On February 27, 2002, ESPN columnist Bill Simmons wrote perhaps one of his best articles, the Rules for Being a True Fan. Although by no means an authority, Simmons laboriously detailed 20 guidelines for fandom. In 2002, these rules were considered gospel, especially to Simmons’s many legions of fans. Five years later, however, with the sports world vastly different, and many voices out-Simmons-ing Simmons, it is time to re-examine The Rules of a True Fan and see how relevant they remain.
(Warning: This post is over 2,500 words. May require printing out and/or minimizing on occasion. Enjoy.)
1) “You can’t purchase a ‘blank’ authentic jersey from your favorite team with no name on the back, then stick your own name and number on the jersey … well, unless you want to be an enormous dork.”
Still 100% true. Nothing says “dork” like Jordi on a Mets jersey. However, with the explosion of throwback jerseys in recent years, the jersey rule had to be updated. Josh Bacott of JoeSportsFan.com does an excellent job covering the details of what should and should not be accepted of a jersey wearer. When discussing old Cardinal jerseys, for example, Bacott asserts “If you’re going to make an investment on a throwback jersey, at least make sure the jersey actually existed at one time.” Do not get a Dizzy Dean-era Vince Coleman jersey. Real fans know a fraud when they see one.
2) “If you’re attending an NBA game, don’t wear the jersey of a team that isn’t competing in the game.”
True, but not as horrible as it once was. Again because of the explosion of throwbacks. Let me explain. If, for example, you live in LA, like a certain sports writer, but you root for the Celtics, and you want to wear your Larry Bird throwback to a Clippers-Grizzles game, I see no problem. As a matter of fact, if the players themselves wear throwback jersey of players not in their organization, a fan has every right to say “Yes, I am here to watch the Clippers and the Grizzles. Yes, I am admiring the game as an observer, not a fan. Yes, I am a Larry Bird fan.”
3) “Don’t wear cheap-looking replica jerseys or flimsy-looking bargain-basement hats. Come on. You’re representing every fan from your team.”
I understand where Simmons comes from with this, but keep in mind, he went to a private college and grew up among Celtics season ticket holders. If all I can afford is a two dollar hat, then if you want me to wear a new Starter fitted cap, you buy it for me. Otherwise, I am rocking the two dollar hat. Being a fan isn’t based on money.
4) “Don’t wear replica championship rings as a conversation starter. Don’t carry someone’s baseball card in your wallet as a conversation starter.”
Ok, these are still true. I don’t know anyone who actually did either of these, save for Bob Costas and his Mickey Mantle card. If, however, you buy an authentic championship ring on eBay, show that baby off.
5) “It’s OK to flagrantly show your contempt for the home team by wearing the colors of a hated rival, as long as you’re not being obnoxious as you root for the visiting team.”
Of course this is true. When would it not be? Although I would tone down the rival-wear in the company of some European soccer fans.
6) “When your team wins a championship, it’s your civic duty to purchase as much paraphernalia as possible.”
If this is true, Simmons’s house is probably covered in Pats and Red Sox paraphernalia. This is a dumb rule. Keep it modest folks. Nobody likes a braggart. A championship t-shirt, a hat maybe, the front page of the local newspaper, and that weeks Sports Illustrated should be all you need.
7) “Be very careful when using the word “We” with your favorite team. Use it judiciously. Just remember, you don’t wear a uniform, you don’t play any minutes, and you’re not on the team.”
I agree to a point. I have two issues with this rule, however: 1. Because you have established a relationship with the team, should you not refer to yourself as a member of the team’s “nation” of fans? Do you not refer to you and your significant other as “we”? Why do you do that? Because there is a bond of affection there.
2. If you are a fan of college sports, especially if you are an alumnus of that particular school, feel free to use “we” as often as you like. You are part of your school’s family, as are its current student/athletes.
8) “No hopping on and off the bandwagon during the season with the flip-flop, ‘I knew we were going to self-destruct! … All right, we won six straight! … I knew we wouldn’t keep playing this well. … I knew we would bounce back!’ routine as the season drags along.”
Another dumb rule. Again being emotionally attached to anything is going to sway your opinions, especially as you follow it day-to-day. Simmons himself claims to break this rule. There is an axiom in finance to not get caught up in the daily ebb and flow of the market, but to look at the long term. If we followed that axiom in our fan affiliations, we would probably be a little more sane. But it wouldn’t be as fun.
9) “It’s OK to root against your team, if they’re hopelessly out of the playoff race and you want them to keep losing so A) they’ll get a better draft pick, or B) you’re hoping the coach and/or GM will get fired. Don’t feel bad about it.”
Still true. Simmons is doing this right now, rooting against his Celtics so they have a better chance of drafting Greg Oden or Kevin Durant. Personally, I am still boycotting the Isiah Thomas era in NY while of course rooting for Oden and Durant to stay in school.
10) “If one of your fantasy guys is lighting it up against your favorite team (scoring goals, rushing for big yards, making jumpers, etc.), you can’t pump your fist, high-five anyone or refer to the player in a ‘That’s one of my guys!’ sense, especially if it’s a crucial game or a crucial juncture of the game.”
I have never been a big fan of fantasy sports. I played one season of fantasy basketball in my freshman year of college. It drove me to drink. Continuously. But Simmons is right, don’t put your fantasy team over your “real” team. Unless you are a lock to win money in the fantasy league. Then a little celebration is acceptable.
Five years later and Knicks fans are still booing. Amazing, but I digress …
Here is another rule I disagree with Simmons on. Boo all you want. Cheer all you want. If your team is in a losing streak, boo them. If A-Rod strikes out with the bases loaded, boo him. You pay money to see a performance. If the team, player, management, fails to perform to the ticket buyer’s expectations, they can expect to be told as such. I see no problem with that. How else can fans let the performers know they are dissatisfied?
12) “After your team wins a championship, they immediately get a five-year grace period: You can’t complain about anything that happens with your team (trades, draft picks, salary-cap cuts, coaching moves) for five years.”
Another faulty rule Simmons himself breaks on occasion. For an example of how ridiculous this rule is, ask a Marlins fan how happy they were after the Marlins won in 1997 then lost 108 the following year. Then try to console them with the “five-year grace period”. Then tell them their five years ended after 2002, and the because the Marlins won it all in ’03 they still can’t complain. As a matter of fact, Marlins fans can’t complain about 1998 until 2008. Chewbacca lives on Endor and this does not make any sense.
13) “You can follow specific players from other teams, but only as long as they aren’t facing your team.”
Well, not exactly. This rule should be a lot closer to the aforementioned fantasy rule. In my opinion, it is ok to root for individual accomplishments and root for said individual’s team to lose. If I want Kobe to score 60 but the Lakers to lose to the Knicks, how is that wrong?
14) “Just because you supported a team that won a championship, it doesn’t give you the right to turn into a pompous, insufferable schmuck. Remember this.”
Simmons actually wrote this rule? Wow. Where do I start? In all honesty, you can’t have it both ways. You cannot not complain (see Rule 12) and also not be a pompous schmuck. Complaining keeps you level. It reduces your excitement and prevents you from getting a big head. Unless you are a Yankee fan.
15) If your team defeats a good friend’s team in a crucial game or series, don’t rub it in with them unless they’ve been especially annoying/gloating/condescending/confrontational in the days leading up to the big battle. You’re probably better off cutting off all communications in the days preceding/following the game, just to be safe.
a) Along those same lines, if your team squanders a crucial game/series to your buddy’s team, don’t make them feel guilty about it — don’t call them to bitch about the game, don’t blame some conspiracy or bad referee’s call, don’t rant and rave like a lunatic.
b) If your buddy’s team loses an especially tough game, don’t call him — wait for him to call you. And when you do speak to him, discuss the game in a tone normally reserved for sudden, unexpected deaths.
c) If one of your best friends loves a certain team that has a chance to win a championship, and your team is out of the picture, it’s OK to jump on the bandwagon and root for his team to win it all. That’s acceptable. Like Temporary Fan status.
Rule 15 – the big one. Simmons’s only rule with multiple parts. Despite its complexity, this is a good rule. Rule 15 itself is why I don’t bet on my team. Too much friendship ruining potential. I’ve never been in a 15a situation, however 15b is chillingly true. After “my” Mets lost to the Cardinals in last year NLCS, I didn’t answer my phone until I went for a brief walk outside. Had to clear my head. On the other hand, 15c is a great rule that allows you to get your drink on as you let your friend know you totally supported his/her team. You never know, you might just get a drink or two out of it.
16) “If you marry someone who roots for a different team than you, you can’t be bullied into switching allegiances.”
I would hope this never actually happens, so this rule still applies. Part of being the man of a relationship means laying ground rules in your personality that will not be crossed. She may dress you, drag you to the gym, force you to drink light beer, but you should never give up the team you started following since before she came around. And what if you give up your team and end up divorced? Is there a sports confession booth, where you can confess to a priest you gave up your team for a mortal partner? Just don’t do it.
17) “If you’re an American woman and visible former actress, and you marry the most famous Canadian hockey star of all-time, and eventually he becomes the man in charge of putting together a Canadian Olympic hockey team, and they end up playing the Americans for the gold medal in a game that’s taking place in a U.S. city, and you show up for that game cheering for the Canadians, and you’re hugging everyone in sight as the Canadians are putting the game away in the third period … well, you have to leave the country immediately. And you can’t come back. Ever.”
Written for Janet Jones, Rule 17 is still applicable.
18) “If you live in a city that has fielded a professional team since your formative years, you have to root for that team.”
Sounds good to me.
19) “Once you choose a team, you’re stuck with that team for the rest of your life … unless one of the following conditions applies:
Your team moves to another city.
You grew up in a city that didn’t field a team for a specific sport – so you picked a random team – and then either a.) your city landed a team, or b.) you moved to a city that fielded a team for that specific sport.
One of your immediate family members either plays professionally or takes a relevant management/coaching/front office position with a pro team.
You follow your favorite college star (and this has to be a once-in-a-generation favorite college star) to the pros and root for his team du jour. Only works if there isn’t a pro team in your area.
The owner of your favorite team treated his fans so egregiously over the years that you couldn’t take it anymore — you would rather not follow them at all then support a franchise with this owner in charge.”
Simmons covers so much with this rule, it’s hard to see how it wouldn’t still apply. However, that being said, it does only apply to professional major league sports. Simmons unfortunately does not addresses fans of local minor league teams in this section. For example, you live in a town with a minor league team. You root for said team and its players. Are you supposed to discard your loyalty to the players as they move on? Or better yet, what if the major league affiliation of the minor league team changes? What if what was once a Royals Double-A team is now a Red Sox Triple-A team and you are a Yankee fan? Any suggestions?
20) “If you hail from New York, you can’t root for the Yankees and the Mets.”
This rule absolutely stands and is good for any and all state or city rivals. Can you imagine an Aggie saying “Well, it’s ok that the Longhorns won, as long as we keep the National Championship in Texas”? Funk that. As a Florida State Seminole fan, I damn sure rooted for Ohio State in the BCS championship and UCLA in last year’s basketball championship. Anyone who puts their team loyalty aside for the betterment of their state is a moron. Your state/city/town/region/community/village/commune/local gathering wins nothing. Your team wins everything.
Overall, most of Bill Simmons’s rules are still applicable five years after their initial publication. I guess beneath the teen reality show references, the Godfather and Karate Kid quotes, and the yarns of J-Bug and Hench, there is a core of sports gospel in Simmons’s writing that sports fans can and should be able to follow for years to come.