Every once in a while, I’ll be chided by an acquaintance about still being a Cleveland Browns fan after all these years of living in Buffalo. Really, no other reason than, ‘rooting for the Browns’ was part of my childhood and will always be a part of me. But, to my friends, they are flabbergasted that nearly four decades on, I am still not a fervent Bills fan.
I think people are fans for various reasons and at different levels of ‘intensity’. For example, when Ohio sports teams play, specifically in my case the Buckeyes and the Browns, it is a visceral experience for me. I’m up, down, pacing, muttering, agonizing, etc. In short, displaying most of the symptoms of a fully vested-my-life-depends-upon-it fan. When my adopted team (Buffalo Bills) play, I’m more detached in my viewing. If the Bills win, great; if they lose, no big deal, we go on to the next game.
In this example, it’s not a case of bandwagon effect since both teams have been disappointing in terms of success over the past several years.
Let me tell you a story. One day in the early 60’s, my dad, uncle and cousin were sitting around the pickle barrel discussing baseball. My uncle mentioned that he was a loyal Yankees fan. I couldn’t believe it; my uncle who was otherwise a supporter of Ohio sports teams, was a Yankees fan.
I asked my uncle about it; ‘Why not Cleveland? Or the other Ohio team, the Reds? Or why not even the Pirates?’, since we lived about equidistant between Cleveland and Pittsburgh. He replied. ’I just like the Yankees better’. I dropped the subject, but still couldn’t get over the fact, that my uncle, true blue fan of local sports, had become a ‘traitor’ by favoring the Yankees. Harsh judgment, indeed, leveled by a 10-year old.
50 52 years later, I was reading a collection of old letters, war-time correspondence actually, between my dad (USMC-Pacific), my uncle (USA-Europe) and my grandparents (Worried Parents-Stateside). They ranged in having elements of interest, humor and pathos, but all poignant. Especially the letter from my uncle from a rehab location in May 1945. See, his unit had been captured during the Battle of the Bulge, and he’d spent four months in a German POW camp. The predominant theme of his letter concerned comforts that he’d been deprived in the camp. Which gave me pause to think about a lot of things in life. You could be a fan because of Social Identity or attain/confirm social status or sometimes, you just feel like it.
In retrospect, my uncle had earned the right to cheer for whatever team he damn well felt like…
So, why are you a fan?