Sports rivalries are awesome. Sometimes those rivalries are full of anger, bitterness and and underlying sense of rage and that can make for some really ugly moments. And sometimes those rivalries die out a little because one or both teams isn’t doing that well and it’s just not the same.
Then one day you find the two teams on somewhat of an even keel again, both playing games in April that mean something. And of those “mean something” games is against each other.
The rivalry flares up again, the way it was back in the good old days, not with hatred but still with an intensity that makes it feel like 1993 again.
Two teams fighting to keep playing after the season ends. Two teams from the same area, with fans that sometimes span the same household.
April is always a good time to be a hockey fan.
Right now - today, this moment, this build up to a meaningful game with a lifetime rival - is a really good time to be an Islander fan. The joy is back. The hope is back. The fun that comes with watching a team where the players genuinely like each other and are having fun playing their hearts out is back. The excitement that comes from playing the Rangers in April and having it mean something is back.
This is the hockey I love.
Let’s go, Islanders.
The Red Sox are floundering. It’s mid-August and they’re 12 games out and the team is in mutiny mode with Bobby Valentine. The Mets are 16 games out.
In a weird turn of events, I have not shoved these facts in the face of a single Red Sox or Mets fan. I have not reveled in their losing records or taken any glee in the fact that their fans are suffering. In fact, I had to Google the MLB standings to make sure I got my numbers right.
Turns out, I just don’t care as much. Not about the sports, per se, but about the intense fandom side of sports.
I’ve become a casual sports fan.
There was a time when I could name every single player on every roster of every NHL team. I could probably tell you their jersey numbers and stats as well. There was a time when I spent every summer night in front of the tv with a scorebook in my hands, performing the hieroglyphics of baseball scoring while watching the Yankees. If the Yankees had an off day, I’d watch whatever game was on tv. There was a time when my entire Sunday would be spent in a bar, eating chicken wings out of a football helmet while the NFL was broadcast before me on over a dozen tvs hanging from the ceiling. I used to read the newspaper - back when I read newspapers - backwards, starting with the sports section because that’s what was most important to me.
Along with those times came the rabidness of being a sports fan. The fights - physical and verbal - with Ranger fans and Bruins fans. The heated arguments, the name calling, the gloating, the defensive insults thrown at people who disparaged my favorite team, the nearly poisonous hatred of the Red Sox and Mets, of LeBron and Bryant, of anyone who dared to talk shit about Favre.
I never realized just how angry and volatile my passion for sports had become until recently. Thanks to social media - namely twitter, with tumblr and Facebook playing lesser but equally important roles - I’ve come to see just how ugly sports fandom can be. And it’s made me take on a smaller role as a sports fan.
I’ve seen interactions between fans that have made me unfollow certain people. I’ve seen bitterness, anger, people wishing injuries upon opposing players. I’ve witnessed fanaticism that made me wonder if some people know where they end and their team begins. I’m not talking about the bantering that goes on between friends who happen to be loyal to rival teams. The jabs and insults behind those tweets have an implied friendliness behind them. I’m talking about fights between relative strangers, exchanges between people filled with anger and hatred, people live tweeting games in a way that makes me envision as the type of person who would take a sledgehammer to a tv after their team loses.
Maybe I’m getting soft in my old age, but this has all gotten very tiring. The hate, the anger, the constant stream of insults, it’s not something I want to spend my time doing or being a part of. It’s sports. Sports. Games. A team’s win or loss has no impact on my life whatsoever and to expend so much energy getting worked up about those wins and losses seems counterproductive to, well, everything good.
Sure, I could just back away from social media or unfollow the people who are engaging in the behavior I cited, but that’s not really the entire problem. It’s me, too. Not just them. I’m tired of a lot of things about sports. I’m tired of the business side of it, of agonizing over CBAs and worrying if the hockey season is actually going to start on time. I’m admittedly bitter about everything going on with the Islanders and the Nassau Coliseum. I don’t want to hear about player contracts and what they’re doing off the field or in the clubhouse. I just want to watch a game, you know? A game. I don’t want all the other stuff that comes with being a sports fan.
I don’t want to give up sports entirely. I still want to root for the Yankees as they march toward October. I still want the Islanders to show some spark this season. I still want to watch football on Sundays and soccer games on Saturdays. I just don’t have the room in my life anymore for the hate and competitiveness. I don’t really want to hate LeBron. I don’t really want to hate Crosby. I want to just enjoy a sport for what it is and to do that means to watch it for the game and block out everything else. Or, become a casual sports fan, the kind where baseball on the tv is relegated to the background while you’re doing something else. The kind of fan who knows who’s ahead in the standings but doesn’t get worked up about it.
I need to watch from a distance because every time I talk about a sport on twitter, I end up with people jumping my shit about something, or engaging in arguments with people who are so involved with their teams they take every negative thing said about them as a personal insult.
I’m a baseball fan. I’m a hockey fan. I just want to watch the games without working myself into a frenzy over a bad call or extra inning loss. I don’t want to be aggravated over something so inconsequential as a pitcher walking home a run.
I partly blame social media for my sudden distaste for sports fandom. But I also blame myself for having been such a big part of it for nearly my entire life. The fact that I can now see hundreds of people at one time spewing expletives at each other over a game has just laid it all out there for me; I don’t need this. It’s just a part of what’s ruining the experience of sports for me, but it’s a big part. Yes, I can unfollow a lot of those people, and I’ve already done that. Yes, I can stay away from social media but there’s so much more to my enjoyment of it than what sports fans offer me. I’m not going to deprive myself of the good aspects of social media because of the bad aspects. What I can do is just not engage in that part of it anymore. I don’t want to troll Boston fans. I don’t want to make fun of the Mets. I don’t want to start a conversation that might end up in insults and injury wishes.
I’ve taken a step back. I’m taking a more casual approach to sports. I’m trying to lead a calmer, more centered life and tweets like “I hope Crosby gets another concussion” kind of leave me bewildered at this point. Why? Why would you take sports so seriously that you’d wish that on a person? I don’t want to add to that conversation and I don’t want to add to that part of the culture of sports.
I don’t want to talk about the business. I don’t want to talk about the personal lives of players. I don’t want to pop a blood vessel screaming at the television. I don’t want to be part of the rabidness.
I just want to enjoy a game.
So now I’m considering myself a casual sports fan. I’m going to try to go back to enjoying the games for what they are. Games.
“We play too many night games on getaway days and get into places at 4 in the morning. This has been my toughest season physically because of that. We play a lot of night games on Sunday for television and that those things take a lot out of you…They can put the Padres on ESPN, too. The schedule really hurt us. Nobody is really reporting that.”
Adrian Gonzalez, blaming Sunday Night Baseball for the Red Sox collapse
Oh shut the fuck up. Seriously. NOBODY IS REPORTING IT BECAUSE WHINING IS NOT A STORY.
“We had the biggest collapse in baseball history BECAUSE OF ESPN.”