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February 25, 2012 - David Alexander
chau·vin·ism Noun: Excessive or prejudiced loyalty or support for one's own cause, group, or gender.
trib·al·ism Noun: 1. The state or fact of being organized in a tribe or tribes. 2. The behavior and attitudes that stem from strong loyalty to one's own tribe or social group.
I use to hate the Detroit Red Wings. My best friend and I use to bond over it. I know given the fact that I am from Michigan this seems counter intuitive. But, growing up around people whose last ditch effort to have a winning team in close proximity to them has instilled in me the kind of irrational hatred that one can only feel for truly insignificant things. Each year I would breathe easier once the Wings were knocked out of the playoffs.
It wasn’t fair to the Wings really; I didn’t hate them based on something having to do with their team. Instead, I hated them mostly because of how their fans, analysts and others acted. Sure, I told myself that I hated them on principle and that it was how they played and the attitude of their players. But it wasn’t. It was just a plain and simple grudge.
I’m not exactly sure when I began to realize that my hatred of the Wings spoke to a greater topic. Perhaps this Rubicon can only reached when a person has become as jaded as I have. But there comes a point, when hating or liking a team the way people from Michigan like the Red Wings becomes, for lack of a better term, sophomoric. It’s irrational. Players get traded so often that teams are rarely the same year to year. I happened to agree with Jerry Seinfeld who once said that what you are essentially rooting for is for the clothes you like to defeat the clothes from another city. Fans can adore a player, but if he gets traded — same player, different clothes — they will hate him.
It dawned on me that to hate a team fanatically is ultimately the same as loving them fanatically. The only difference is my hatred was reactionary. I hated the Wings because everyone liked them and they wouldn’t shut up about them. They wouldn’t shut up whining when they lost or things didn’t go their way, even though they have been the most consistently good team since the late 90s.
I’m not sure when I realized that this wasn’t unique to Detroit. It is simply the nature of sports. Sports have little to do with the spirit of competition or appreciation for athletic prowess. They are all about people chanting together under a common banner, Braveheart style. They are about city, state, school or even country pride. They are about claiming your camp and seeing who can shout the loudest. I can relate to these things, but they aren’t why I love hockey.
When I tell people I am from Michigan, they always ask: “Wolverines or Spartans?” I always say “neither.” I am purist. I don’t pretend to hide that. And it’s part of the reason I tread lightly when it comes to jumping into a team’s proverbial boat. I like players, but when it comes to pulling for one team versus another, I simply can’t muster the requisite fanaticism to care too much. And honestly, I find that I enjoy watching my sport of choice much more as a result.
I like teams year to year based on how they are doing. I am sure that in many people’s book that makes me a so-called “fair weather fan.” But so what. The teams I like year-in-year-out I like based on some intrinsic trait I believe the team has. And if I believe that team loses those qualities, I will cease to like them. It’s that simple. I refuse to adhere to some jingoistic notion of team pride or rivalry.
In no other walk of life is this considered taboo. If a person likes a band and that band suddenly starts making a different type of music, that person would stop buying that band’s albums without so much as a second thought. I don’t feel some spiritual connection to a team simply because they hail from the same place I do. Hell, plenty of people are more devoted to their sports teams than they are to their families. I don’t feel that my sports teams are an extension of me, and that when they win I feel as if I have accomplished something. I don’t use the phrase “we” when I mean a team I like. I’m not on the team and gain no satisfaction from their victories independent of the thrill of spectating.
My best friend still clings to his hatred like a child clutches a teddy bear in the night. And I’m not sure if ultimately I am better off having shed this chauvinistic tribalism. After all, people bond over such trivialities. In effect, it has alienated me. There is no place in the sports dome for people like me who simply appreciate the raw aggression, trying physicality, immense precision and delicate nuance to the ballet of brutes that is ice hockey.
If anything, it has poisoned the well. Even as I write these words, my wife sits alone downstairs watching the Wings battle the only team in their conference who is even close to them in the point race. I’m sure it’s exhilarating, but years of over saturation with the team she loves so dearly has left a bad taste in my mouth that, to this day, makes me apathetic toward them.
So there she sits. Alone. Pulling for group of men she shares only an inherited connection to. She is eager to tell me every play, every call, every stat, even though she knows I won’t share her unbridled commitment. Because I can’t.
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