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Unconditional loyalty: exploring the relationship between fans and their teams

Photo courtesy of Jennifer Craig
Jennifer Craig and her husband attend a Red Sox baseball game in the U.S. Many members of the community are avid sports fans who attend matches or watch them online.

From volleyball to tennis, swimming to cross country, sports are an integral part of the ASL community. With 14 sports offered pre-COVID-19, each with their own combinations of JJV, JV and varsity squads, in a usual school year athletics are a constant buzz of conversation. 

However, outside the sports played at our school, members of the community engage with their favorite sports by rooting for teams and players, staring apprehensively at the TV screen or watching courtside as the players compete. This itself has its own impact on the community.

Out of 149 High School students who responded to a survey conducted by the Standard, 82.6% said they support at least one sports team. 26.25% of students follow three teams, while the next popular combination is four or more (23.5%), followed by 20.8% of students following just one team.

Ryan Cushman (’24) is one of these students. He said he’s a fan of the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys, Major League Baseball’s Texas Rangers and Premier League football team Manchester United. Cushman said his dad’s interests combined with the fact that he started playing sports as a young child influenced which teams he decided to support.

“I moved to London two years ago, the four years before that I lived in Dallas,” he said. “My dad is from the area as well, so he was a fan of those teams. And then I cheered for whichever team there was to cheer for as a little kid.”

The New England Patriots, Boston Red Sox, Boston Celtics, Boston Bruins, whichever season it’s in is me being a ‘fan-in-law.’

— Grade 12 Dean Jennifer Craig

Grade 12 Dean Jennifer Craig said she also found herself becoming a fan of the teams her family supported, especially her in-laws. 

“The New England Patriots, Boston Red Sox, Boston Celtics, Boston Bruins, whichever season it’s in is me being a ‘fan-in-law,’” she said. “I’m a very big fan, but not quite to the same extent as the boys in our house.”

Although there are many reasons to support a team, Craig also said external factors can cause one to hate a team too. Being from upstate New York, “you get tired of people making assumptions you’re from New York City, so you start to resent New York enough that you hate the team, like the New York Yankees,” she said.

In fact, Craig’s hatred of the Yankees brought her closer with her parents-in-law, whom she bonded with over a mutual dislike for the team when they first met. She said after discussing her New York heritage, as Boston Red Sox fans her now parents-in-law were pleased to find out she disliked the Yankees. 

“They were like, ‘Good enough. You hate the Yankees? You’re good,’” she said.

People can also find community with other fans of the same team. Cushman said talking about sports with other fans “is a great conversation filler.” 

It kind of gives you something to do,” he said.

There is also a collaborative aspect to being a sports fan, such as playing sports video games or participating in fantasy leagues. Alex Okpoyo (’23) is currently involved in a fantasy basketball league. 

“It definitely makes me more engaged,” he said. “I want to watch everything.”

Likewise, Cushman said he plays in the fantasy Premier League and has played FIFA, a series of video games based around football. 

“I compete with my friends, and every week I have to stay updated against who’s doing well, who’s injured, who is on a hot run,” he said. “So that keeps me more engaged with soccer.” 

However, with sports and fan bases that lack a substantial amount of members, connecting with other fans is more difficult. Patrick Jordan (’21) is a follower of eSports, and said since it has less exposure it is harder to find others to discuss it with. 

“Fans are definitely hard to come by,” he said. “I know one other person who follows eSports, and it’s not even the same game. With time, just because it’s getting more popular nowadays, it’ll get bigger.”

Jordan said the expansion of the eSports community is partially credited to a Pro League player named Pingu. 

“Outside of actually playing, he promotes Pro League, he interacts with his community.” he said. “He actually makes an effort to communicate what he’s thinking and how he does that. You can easily watch one of his streams and learn how to play, which is a big thing for people who don’t don’t necessarily know how to play the game.”

Okpoyo also said he favors a player from his favorite NBA team the Minnesota Timberwolves Karl Anthony Towns. 

“He’s an overall great player,” he said. “He’s young, so he has time to grow, and he’s a leader.”

Similarly, Cushman referenced Manchester United forward Marcus Rashford as an inspiring athlete, as well as several Dallas Cowboys players. 

I know one other person who follows eSports, and it’s not even the same game. With time, just because it’s getting more popular nowadays, it’ll get bigger.

— Patrick Jordan ('21)

“He is a great guy with all his activism and leadership, and he’s a fantastic player,” he said. “Dak Prescott, our quarterback, because of his ridiculous leadership skills, and one of one of our other players Jason Witten, tight end, because of his, just his toughness and his grit.”

Craig named a number of women as stand-out athletes, such as tennis player Serena Williams, footballer Megan Rapinoe and the U.S. women’s ice hockey team. 

“There’s just a power to women players that I follow,” she said. “I don’t know how to say this nicely, but like, they don’t give a crap in a way that I think is just amazing and beautiful.”

Despite numerous positive and inspiring aspects of being a sports fan, Cushman and Craig both said they dislike when their team loses. 

“The Patriots were horrible this year, so I would always watch the first half and then just go to bed,” Craig said.

However, overall sports provide fans with an opportunity to reflect on the countless aspects of the game. 

“It makes me think about team and success and hard work, and all sorts of things that I believe in so strongly,” Craig said. “That it’s an example of how people can really come together in the most meaningful ways.”

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