but belonging itself is a fundamental need. She, personally, wanted her family to feel like they belonged to each other, and went to great lengths to ensure that we are all firmly tied together, but that’s not the point. Clearly the undercurrent in this posting is that humans come together over sports – they belong to/in the city of the team and therefore root for it. It’s the same for literature, I’d say, based on this posting. Humans identify with the characters in novels because they yearn to fit in – to see themselves in a bigger context. Sports fans cross barriers of race, class, and other characteristics. So do literary figures. The Walmart employee without a college education has just as much of a possibility to adore Jane Eyre as I do – the same parts of it might not speak to us the same way, but we could both love the novel – and the heroine. Grammy would love this posting, I think – especially since she loved sports so much.
If nothing else, I understand my husband a little more. And perhaps he can relate to me a little more, too. We may not have a shared passion, but we have passions we can share.
You and VC hit the nail right on the head with this one! This is a point that folks in counterculture fandoms have been trying to make for decades… But, sadly, that we often get bullied and belittled for.
Goths are fans of the dark and macabre – clothing, literature, movies, etc. Gamers and science-fiction/fantasy fans (often called fen) love books, games, movies, etc.
Both sets of fans are tied to the outcome of what they are fanatic about… and “fan” is just short for fanatic.
So, while it’s absolutely “the norm” for people to wear their favorite team gear, players’ numbers, and even face paint, goodness save the poor student or coworker who goes to their job on “casual Friday” dressed not in Patriots or Red Sox gear (at least here in MA), but black frills or a D&D T-shirt.
Society mocks particular fandoms, Harry Potter geeks, Trekkies, and even those strange Jane Austin ladies who gather for tea once a month, because there is this strange idea that such behaviors are more peculiar than the, honestly, equally peculiar actions of sports fans. And this is not just sad, but harmful to those who aren’t part of the socially accepted “fandom.”
It leads to bullying and disenfranchisement of people who are merely a different type of fan – yet just as afflicted with passion and the desire to express that passion with others who share it.
I wish more people would make the observations you and VC make about fandom… and perhaps fewer kids will come home crying from school and more adults will treat each other with simple respect. We, humans, may not share passion for the same things, but we do share PASSION.
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