WE CAN LEARN FROM FANATICS
This weekend marks a very important time in the U.S. culture where the most popular sport of American football will be in full swing with high school, collegiate, professional and even fantasy teams all playing regular season games simultaneously for the first time this year. With approximately 70% of Americans considering themselves professional football fans and nearly 56% citing themselves as college football fans, it is one of the only topics as a country we support as a majority. In a time of so much political unrest fueled by a clear divide on many social and environmental issues, having something like football to open up the communication lines is definitely needed right now. Real Fandom for the sport and specific teams spark an interaction of friendly debate in social circles, in restaurants, and at stadiums rarely seen from other popular topics. So, what does it mean to be a FAN?
Webster’s dictionary defines a Fan (short for Fanatic) as: “An enthusiastic devotee (as of a sport of a performing art) usually as a spectator.”
The most devoted football fans take this enthusiastic support to almost religious levels mixed with some of the oddest superstitious rituals that almost surely affect the outcome of the games if you ask them. Over the next few months you’ll see people that define themselves by branding personal possessions which include team flags in the front yard, stickers and license plate holders on their car, and even functional items like crockpots. The extremely dedicated fans will ensure they have multiple outfits comprised of the newest jerseys, that lucky hat, and their favorite comfortable shoes that highlight team colors to wear while watching the games at home or in person amongst thousands of other likeminded individuals in stadiums across the country. Much like family recipes and holiday customs, these fanatical traditions are usually passed down through generations that help develop a bond and relationship between our children all the way to the grandparents unlike anything else.
Over the last decade, the growth of fantasy football has added a completely new category to the football fan allowing the casual follower or even people who previously would never care about the games, to now intently watch with a routing interest. Fantasy football creates virtual teams from existing players, where their success on game day translates in to points for your team. The lighthearted trash talking these fantasy matchups cause between friends and family members actually help people to interact more, especially if you lose to your Mom on a last second field goal.
The sport of football has faced many challenges in recent years because of the damage it causes to the players or the use of the platform as a place for political messages, but overall that hasn’t really deterred Americans. Existing fans continue to block their weekends off to ensure they watch their favorite games, while new fans are born every year at youth football games in all our communities. As we enter the first full weekend for all football fans, let’s remember how it creates a community of people that all support one cause, but with different alliances or perspectives within this space that create friendly debates that don’t usually lead to major divides between everyday people. The way many Americans interact and engage in passionate conversations around football could be a great lesson when it comes to other discussions focused on social and environmental challenges facing these same people.