Microkhan by Brendan I. Koerner

The Soul-Warping Nature of Fandom

February 8th, 2010 · 10 Comments


Last night, a certain sporting event didn’t go the way we had hoped, leaving us questioning why we invest so much of ourselves in supporting certain teams. Even under the best of circumstances, such fandom leads to nothing but heartache most years, as seasons inevitably end on sour notes. Is it time, perhaps, to give up our juvenile affection for our Big Three teams (the Colts, Clippers, and Angels) and move on to less depressing outlets for our excess mental energy?

That may sound like heresy to those among you who care deeply about spectator sports, but as of this morning, we’re leaning toward renouncing fandom forever. The Super Bowl defeat got us started down that intellectual road, but it was reading about the Nika riots of 532 A.D. that made us get serious about the radical move. In describing the riots’ origins, the Byzantine scholar Procopius really brought to life how sports fandom can destroy the souls of men:

In every city the population has been divided for a long time past into the Blue and the Green factions; but within comparatively recent times it has come about that, for the sake of these names and the seats which the rival factions occupy in watching the games, they spend their money and abandon their bodies to the most cruel tortures, and even do not think it unworthy to die a most shameful death. And they fight against their opponents knowing not for what end they imperil themselves, but knowing well that, even if they overcome their enemy the fight, the conclusion of the matter for them will be to be carried off straight away to the prison, and finally, after suffering extreme torture, to be destroyed. So there grows up in them against their fellow men a hostility which has no cause, and at no time does it cease or disappear, for it gives place neither to the ties of marriage nor of relationship nor of friendship, and the case is the same even though those who differ with respect to these colours be brothers or any other kin. . . . I, for my part, am unable to call this anything except a disease of the soul.

A similar (albeit less gory) sentiment is expressed in t-shirt form here.

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10 Comments so far ↓

  • Brian Moore

    Somewhat unrelated but in the theme of “depressing mental outlets”:

    http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/page2/story?page=simmons/100129&sportCat=nfl

  • Brendan I. Koerner

    Granted, other fans have it much worse than I. Two of my teams have gone all the way during my lifetime, which is more than most folks can say.

    Still, it hurts. A lot.

  • Jordan

    Yeah, I remembering hearing about the Nika riots as part of a lecture series on the Byzantines called “Empire of Gold”. Other than the Central American Football War, I can’t remember too many sporting events that almost brought down governments. Crazy stuff.

    Also, in the vein of generic sports boosterism:

    http://www.topatoco.com/merchant.mvc?Screen=PROD&Store_Code=TO&Product_Code=DC-SPORTLAND&Category_Code=DC

  • Brendan I. Koerner

    Heh heh. Reminds me of this shirt my son got for his first birthday. It has a picture of a football, and the script simply reads: “College League.” WTF?

  • Captured Shadow

    Pro sports are nice for bridging the class divisions in our country. I don’t have much else in common with that guy in front of me at Safeway but we both know how the local franchise did last night…….

  • Yvonne

    C’mon over to amateur sports. Way more inspiring than anything pro. You can follow one of these small sports and meet the families, get to follow the athletes as they progress. We just cheer our own and admire everyone.

  • Brendan I. Koerner

    @Captured Shadow: Excellent point. Lord only knows how many times sports talk has made an awkward social situation bearable. Still, there’s a thick line between being aware of sports, and investing your heart and soul into a particular team. I should probably consider tilting my fandom more toward the former than the latter.

    @Yvonne: Yeah, I’ve thought about this. I’ve covered the Olympics in the past, and I have tremendous admiration for athletes who dedicate their lives to truly obscure sports. (I actually have a small piece forthcoming in Men’s Journal re: the biathlon.) That said, I think it would be tough to give up football–I’ve quite literally been a fan of the sport for as long as I can remember, and grew up with posters of quarterbacks on my walls. At this relatively late stage in the game of life, I don’t know if I have the gumption to swap pigskin for, say, ski jumping. But maybe I should give it a whirl…

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  • Jordan

    @Brendan

    The assumption that small talk about the local sports team is always a way out of an awkward situation does however leave those of us who know next to nothing about the subject high and dry.

    http://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/2006/2/8/

  • Brendan I. Koerner

    @Jordan: I am not unsympathetic to your plight. I feel exactly the same way when people talk about American Idol.

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