Apparently “real fans” are supposed to shut up and be quiet

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My Braves post this morning struck a nerve, it seems. The nerve belongs to an emailer who apparently believes that sports fandom is an “either you’re with us or against us” proposition and that it’s somehow illegitimate to be unhappy when your team sucks and the people who run it don’t seem to care.

He writes:

The real reason you hate rebuilding is that you were never a real Braves fan in the first place.  You’re a you fan, a navel-gazer, a carpet-bagger and a front-runner.  The Braves don’t care about front-runners, nor should they.

Real fans can embrace a rebuild because they’re rooting for the same team that they’ve always rooted for.  A real fan can accept a few years of pain in the name of a solid rebuild.  Given that you don’t really follow the team or spend any significant money on your fandom – why should any Braves fan or any member of the team care what you think at all?  You’re a nu-fan, expressing nu-fan whines.  There’s a place for such expression on the internet and that place is at G.E. on the blog of a network that doesn’t even cover baseball.  Talk about a fart in a dust-storm.

I have no idea who this person is or how old they are, but I’ll observe that I’ve been a Braves fan since the mid-1980s and, unless “nu fan” has some counterintuitive definition, I’m not exactly that. There’s a decent chance, in fact, I’ve been rooting for the Braves longer than my correspondent has been alive.

Not that any of that matters, as how long or how deeply anyone has been a fan is beside the point. Indeed, the very idea that fans are subject to some sort of test of their loyalty or depth of their fandom before they are able to have opinions about the team they root for is one of the lamest, most retrograde notions in sports fandom today. It’s record store hipster elitism imported to sports, purporting to judge who is and who isn’t entitled to be entertained or to voice their opinion.

It’s also the sort of sentiment which institutions, be they sports teams, governments or companies of any kind, count on in order to not be accountable to their fans, citizens or customers. An implicit “you don’t get it” to defend bad behavior, followed up with the enlistment of the super devoted to “correct” the putatively less invested and to get them to accept the institution’s lines. If you criticize our leader, you’re not really loyal. If you don’t like the new product, you’re not one of their preferred customers.  If you don’t agree with the team’s rebuild, you’re not really a true fan. Please. Loyalty tests will only tell you who the first ones will be to drink the Kool-Aid and who the last ones will be to realize they’re dead.

I’m not sure when trusting the plan of a baseball team’s front office, regardless of how it’s carried out or communicated, became a test of one’s devotion to a team. I know it had to be before Dayton Moore famously told Royals fans to “trust the process,” because that was roundly mocked and, eventually, the Royals realized that the proof was in the pudding, not in the words. Maybe it’s from the early “Moneyball” era when A’s fans didn’t have much reason for baseball hope but did see a smart front office doing unconventional things. Worth noting, however, that as far as I can recall Billy Beane never scoffed at fans the way Coppolella did with his interview. Whatever the case, that kind of fandom is weird to me and seems rather unpleasant. I’d rather have fun with the dilettantes in pink hats watching a fun team than sit in misery while swearing loyalty oaths and professing faith in the men in charge.

All I know is this: winning will always be what fans want more than anything else and they should not be ashamed to want it. If that’s not possible, fans should not be ashamed of at least wanting an entertaining product and should not be shamed if they lose interest in a boring, losing team, however temporarily. Rebuilding is something all fans will accept if they are convinced that it is necessary and if it’s carried out in a competent manner. And no matter what the team is doing — winning, losing or rebuilding — fans will bristle if the club condescends to them or acts as if their feelings about the team don’t matter. The Astros may be an instructive example here. They made no bones about the fact that the organization was in chaos and there was no reasonable disagreement with that notion. They were up front that they had to tear it all down. They were up front that the process was going to be painful. And, as the pain endured for several seasons, they didn’t lash out at fans for their lack of patience and loyalty. Fans left when it wasn’t very fun. They came back when it was. No one died.

As I said this morning, the Braves are doing an OK job with this. They never have made a convincing case that the rebuild was the only course of action possible, and to the extent it is the only course of action it’s because of the unreasonable constraints the team’s ownership has put on its baseball operations folks. But, of course, that ship has sailed. They’re doing an OK job on the baseball side of things in terms of the trades they’re making and the talent they’re stockpiling. They’re being pretty damn dismissive, however, of fan sentiment with all of this, and as the pain wears on, they need to do a better job of appreciating their fans.

Even the nu fans, whatever the hell that is.