Is it OK to be a fair-weather fan?

Getty Images

Derek Thompson of the Atlantic wrote an article that is probably going to piss a lot of you off. It’s about how being a fair-weather fan is, actually, the ethically superior position compared to being a loyal fan of your hometown nine. Or five. Or eleven or whatever.

Thompson grew up in the Washington D.C. suburbs in the 1990s, but he became a Yankees, Colts and Heat fan, in large part because they were winning teams with likable stars. He’s apologized for being one of those guys — not as bad as being a Yankees-Cowboys-Bulls-Duke fan, but still a pretty good showing! — but now he’s done apologizing and is making the case that it’s an OK thing to do. Maybe even the best thing to do:

What I’m proposing here is a theory of fluid fandom that would encourage, as opposed to stigmatize, promiscuous sports allegiances. By permanently anchoring themselves to teams from their hometown or even an adopted town, sports fans consign themselves to needless misery. They also distort the marketplace by sending a signal to team owners that winning is orthogonal to fans’ long-term interests. Fluid fandom, I submit, is the emotionally, civically, and maybe even morally superior way to consume sports.

Given all of the stuff I’ve written about the ethics of ownership, the business of sports and the idea that we should take the players’ sides over that of management, I’m obviously amenable to this argument on some level. I don’t think I could actually bring myself to do that, of course — I remain a Braves fan and, at most, flirt with alternative and secondary fandom for various reasons — but I get where he’s coming from.

There are obvious problems with setting your sports fandom up this way, not the least of which involves it being pretty exhausting to keep ethical tabs on everyone and everything you take an interest in. Sure, I generally know which ballplayers are in legal trouble or which have said questionable things or have taken questionable ethical positions at any given time, but that’s because I do this for a living. Expecting sports fans to know if the guys they root for are as good, better or worse than the guy who owns the team in your hometown is a bit much. Say what you want about the tenets of rooting for laundry, but at least it’s a more easily assumable ethos.

Still, lots to chew on here. And, even if you don’t agree with Thompson, the chewing is pretty fun.