Rooting for the Home Team?

I’m the kind of guy who watches the Super Bowl for the commercials. That said, I have correctly predicted the winners of the last four Super Bowls within the first ten minutes of the game.

I have a three-part system that always works.

First, I examine media reports about the yearly contest to determine which team is the ‘underdog.’ This team is more likely to win, because the media and so-called sports analysts have no reasonable clue what they are talking about. Being the underdog does not guarantee that a team will win, but it helps.

Second, I look at the teams’ uniforms. The team with more attractive uniforms usually wins. Clashing colors and ugly logos hurt a team’s chances.

Third, I consider a team’s overarching attitude. You might call this the ‘mojo’ factor. A team like the Oakland Raiders is unlikely to ever win a Super Bowl until they quit looking so mean. The team with a more positive, energetic aura usually wins.

Whichever team has at least two of these three factors in their favor always wins. Try it yourself, you might be surprised how well it works. In fact, when you have a hard time deciding, you’ll find that the game will be very close (it happened last year). But, of course, who remembers much about what happened during this past Super Bowl? We were all too busy blathering about Janet Jackson’s boob.

Why, you may be asking, am I rambling on about how to pick Super Bowl winners? Well, I just want to illustrate just how little I know—or care to know—about professional team sports, and I would also like to tell you why you shouldn’t care about them either.

In my experience, there are two kinds of avid sports fans. The first kind are the real fans—their home-town team could be the worst in the league, and they’d still show up for every game (or, at least, watch it on television). They wear their Redskins jackets, for example, no matter how out-of-fashion the Redskins happen to be that season. They support their team not because the team is necessarily doing well, but because it’s their team and it’s in their metro area.

The second kind are fans of the sport rather than fans of the team. They were the people who were wearing Cowboys jackets—even half a country away from Dallas—when it was a cool thing to do a few years ago. They are the same people who have burned those Cowboys jackets recently, because the Cowboys apparently aren’t cool anymore.

Now I can’t fathom these second types of fans. What is so great about a bunch of overpaid athletes slamming into one another, hitting home runs, or making slam-dunks? Whooptie-frickin-doo. Not only is it 100 percent mindless entertainment to watch these people move spheres (or oblongs) around fields and courts, but the players get all whiney when they don’t get enough millions of dollars to do it (Major League Baseball, anyone?). Talk about annoying! People who compulsively watch sports remind me of toddlers who watch the teletubbies just because they’re colorful and bouncing.

So we can dismiss fan-type-2 right off the bat (get it?). It’s fan-type-1 that actually has a legitimate (if misplaced) connection to the games that they watch. It’s a matter of home-town pride and whatnot.

But this home-town pride is, indeed, misplaced—professional sports players generally aren’t even from the town, or even the region, that they play in. How many Washington Redskins are honestly from the Washington, DC, metro area? How many of them were traded in or recruited from elsewhere? The Redskins are as much my ‘home-town team’ as the Backstreet Boys are my favorite band.

In this respect, college teams are actually better. The members of college sports teams are, at least, students at those schools. Even if they’re majoring in interior design and getting a free B+ in every class, they do have to occasionally show up and experience to some level what college life is like. To some extent, I can understand being a fan of your college sports teams. I hate how college athletics distract from the relevant work of those institutions, but that’s a Rant for another day.

When you write a story, your readers have to be able to empathize with your characters. They don’t have to like them, but they have to be able to relate with them. Without that connection, a reader simply doesn’t care what happens to the characters and they won’t feel a need to finish your story. If you’ve ever put a novel away half-read or turned a movie off part-way through, this is probably why.

The characters that fill up professional sports are very difficult to relate with, and that is why I cannot bring myself to care about them or which teams win. The Washington Redskins are not Washingtonians. They didn’t grow up in this area and they don’t love this area. Their affinity is for the millions of dollars they make playing a game that I never liked so much in the first place.

The 2004 Olympics start in about a month in Athens, Greece. Once upon a time, the Olympics were the perfect counterweight to money- and ignorance-driven professional sports in the United States. “Professional athletes” weren’t allowed to participate in the games. The participants were real people who had worked hard and earned their place as representatives of their home country. Judging in the subjective sports was taken seriously and decisions were made honorably.

But the Olympics are looking more and more like pro sports every cycle. They’ve become an advertising bonanza racked with controversy over bribery and corruption in the judging of subjective sports and in the city selection process. Professional athletes participate in many of the games (although there are still a lot of real people in there too, and I certainly don’t intend to disparage those who really have worked hard for their time in the Olympic competition). But I’m not going to watch the Olympics this year because it’s become pro sports for elitists.

So here’s what needs to happen if any sports organization wants me to start paying attention to them.

In pro sports, teams should represent geographic regions. If I were to become a professional baseball player, I should have to play for the team I live closest to—probably the Baltimore Orioles, in my case, unless DC gets a team. They need to get rid of trades and all that silliness. If they expect people like me to fall for the whole ‘home-town pride’ thing, then fill the home-town team with home-town players. Even more importantly, I don’t want to hear millionaires whining about how their salaries aren’t high enough. You hear me, MLB?

In college sports, eliminate people who can’t honestly cut it as a student. Nobody should get into a college only because they’re good at basketball or soccer. If their SAT scores and high school GPA aren’t up to snuff, don’t accept them, and—more importantly—don’t give them free B+s if they do get in. Schools are about education, sports should be a distant secondary concern.

In the Olympics, heck, I’m half tempted to say we just get rid of them. The first of the modern Olympic games was held in 1892, so the whole thing is really a new tradition in the grand scheme of things anyway. But if the Olympics do stick around, we need to get rid of the professional athletes and—most difficultly—get rid of the subjectively judged sports. If the winner is a matter of opinion, the sport shouldn’t be in the Olympics. Bribery and corruption can occur in any competition, but it’s a lot easier in the subjective sports where a bribed judge can simply say, “Hey, it’s my opinion that person x wasn’t so great.” (Nothing against you figure skaters and gymnasts out there, I respect what you do, it just shouldn’t be in the Olympics.)

Until these things start happening, don’t expect me to pay any attention to who beat who or what countries got the most gold medals. I’ll keep watching the Super Bowl though (and using my highly scientific method to predict the winners), but if the ads are as bad next year as they were in the last, I might have to cut sports from my life entirely.

Scott Bradford has been putting his opinions on his website since 1995—before most people knew what a website was. He has been a professional web developer in the public- and private-sector for over twenty years. He is an independent constitutional conservative who believes in human rights and limited government, and a Catholic Christian whose beliefs are summarized in the Nicene Creed. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Public Administration from George Mason University. He loves Pink Floyd and can play the bass guitar . . . sort-of. He’s a husband, pet lover, amateur radio operator, and classic AMC/Jeep enthusiast.