If you’re reading this, you’re probably a New York Yankees fan. But this post doesn’t only apply to Yankees fans, though it is inspired by my own experience as one. This post applies to anyone who has ever been a fan of a team, whether professional, college, high school, or any other type of sports team you can think of. This post is about what it means to be a fan. It is about why we are fans, and what sort of justification we need in order to be one.
Let me start by recounting a conversation I have had approximately 96 million times:
Stranger: “[Mentions the Yankees in a random conversation I was eavesdropping on]“
Me: “OMG I’M A YANKEES FAN!!!!!”
Stranger, slightly perturbed: “Oh…cool…where are you from?”
Me, sheepishly: “California…”
Stranger, now perturbed AND perplexed: “Then why are you a Yankees fan?”
At this point I explain that my Dad is from the New York Area (New Jersey) and that he raised me to be a Yankees fan. Usually, that’s enough to satisfy this stranger’s confusion over the apparent contradiction of being a Yankees fan without ever having lived in New York. For a while, giving this explanation was fine – I understood that people aren’t often fans of out-of-market teams, especially when that team is the evil, despicable, greedy, rich, powerful damn Yankees.
But eventually, having to explain myself any time this contradiction came up became tiring. I started to think, “Wait a minute, I don’t need to explain myself to these people. Why do I need to justify being a fan of the Yankees with some causal story? Can’t I just be a fan?”
Well, yes and no. You see, contrary to my perception of the motivations of those who question my fanship, justification for being a fan does not come from its causal explanation. In other words, how I came to love and cheer for the Yankees has no bearing on the legitimacy of my fanship.
That doesn’t mean we can just spontaneously be a fan for whomever we want, however. In philosophical terms, a certain set of dispositions are necessary, and sufficient, in order to be a fan. In layman’s terms, you have to act like a fan in order to be a fan. Simply being from the team’s city is not enough.
This might seem harsh. But consider the meaning of the word ‘fan’, which is defined by Merriam-Webster as “an enthusiastic devotee”. Those two words perfectly describe my personal intuition about what it means to be a fan. A fan must be ‘enthusiastic’, in that he or she truly cares about the team (or person/entity) and feels genuine emotion during and following its games. Fans must also be ‘devoted’, in that they have a minimal level of knowledge about the team and follow, to some extent, its games, record, transactions, etc.
I don’t think those are particularly strict criteria for being a fan. You don’t have watch every game or be depressed every time they lose, but you must feel at least some emotions when you follow their games, and you must pay attention to what happens to the team at least to a minimal extent.
That isn’t the main point of this post, though. My point is that the above criteria aren’t just necessary, but sufficient criteria for being a fan. That is, as long as you are an “enthusiastic devotee” of a team, no other explanation is necessary in order to be justified in being a fan of the team.
What does this mean? Well, first of all, it means that out-of-market fans have just as legitimate a claim to be Yankees fans as people who have lived in New York for their entire lives. I admit that this conclusion is somewhat self-interested, but I also think that it is true. I honestly believe that someone who is passionate about a team and follows them religiously but has never lived in the team’s hometown is more of a ‘fan’ than a native who has a very shallow interest in the team.
The other conclusion that follows from this reasoning is a little more controversial – the legitimacy of a fan is completely independent of the reasons for being a fan. In other words, a bandwagon fan, if he or she shows sufficient commitment to the team, is just as much of a fan as anyone else.
I know some of you may object to this claim, but why? Why should we group new fans, those who were energized by a team’s strong performance, below the rest of the fans? If they support the team as much as we do, why should we deny their fanship? Now if they lose interest when the team starts losing, I have no problem saying that they aren’t “true fans”, for a true fan, as we concluded above, must be devoted to their team.
Does this mean that you shouldn’t ask people why they are fans? Of course not. But do so only for the sake of curiosity, not so that you can judge the worthiness of their fanship. I am proud that my dad raised me a Yankees fan, and I plan to do the same for my kids, but the explanation for my being a Yankees fan is completely independent of its legitimacy. Actions and emotions make a fan, not reasons or explanations.