Athletes the fans who love them: how deep does their relationship go?

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Being a college athlete, I understand the role of the fan, and it is an important one! According to dictionary.com, the word, “fan,” was first used in American English to refer to die-hard baseball supporters circa 1885. The term’s usage then spread to describe all kinds of hard-core sports team supporters.

We see all varieties of fans from those who paint their faces and shirtless bodies to grandmothers with cowbells, and every athletic fan has a role to play in the support of their team. Let’s not indulge all the various superstitions that these supporters manufacture to help us win. After all, if I say out loud that the kicker hasn’t missed all season, it’s a lockdown guarantee he’ll miss the field goal. There are a few things we all need to be aware of: fans do have a role to play in athletics, they sometimes take it too far in their zeal and understanding is key to everyone’s enjoyment.

A fan is defined by dictionary.com as an enthusiastic devotee or follower of something; be it a sports team, celebrity, sport, etc. It is commonly thought the term “fan” comes from the word, “fanatical” (Latin, fanaticus), which by definition is behavior that might come from being possessed by a god or demon. They are there to cheer on their beloved team or celebrity. This cheering can give their team an emotional or psychological boost when they need it the most. That is their role, but many simply don’t stay in their lane.

The problem begins when these fans start living vicariously through their favorite team’s athletes to the point where they base their happiness on the team’s success. There were many published stories about the death threats Bill Buckner received after a slow-rolling ground ball went between his feet in the 1986 World Series, allowing the Mets to tie the series and then win it the next night. Following WVU’s embarrassing loss to Baylor, the online message boards were plastered with comments calling for the quarterback’s benching and the necessity to fire the entire coaching staff due to incompetence.

For all to enjoy the games, including the players, coaches, fans, and yes – even the dreaded officials/umpires – there must be an understanding of the role each group plays. We may be grown men playing a child’s game on the collegiate and professional levels, but we are people, too and we do not set out to make mistakes or break the fans’ hearts. Behavior like what Bill Buckner experienced was so intense, that upon his retirement, he had to move his family to Idaho to relieve the pressure of constant verbal jabs. Our society has taken great steps to try to alleviate social tension and “mean” behavior. It seems like we forgot a scenario that plays out nearly every day.

Some might say it’s just a game, but we all know it’s much deeper than that for some. Grown men make clever names to call their hated teams and tease their friends. Money is spent on sports bets every day. To borrow part of a phrase from Great Britain in World War II, “Keep calm…” To those people who believe their actions can truly affect the outcome of the game, try standing on one foot after shaving off half your body hair to change your team’s luck. It won’t help, but it will make everyone around you smile regardless of the game’s outcome.