I wrote this up on my personal blog last night but I thought it’d be interesting to talk about here.
I was interviewed yesterday by someone doing some academic research about how sports fandom has been transformed by cable television, the web and stuff like that. He chose me to interview because he stumbled across some things I wrote about how I became an Atlanta Braves fan primarily because of Superstation TBS in the 1980s as opposed to me growing up in Atlanta or anything like that.
Among the things the researcher asked me was what it was like to root for an out-of-market team in the days before the Internet without having friends, family and peers who likewise were Braves fans. The researcher specifically asked me about how, absent that connection, I bonded with others over the team I rooted for.
It’s a question I have never once considered. Indeed, before today I have never thought about the fact that, unlike most people who are sports fans, I didn’t really have anyone with whom I talked about the games or with whom I engaged in the communal aspects of sports fandom. All sports fandom, on some level, is tribal, but traditional sports tribalism was a close to nonexistent experience for me. Since my 20s I’ve been able to talk with folks online about it all, but as a kid, when I was most impressionable and when most people’s lifetime sports affiliations are formed, there was none of that at all.
On the one hand, I suppose I’ve missed out on some nice communal experiences as a result of this. The things that happen when a team which hasn’t won much finally makes it to the top and an entire community gets behind it. On the other hand, I think I am way less bummed out when my team doesn’t do as well as others might be because I never had anyone to share misery — especially the sort of misery which feeds off other misery — with. And I wouldn’t be shocked if my interest in the non-sports part of sports and my way of looking at players as entertainers and human beings in ways a lot of people don’t view athletes is attributable to that . . . removed sort of fandom I developed in the 1980s and early 1990s.
I’d be curious to hear if any of you have similar experiences. I know that it’s very different if you grew up with the Internet and you could be on fan forums and things from the youngest of ages, but there are likely still a lot of weird things about rooting for a team no one around you roots for. And I’m sure some of you have similar stories to mine by virtue of your age, national coverage of regional teams on channels like TBS, WGN and WOR and the like.
If you have something to share along these lines in the comments, I’d be eager to read it.