Posted: Tue February 26, 2013 10:01AM; Updated: Tue February 26, 2013 10:01AM
Michael Rosenberg
Michael Rosenberg>VIEWPOINT

People say they cheer for good stories, but do they pay attention?

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Danica Patrick was a fan favorite in Sunday's Daytona 500, but how many people were really watching?
Danica Patrick was a fan favorite in Sunday's Daytona 500, but how many people were really watching?
MCT /Landov

You could say I was pulling hard for Danica Patrick to win the Daytona 500 on Sunday, unless, by "pulling hard," you mean "actually watched the race." That, I did not do. Auto racing is not my thing. As my wife can tell you, I barely pay attention to the cars on the road next to me. So I'm not interested in watching cars on my TV.

I have nothing against the sport, but I didn't grow up with it and I very rarely watch it. It's just a personal preference. To some people, The Masters is just a bunch of men hitting balls with sticks; to me, it's a thrilling sporting event. I don't claim to be right or wrong about these things.

Nonetheless, I was pulling for Danica, and I think she would have won if the Daytona course had been a lot more complicated than an oval, because the men never would have asked for directions. I root for barriers to be broken, and I root for great stories, and Danica Patrick winning the Daytona 500 would accomplish both.

But I didn't watch, because she races a car, and as I mentioned, I generally don't watch people race cars. And this got me thinking about Things People Say They Cheer For.

We claim to have somebody's back, but really, we don't have their back. We don't even want to look at their back. We just say we do.

A short list of sports Things People Say They Cheer For:

1. Women's basketball

I know a lot of men who would rather clean a New York subway car with their only toothbrush than watch women's basketball, and they will gladly tell you that. I am not one of those men. Every time I have watched women's basketball, especially when I have covered it, I found it thoroughly enjoyable. It feels purer than the NBA or men's college basketball, the people are general polite and accessible, and I don't miss the dunking. It's a different game, but it can be fun to watch.

Nonetheless, I'm being honest: I rarely watch women's basketball. I'd like to see the WNBA succeed, but have spent zero dollars making this happen. Does it make me feel better about myself to say I cheer for women's basketball? Yes, it does.

2. Lance Armstrong

This one doesn't apply anymore, since Armstrong has retired from cycling and fooling the public. But for all those years, when Armstrong was winning all those Tour de Frances, or Tours de France, whatever you call them (je ne sais quoi!) he was a classic Thing People Officially Cheered For. They bought Armstrong's books and wore Livestrong bracelets and said Lance inspired them, and he was their favorite athlete.

But they did not watch the Tour de France, and they never watched any of his other events. They didn't even know if he competed in other events. Lance Armstrong could have spent 11 months a year riding his bicycle down your street, and you wouldn't have noticed except when you backed out of your driveway. The inspiration may have been real, but so was the change-channel button on the remote control.

3. Small-market baseball teams

If your favorite team is in a small market, then sure, you care passionately about whether small-market teams can compete. Just don't care too loudly or a dozen people will defriend you on Facebook. I'd love to see the Pirates and the Royals make the World Series, to see those cities come alive with the thrill of October baseball. So would most fans ... officially. But come April, they won't care if the Pirates can compete. And they won't care again until November, when they will briefly pretend to care.

4. NCAA reform

When it comes to the NCAA, most people agree on two things: The system is a completely screwed up, and let's talk about something else.

In sports, we have things people passionately cheer for, and Things People Say They Cheer For. Yes, I know: It ends in a preposition. Your English teachers would not approve. But proper grammar is just another Thing People Say They Cheer For.

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