Monday, March 15, 2010
The Fans' Dilemma
AP Photo/Amy Sancetta
When Eddie House entered the Celtics-Knicks game February 23rd at Boston’s TD Garden the crowd of 18,624 gave him a standing ovation. The peculiar thing about the applause was that it was given to a player of the other team; House had been traded from Boston to New York just five days previously.
“He absolutely deserved that standing ovation,” said Celtics fan Gabe Souza. “He had a veteran knack for staying cool under pressure and draining the biggest shots when we needed him.”
Professional sports have become a big business over the years and the players and owners both try to maximize their earning power. Often lost in the shuffle is the fan, the person who’s invested time and money that's helped make these athletes wealthy.
Fans grow attached to both their teams and the players that are employed. But when there is a split between the two, how do the fans take sides?
Sports broadcaster John Rooke says that unless there is some personal relationship with the player—like a real friend or family member—the loyalty of the fan more times than not stays with the team.
“We identify with teams, not with individuals,” said Rooke. “We're always taught that the team is greater than the player, not the other way around.”
The connection with the team comes not only from personal past experiences of going through joy and pain of past seasons, but the family and community traditions fans share.
“My dad brought me up loving the Celtics. He used to take me to the old garden when I was little and would sit in his lap and watch the games,” said Allie Schnapp, a Celtic fan living in rival territory of Los Angeles. “I've basically watched them all my life…so I feel like the team and I have been through a lot together.”
Still, not every fan feels as strong a tie with the franchise as he does with the player.
Pat Curran was a lifelong Green Bay Packers fan, until the ownership, he believes, shoved legendary quarterback Brett Favre out the door for its own selfish reasons.
“I had been following him for ten years. He was that God-like sports figure,” he said. “I hate the management. They wanted to be the Bill Belichick and Robert Kraft of the Packers; the face of the franchise.”
When Brett Favre signed with division rival Minnesota Vikings this past season, Curran had a decision to make. Should he dare root for a team he was bred to strongly dislike?
“I knew he was going to the Vikings from day one,” he said. “It was a long process building up to it and thinking of how you could learn to like them and finding reasons to do so.”
Still, Curran's switch of allegiance seems to be the exception to the rule.
The average fan realizes that players will come and go, but the team will always be there(unless you’re an unlucky fan of the Seattle Sonics, who recently moved to Oklahoma City).
“I feel like I stay loyal because I've invested the time,” Schnapp said. “Even when new players come in, I'm always excited to see what they can add to the equation, and how they can better the team. While both the owners and players may not have the fans best interests in mind, in the end it's all about the game and watching good basketball.”
So players get traded but the team moves forward and the games go on. However, when a player the fans appreciated comes back for a homecoming, just like House did, they make sure to give him the credit he deserves.
“When a visiting player gets an ovation, they've done something extraordinary,” Rooke said. “I'm usually pleased that fans are intelligent enough to recognize that.”
Cheer, that is, until the game starts.
Video of fans cheering for Eddie House in his debut. From YouTube.