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Fanning the flames of self-righteousness
Posted: Wed May 27, 1998
Last week two suits were filed by fans against the Florida Marlinsone for breach of contract, the other for false advertising. Why? Well, if you recall, the Marlins won the championship of the world last year and then the owner gutted the team to save money.
So these particular Marlins fans feel they've been cheated. What is interesting about this, though, is their reactionlitigation. Think about it. Various teams in all sports have traditionally been rotten through the years. But as far as I know, nobody ever sued before. Why, if Chicago Cubs fans had taken to suing, the entire Cook County judicial system would have been tied up for much of the 20th century.
But the actions by the Marlins fans are instructive, because they show, in a broader sense, how differently sports fans feel nowhow frustrated they are, how alienated. In a very curious way, in fact, I think fans, like these gentlemen in Miami, feel more possessive of their teamwhile at the same time they feel less connected to the players and the owners. That probably sounds like a contradiction, but, in fact, it makes sense.
Fans today are scared to get close to players. It's like being on the front lines during a battle. Don't make friends, because your buddy may get shot tomorrow. Don't get too attached to any player, because he'll be in some other uniform tomorrow, playing against you. Paradoxically, although players have their freedom now, they are perceived today to be mere product, to be commodities. Effectively, players have bought their freedom at the price of their humanity.
I think maybe that's why there seem to be so many more fights today in sports. It's a way for players to blatantly demonstrate the passion for their team that they used to feel naturally.
Likewise fans feel no affection for the man who runs the team. The owner. Think about it. Except in sports, is there anywhere else that we use the word "owner"? Owner: Good grief, it sounds like something from the Industrial Revolution, from out of Dickens. But once upon a time, we sort of liked our owners. How could you not like somebody who was responsible for bringing you a game? Now, though, we don't like owners at all. The sense is that they're not only rich SOB's, but they're meddling with our team, like it's their own personal toyplus they're living off the fat of the land, operating in stadiums that are subsidized by us taxpayers.
Fans today even seem to have a different attitude toward stadiums and arenas. People who watch a game at home on TV tend to merely watch, in the traditional passive fashion. But nowadays, when folks go out to the ballpark, they tend to behave more interactively. There is a sense of entitlementthey've paid a great deal of money to come to their ballpark, and by God, they deserve to be part of things, adjunct participants. And it is uppermost in their minds that while the players are transient, theywe, the fansare permanent. Attention must be paid.
So, basically, we're scared to like the players and we don't like the owners. But we do love the game. And that means that we have somehow managed to find a way in our minds to sue the owners of our team and disdain the players on our team, but love the team itself. It's tricky, but that's the way we are as fans today.
These commentaries, which appear each Wednesday on National Public Radio's Morning Edition, are posted weekly by CNN/SI.
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