Why Can't We Be Fans? While We're Waiting...

Sports are performed by the athletes, but they are generally watched and covered by two distinct and very different parties: media and fans. The relationship between the two seems to be getting worse, but why?

Happy Tuesday, WFNY!

As “Cleveland Week” continues on The Ringer, we here at WFNY continue to celebrate Cleveland Lifetime. But sometimes in these While We’re Waiting... sections we can stray a little from solely Cleveland-based subjects. With the RNC being in Cleveland this week, I was really tempted to spend my space on the page here today spewing my thoughts on the Republican Party, but I would basically just be rehashing everything Will McAvoy said about them on the HBO series The Newsroom. Nothing good would come of that, half of the readers would be angry about it, and the other half would just be annoyed about having to read political opinion on a sports site. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lAjX2aiX3PM

I always try to remain acutely aware that you guys come to WFNY for sports, not politics. So in the mantra of “stick to sports”, let’s talk sports. Specifically, let’s talk about being fans and what that means. In my view of the sports media landscape, I actually see a widening divide between fans and media. Which is totally counter-intuitive. As more and more writers build experience by writing as fans on “blogs” first before/while attending school for journalism, and eventually moving on to become high profile national writers, covering the sports at large, one would expect that fan identity to remain intact. That doesn’t seem to always be the case, though. 

This specific topic has been on my mind a lot in recent weeks, particularly in the wake of Kevin Durant’s defection to Golden State. This is not a new thing. We’ve seen LeBron James do it twice now. But both of those instances revolved around the team I love and follow and write about. It would be impossible for me to remove the fan experience from my point of view. All of my opinions on LeBron James and the state of free agency in the NBA were rooted in my lifetime of following the Cleveland Cavaliers. There was no chance of my having an objective viewpoint on LeBron James and the balance of power. 

The Durant situation is slightly different. Sure, Durant going to Golden State does have a likely effect on the Cavaliers’ chances of repeating as champions, but really, I’ve been able to follow this story as just a fan of the NBA. And I do, as a fan, have opinions of Durant’s decision, what it means for the NBA, and what it means for free agency. Yet all of those opinions still come from this idea of fandom. I have no real stake in the game other than the enjoyment I get from watching quality, competitive basketball. 

It’s been weird, then, watching the national media routinely scold fans for being fans when discussing Durant and the Warriors. There seems to be this holier-than-thou tone of parental admonishment as the oh-so-neutral NBA media tells fans why they shouldn’t be allowed to be angry with Durant’s decision. Somewhere along the line it has become heretical to oppose stacking of the decks. Even worse, there’s been a tone beneath the surface hinting as racial ideology being at play. 

“Oh, so you fans were OK when the old rich white men told players where they had to play, but now that it’s the young rich black men who are calling the shots you guys hate it?”

Someone needs to give the poor straw man a brain. Maybe, just maybe—hear me out here—maybe fans just want their teams to have the best chance to win? There are 30 NBA teams out there. Fans of 29 of the 30 teams do not want the Warriors to win the NBA Championship. So roughly 97 percent of fans didn’t want Durant to go to the Warriors and make them the prohibitive favorites to win. So why is the national media so shocked that fans don’t like Durant’s decision? Why do they have to try to assign additional narratives to this?

Fans can not like Durant’s choice without being anti-free agency. I can honestly tell you that I have not read or heard one single person say that NBA players should not have the right to choose where they play. Believe it or not, it is completely possible to accept and approve of the concept of free agency and still have personal preferences on where we hope players choose to play. As someone who knows the pain of losing a superstar before your team wins the championship, I have no problem admitting I was hoping Durant would stay in Oklahoma City. My disgust with Durant choosing to join the team that just set the regular season record for wins and that knocked the Thunder out of the playoffs has nothing to do with my feelings on the “system”. 

I’ve written countless piece on WFNY where I reference my love of head to head battles between superstars. It’s my favorite aspect of basketball and why this sport has always been my favorite to watch. Watching Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley go at each other with amazing performance after amazing performance in the 1993 NBA Finals was one of my favorite childhood basketball memories. There was Dominique Wilkins vs Larry Bird in Game 7 of the 1988 Eastern Conference semis. The LeBron James and Dwyane Wade head to head matchups. Magic vs Bird. Kobe vs Iverson. Jordan vs Malone. Shaq vs Olajuwon. These clashes of the titans are some of the most memorable matchups we’ve ever seen and they provided so much entertainment value. There’s nothing wrong with being a fan and wanting to see more of that and less of players teaming up on a select few teams. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3EcC2FC-8wo

Yet for all the time I’ve spent writing about my love of those matchups, I’ve never once written anything about being against the system and wanting to take away a player’s right to choose his destination. Sure, I’d favor a system that could further incentivize a player to stay with the team that drafted them, but I want that to be the player’s choice. There’s nothing political about fans’ wanting equality across all rosters. It’s just fans being fans. We root for our teams and we want our teams to have as good a chance of winning as anyone else. When super teams are formed, it reduces most other teams’ chances. And fans don’t like that. It’s harmless, and I could do without all the lectures about how fans are wrong for being fans. 

Here’s the simple truth. Fans are going to be mad at a player when they choose to leave their team. Not because fans hate the concept of rich young black men having the power to control their own fate, but simply because they want their team to be good and they love watching the players play for their teams. It’s really just that simple. Cleveland fans have been called hypocritical for embracing LeBron James after lashing out at him for leaving. Guess what? You’re right. Fans are hypocritical. Cleveland fans were mad at LeBron when he left and now we love him because he came back and brought us a championship. It’s OK to feel this way. 

It’s important for the media to better understand where fans are coming from, but I suppose it’s also important for fans to better understand where the media is coming from. Without question, the vitriol and scolding is not all one sided. Fans lash out at the media just as often, mostly because fans don’t understand that it’s the media’s job to present information without bias and without the scope of that concept of being a fan. 

When talking about Isaiah Crowell’s decision to attend the funeral of one of the Dallas police officers who was killed in the recent attacks, I thought the President of the Dallas Fallen Officer Foundation, Demetrick Pennie, delivered one of the most inspirational quotes I’ve heard recently. He said, “We, in the Dallas Police Department, are hurting and now it is time to start the healing process by creating greater understanding in the community. My interactions with Mr. Crowell demonstrates that mutual understanding is possible as long as both parties are willing to listen.”

I don’t in any way mean to trivialize what happened in Dallas by comparing to sports fans vs sports media, but read that quote again. Mutual understanding is possible as long as both parties are willing to listen. I love that so much. It can be applied to almost every facet of our lives. I’d like to see a less antagonistic relationship between fans and media, but that can only happen when both sides are willing to listen and understand where the other is coming from. 

I hope we can all keep this mind. Enjoy your Tuesday, my friends, and have a great rest of your week here at WFNY!


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