It was opening day in 2011, and the heated rivalry between the San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers had begun anew. The game took place in Los Angeles in front of a sold out Dodger Stadium as the Dodgers came away with a 2-1 victory over the reigning World Series champion Giants. None of this mattered, because after the game fandom was taken to a new low.
Despite the win, some Dodgers fans decided to further assert their superiority. Thus, they chased some Giants fans through the stadium halls, eventually catching one. Bryan Stow was knocked out with a fist to the back of the head, and then to add injury to injury, he was kicked while down. At a trial in July 2014, Louie Sanchez, Marvin Norwood, and the Los Angeles Dodgers were sentenced to pay damages of $18 million. More importantly, experts testified that besides suffering multiple strokes and seizures, Stow will never work again and will always require around the clock care. Being a Giants fan sentenced Stow to a wheelchair for life.
The question of what makes a good fan is an interesting one. Die hard fans might argue that someone must watch every game and must know a hefty amount of team trivia in order to become a true fan. Others might argue that it is acceptable to determine one’s level of fandom based on whether or not a team is winning. In his journal entitled “The Ethics of Supporting Sports Teams,” Nicholas Dixon distinguishes between the partisan fan and the purist fan. He describes the partisan fan as someone who supports a team based on personal connections like place of birth, whereas a purist fan vacillates based on which teams he/she believes “exemplifies the highest virtues of the game.” He goes on to say that, “the ideal attitude for fans is that of the moderate partisan, who combines the admirable loyalty of the partisan fan with the purist’s realization that teams that violate the rules or spirit of the game do not deserve our support.” I believe there is no such thing as the ideal fan; rather, only bad fans exist.
Professional sports teams thrive on fan support. According to a Sports Illustrated report from 2011, each of the five major sports league see the home team win more than 50% of the time.
The report explains that a number of factors combine to cause this home field advantage. First, it helps to have 15 000 – 80 000 fans cheering you and jeering your opponent throughout the game. Second, referees suffer from an inherent human bias to give close calls to the home team due to the emotion of the home crowd. For example, distinguishing between a block and a charge in the NBA can be almost entirely subjective. Thus, if a referee pauses for a moment and hears an entire stadium yelling that the play was a charge, he is more likely to call the play a charge. A quiet stadium may not yield the same advantage. Moreover, fans are important because without fans, a franchise may cease to exist. A lack of fans leads to lower ticket sales which leads to less revenue and less profit for the owners. At this point, owning the team may become infeasible. Lack of fan base was a big reason supporting the move of the NHL’s Atlanta Thrashers to Winnipeg. It is clear that fans play an integral part in professional sports.
Not only is the fan base important, but also each fan base is diverse, and contains a number of different types of fans, including purists and partisans. What makes being a fan of a team so special is that it is a community of people who come together for one purpose. I am a partisan Toronto Maple Leafs fan, and when they finally made the playoffs in 2013, I watched game 7 at Maple Leafs Square with thousands of other fans outside the Air Canada Centre. It was cold, and my view was partially blocked by another fan holding a flag. The Leafs held a 4-1 lead with ten minutes to go in the third period of the deciding game. Murmurs of the upcoming series against the New York Rangers could be heard throughout. Then, the Bruins scored. Then another, and another with about a minute remaining. Overtime. The energy had been sucked out of Maple Leafs Square. Eventually the Leafs lost and as fans filtered out, I swear I could have heard a pin drop. The atmosphere was desolate, yet I didn’t feel lonely.
There is no such thing as a good fan. Just as we should not judge people for their level of religion, fans should not be judged for their level of dedication. If you choose to only cheer for the Leafs when they make the playoffs, then that is your choice. If you choose to spend your life in your Mom’s basement blogging about sports and devoting your entire life to sports, I may not agree with your decision, but I can certainly respect it. Any fan who is not a bad fan is a good fan. Sanchez and Norwood epitomize the bad fan. The bad fan takes his loyalty out of the stadium, and out of the living room. The bad fan takes his loyalty a step too far, perhaps leading to violence or breaking the law. Many Vancouver Canucks fans rioted after the team lost in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals ironically to the Boston Bruins. This was another example of a group of bad fans. Thus, I’d like to revise Dixon’s take on the ideal fan. The ideal fan is someone who exemplifies none of the virtues of the bad fan. The ideal fan is someone who roots for a team at his/her own liking, and devotes a comfortable amount of time to supporting said team. The ideal fan manages not to take fandom too far by negatively affecting others with poorly thought through actions and reactions. Perhaps this is coincidence, or maybe it is karma, but Bryan Stow’s Giants have won the World Series twice in four years since that brutal night in 2011. The Dodgers have not won a single playoff series.
Author: Myles Dichter
Journal of Applied Philosophy, Vol. 18, No. 2, 2001, “The Ethics of Supporting Sports Teams,” NICHOLAS DIXON