Brian Phillips over on Run of Play, has a wonderful essay (more than a blogpost, I dare say) called “Your Stupid Rage,” about the nature of what he calls “hyperpartisan” soccer fans. Plus, as is the website’s wont, the link to the essay is a gigantic awesome image of some sort. I hope they don’t get mad at me for sharing it here.
The essay is worth a read, even if you’re not a soccer fan. Phillips’ notion of how fandom should work, how it does work, and where that dangerously leads is insightful and articulates something that is very hard to articulate. People have a tendency to hold sport separate from the larger culture or society, seemingly less important than and simultaneously greater than simply because of it’s otherness. As if sports have been quarantined from the ills that plague the rest of it. Well, that there is a fallacy, and this essay here is an example of just such an intersection.
What Phillips is talking about, ultimately, is how sports and teams in particular, can come to hold such sway over us as individuals. It gets at something that has always puzzled me about my own nature. I am an undying fan of Chicago Fire SC. I like other sports just fine, but the Fire are my favorite team. I pay more attention to them, I think about what they’re doing more intensely and closely, than any other team. More so even than a lot of things outside of sports that most people would give more credence to. And until recently, it was ruining my life. I took losses so incredibly poorly, let them in so closely to my heart, they made me miserable in the most concrete sense of the term. I would become insufferable to others. It had a lot to do with how much I drank at games. And, because it’s all something over which I have no control, because feelings of impotence are what truly infuriate me, I’d get angry. I’d want revenge. Thankfully I had few opportunities to exact any.
It does seem like the number of sporting-related acts of violence is on the rise. That’s purely conjecture, of course, but I’m thinking of stories of the man put in a coma after being assaulted at a Dodgers – Giants baseball game, of another who lost an eye over the Sox – Cubs rivalry during a toddler’s birthday party. Hyperpartisan fans aren’t restricted to violent mobs of Eastern European soccer nutters. Not all of it ends in violence, of course. Mercifully little of it does. Most partisans are still decent people, but even as an internalized problem, as it was in my case, this sort of blinding thinking (not-thinking) is still, at best, not a fun way to go through life, as Phillips notes.
The turning point for me came one day last season, when the Fire lost at home to LA Galaxy. A friend and fellow Fire fan had cousins in from LA, who as it happened were active participants in LA’s supporter’s end. The Fire were in the middle of a disappointing season, on their way to failing to make the playoffs for only the 2nd time ever, and lost that game. The cousins came over from the away section towards the end of the game, just as LA scored the winner. All of my impotent rage ended up directed at the cousins and by proxy, my friend. Words were had. It was a shameful thing, and not worth one second of the animosity in engendered. I apologized after the game, and we had a slightly tearful reconciliation.
And that was the last time the results on the field landed that closely to my heart. Just like that. It’s partially by will – I refuse to let it happen – and largely because I stopped drinking so goddamn much, which I suspect fuels a lot of hyperfandom around the world (it’s easy to be utterly irrational when stinking drunk), and at least a little because of a subconscious realignment of my understanding of the world and what’s important within it. I have much more fun following an even worse (so far) Fire team this season, and am actually a closer follower and truer fan for it.
I think the bespectacled set might find it bewildering that sports can drive people that far. Before I knew I was a perpetrator, I found it so. I am a rational person, capable of critical and objective thought. When I observed hyperfandom in others, I chafed. I didn’t like to see it, I found it distasteful and embarrassing by proximity. A little Psych 101 projection, I suppose. Because, of course, I was capable of it – obviously. And it is embarrassing. But it’s not so confounding a reaction, really. As Phillips points out (but doesn’t go too deep into because it is, after all, a soccer website) we see that sort of unrelenting partisanship on a daily basis in other spheres. The advice he gives is indeed advice for life.