There’s a large faction of sports fans out there whose blood boils when they hear one simple word spoken by a fellow fan. That word is “we.” As in, some fan might say, “man, we really need a new quarterback.” It’s common parlance among fans, to use the word “we” when they talk about their favourite team, but it just rubs some people the wrong way. They’ll sneer and say, “You are not affiliated with the team in any way – you don’t play for them, work in the front office, or have anything to do with the make-up of the team. You are just a fan. You are on the outside.” Fine.
This is a completely logical argument. Fans aren’t a part of the official team and don’t have anything to do with its operation, besides showing up to games and buying merchandise. This puts them on the outside. The thing is, though, that there is no logic to being a sports fan. Being a fan is about wanting inclusiveness, about being part of something greater than yourself, about putting the weight of the world behind what is, ultimately, a game. There’s something intangible and bigger that links the fan and the team. “We” doesn’t make sense logically, but it makes sense as a fan.
The reasons people root for certain teams makes almost no sense. Most of the players on any team aren’t actually from the city itself, so civic pride and regionalism aren’t valid explanations. The players are impermanent. If they don’t move to a new team in free agency, they’ll retire eventually. In essence, as Jerry Seinfeld once put it, we’re “rooting for laundry,” because only the jerseys remain constant.
The truth to being a fan, then, is assigning meaning to the team. Teams can come to represent something much bigger than they logically should: the Montreal Canadiens represent the whole of French Canada, even though only two players on the roster are actually from Quebec. The fans choose to use the sports team as a representative of their city and region in spite of any real connection on the part of the players.
This is mostly because fans are looking for a connection to something greater than themselves: to see an awesome play, and have it mean more than just athletics. It’s the triumph of whatever you want it to be. The triumph of one team becomes the triumph of one city, one culture, one way of life over the ambiguous “other,” which ends up being whoever we want the enemy to be.
This desire comes from the fact that fans are separated from the action. They can’t actively participate. There is no way to affect the game other than cheering. So, what do fans do? They stand up, cheer, without any pretence of logic. It is a beautiful delusion, stripped of any semblance to reason. Fans of the St. Louis Cardinals think that a squirrel running across the field during a playoff game propelled them to a World Series championship. Fans burn jerseys. Fans adhere to ridiculous superstitions in an attempt to supernaturally aid their team. There’s no thought behind it, but it doesn’t need rationality. The fan clings to the culture of the team, becomes part of the greater community, and creates his or her own “we” – the players, the organization, and the fans.
The fans of any team are an integral part of the community created around a franchise. The die-hards live to follow the team, buy the merchandise, and show up to games (or, at least, monitor the game on TV or the internet). They assign meaning to the actions of the team, choosing to allow the franchise to represent the city, an attitude, or a way of life that appeals to them. Sure, there are teams that exist without many fans, but these are largely unsuccessful teams. The teams that exist without many fans don’t feel right: there is a conspicuous absence at every game, an eerie silence that is impossible to ignore.
Most fans don’t consciously use the word “we”. It just springs up when talking about the team, and I don’t think this assigns the speaker an active role within the team. Rather, the use of the word designates the speaker as an active member of the community created by the team. When a fan says, “Man, we could really use a new quarterback,” they could just be saying the team could really use a new quarterback, if only to make the team they invest so much energy into – and therefore their daily existence – better. There’s nothing wrong with saying, “well, we could really use some more offense,” because, sometimes, we really could: the players, the owners, the administrators, the front office, the fans, everyone.