Fan support grows out of civic pride. Pride in your community, pride in local accomplishments, pride in your workplace, your school, your family. Cities embrace their local sports heroes, pro or amateur. Parades and speeches for Super Bowl winners. Keys given for the city to record-holders. Names changed on streets for winning coaches. Banners lining city streets heralding specific players. Cereals are named after MVPs.
Why else besides civic pride do newspapers print medal counts for countries during the Olympic games? At one time, it was one way of validating the “American Capitalist Way” over the “Godless Communists” (or vice versa)…a big civic ego measuring and political fodder.
Just looking around my house, I see oodles of Seahawks related junk I’ve purchased over the years. Glasses, cups, seat cushions, pom-poms, bobblehead dolls, antenna balls, apparel, ticket stubs and blankets, just to name a few. And I’m probably no different from other local fans. I watch the games on Sunday, talk about them on Monday, surf the Internet for the latest news, listen to sports radio, and read the newspaper sports sections.
In other words, a pretty typical fan. Not to mention this little gig of writing about them every week. I root for the local teams, get pissed when they stink (How about them Mariners!) shrug my shoulders when they get caught breaking the rules (How about them Dawgs!) or finish out of the playoffs again (How about them Sonics AND Mariners!). I grin and bear all of this because they are OUR teams. Through thick and thin, we have to support them, right?
But therein lies the problem.
Athletes, for the most part, are only beholden to their paychecks. When contract negotiations are going bad, the players spout, “It’s just business”. Most of the players don’t even come from the area in which they play as pros, and for the most part simply endure their time here, collect their paychecks, and as soon as the season is over hop on the first plane out of town to go back to their real homes to be with their families.
Nothing wrong with that. It’s their job. When I was in the Military, traveling all over the world, I didn’t suddenly develop civic pride in where I was, and I loved nothing more than going to my real home when on vacation. This didn’t make me a bad person, it just meant my personal roots didn’t suddenly disappear when I left.
So, the real crux of the problem is, how can normal players of a football team REALLY relate with their fans, when they themselves don’t have the same base of civic pride that the fans have? The football players didn’t grow up rooting for the teams they’re currently playing for, usually.
So, fans pour their hearts and souls into their teams, while the players generally pour their hearts and souls into their bank account. It’s even more telling when the player is part of a perennial loser.
What makes it even more difficult is when, for whatever reason, that player decides to move on. The fans will take it personally. The player is simply reacting to the changing economic climate. How many sports players have left Seattle, claiming the lack of respect they have been given by the organization (where respect = $$$), and suddenly last year’s superstar and most beloved of fans become Persona Non Grata? The players may consider the fans fickle, but it’s actually nothing more than lovers’ scorn.
How many times have you, the fan, wondered to yourself, “How come this player doesn’t LIKE Seattle?” “Why is he/she leaving, what does that other town have that Seattle doesn’t?” “I love Seattle, why don’t they take a pay cut and show some LOYALTY?”
You see, as fans we need to slip on the cleats of the players sometimes and realize that as mercenaries for hire, pro sports athletes don’t have the grass-roots attachment to a team. They may have pride in the organization, and the team, and voice support for it, but they simply can’t compare to the fan’s rabid support, and thus, there will always be animosity when the marriage has gone bad. It especially will happen when the players themselves act like complete ingrates when they leave. It’s like dumping radioactive waste on a bonfire.
So, the next time an opposing player pulls out Sharpie at a football game, and you see the responsible defensive back just shrug their shoulders and smile, take a deep breath and realize, it’s OK to take offense at the Sharpie. Just don’t be surprised if your civic outrage isn’t matched by the players on your team.
Glenn Geiss writes a column for Seahawks.NET every week. Feel free to send him feedback at email@example.com.