Clearing the Stands: Are Apathetic Fans Pathetic or Virtuous?

Written by Mike Ward  Media by Ryan St. Hill

Photo from St. Louis Ram Fan on Blogspot

Last week Joe Hubbs wrote an article about his experience as an ‘ecstatic fan’. In it, he describes and dismisses the so-called ‘apathetic fan’. According to him, such a fan is someone who “associates themselves with a team, but hardly cares if they win or lose.” However, Hubbs goes on to associate the term “bandwagon” with apathy. Although I agree with Joe in my disdain for bandwagon fans, I cannot associate them with apathy. In fact, it is rather problematic to associate the two. This is because I have met the likes of the most die-hard bandwagon fans while at Greenville College and I must say, they are not apathetic about their tendency to cheer for the next best team. That being said, it is intriguing to think about what qualities a so-called “apathetic fan” would demonstrate.  Would they show any interest in sports at all or merely observe? Do they only feel the need to be a fan once or twice a year? Do they neglect to be a full-fledged fan because they do not feel invested into a particular team or community of fans? This whole idea may be trivial. However, it is peculiar to live in a society driven by spiritual apathy, and yet observe the overwhelming passion the majority has for a sport or specific team.

When I think of an apathetic fan, I think of someone who goes to a Superbowl party, but does not watch the game. Rather, they meander around, strike up a few conversations, and then make a beeline for the television when the Halftime show begins. That being said, it is a possibility that this person was not brought up in a family that bonded over football. Consequently, they see football as it truly is: twenty-two men clothed in modern warfare garb doing a strange choreographed dance that lasts for five to six seconds of time which ends with either someone being manically brought to the ground or a with a man doing a confusing dance in a rectangle called an “endzone”.[1] Consequently, the game of football would appear to be an absurdity and thus, that individual has the right to be at the least, apathetic towards it. This example demonstrates that we are capable of being apathetic towards a specific sport, but does it begin to epitomize what an apathetic fan is? My guess is that it does not. What then would a quintessential apathetic fan look like?

In my expert apathetic opinion, the quintessential apathetic fan would be someone who has been moderately exposed to and experienced a certain sport and have found it to be less than appeasing. Consequently, they demonstrate a satisfactory understanding of the rules and concepts of the sport, but do not find it to be worthwhile. Although this understanding of an apathetic fan is painfully broad, it can encompass a plethora of reasons to find sports less than appealing. For example, my friend and I find basketball less than appealing. For me, this is because 01) I am not talented and 02) I was raised during the pinnacle of professional basketball—the 2nd coming of Michael Jordan.

As a result, I find this specific era of basketball to be quasi-appealing. Similarly, my friend watches basketball with quasi interest. Unlike myself, however, he does so because of the relationship with his father. His dad was his basketball coach growing up and was heartless in the way he treated him on and off the court. Consequently, the game in general is now loaded with bad memories. Although he enjoys the game and the Chicago Bulls, he does so timidly because of the less than appealing memories associated with it. Although he and I approach the game wearily for varying reasons, we do so similarly in an apathetic manner. We can have a conversation about the game, but do so as a last resort, small talk banter. Thus, one can observe that there is a wealth of reasons to be apathetic towards sport, but that this feeling of apathy can be traced to detrimental or average experience with it.

Another reason one may have apathetic feelings toward a sport may be derived from the lack of community surrounding that individual who is invested in a particular sport. Similar to Josh Cranston, I found myself to be a much more of a soccer fan while in a community that took a vested interest in the sport. While in Rwanda I spent my Saturdays watching and learning about soccer. However, since my return two months ago, I have only watched one game. Even then the game felt different. It was void of much of the emotion I grew to enjoy while in East Africa. This is to say, that without a particular community that bonds through the experiencing of observing a sport, it is much easier to not care about the sport or particular outcomes of games.

The first Sunday after I returned home this December I sat down and watched the Chicago Bears play the Green Bay Packers. Growing up this game was the game my family would watch together. The outcome of this game would determine how we would treat one another for the following week. It was absurd. Over the past three or four years I have been fully aware of this absurdity and attempted to approach the game with an objective distance. However, when I watched this game in December I immediately reverted back to my superstitious and overall absurd tendencies that I rejected at the age of 15. My feet and face began to sweat when I realized that Jay Cutler was once again not going to be able to lead the Bears to victory. I was thrown into anger when Clay Matthews made play after play and proceeded to dance in celebration. Needless to say, I was exhausted after the Bears were defeated. It was only an hour later did I realize how absurd my afternoon had been. I wasted an opportunity to go out to eat with my whole family by watching a football game with my dad. I allowed it to dictate my life, but also my emotions. I was not in control of my own life. It was then that I realized that there are those who are apathetic to sports because they recognize the detriment it can bring to your life when fully engulfed by it.

In the attempt to conceptualize what it means to be an apathetic fan and the reasoning for being one, we have identified three: unsatisfactory experience, void of community, and the recognition of the dangers of being a fan. For myself, apathetic fans once annoyed me. However, I have since recognized that I am an apathetic fan towards certain sports and an admirer of those who recognize the jeopardy of being a die-hard fan. To those of you who enjoy sports, but also find a way to do so in a controlled or apathetic manner, I applaud you. As for me, I will continue to fight the urge to yell expletives at all Chicago sports teams.

[1] As someone who was “attempting” to dissect defenses at the age of seven, it difficult for me to see football as such, but for someone who is apathetic to the game, this may likely be the case.


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