Last Thursday, popular blogger, writer, internet personality Dan Shanoff wrote a post explaining why he roots so passionately for the Florida Gators. According to Shanoff, the Gators were his wife’s life-long passion and, as he was lacking a fan association at the time, he began to follow them with her. As their courtship progressed, Shanoff fell in love both with the woman and her team, eventually becoming as diehard of a fan as a “fan-in-law” could be.
As to be expected, reaction to Shanoff’s post was divided. Of course, several readers proclaimed Shanoff was just a frontrunning bandwagon-jumper. Others were happy for him that he had both found someone and something that made him happy. A third group, while not berating his decision, wondered if he would remain loyal to his new found team if for whatever reason his marriage ended. The fourth and final segment commented not on Shanoff’s decision, but on the awkward way he tried to defend himself.
In attempting to validate his decision, Shanoff inadvertently berated more traditional fan affiliations. By choosing the team of his wife, Shanoff stated his method of affiliation was “arguably superior to the more traditional, passive roots of sports allegiance”, namely biology, geography, and college acceptance. Although I initially found myself torn between the first and third groups, when I read Shanoff’s claim of “affiliation superiority”, I taken aback and even slightly insulted. As someone whose sports affiliations are rooted in all three rationales, I would like to briefly discuss my personal fan allegiances and through them explain why I believe Shanoff’s theory of affiliation superiority is indeed faulty.
As a youth, I grew up on Long Island, NY. Although near both the Mets and the Yankees, familiar influence guided my early baseball affiliation. As my father was a long-time Mets fan, I became a perfect example of Shanoff’s biology rule. My dad was a Mets fan and hence I became a Mets fan. Baseball was the only sport in the house, and I dove into the Mets with both feet.
A few years later, my family and I moved to Central Florida. It was here that I developed an interest in basketball, shooting hoops with the neighborhood kids. As I didn’t have a favorite team and the Orlando Magic had yet to play their first game, I picked up the team of the other transplanted New York kids: the New York Knicks. The Knicks at the time were easy to root for with players such as Patrick Ewing, Charles Oakley, and Mark Jackson. This affiliation however, was neither geographic nor biological nor college acceptance. It did however help me to bond with some of my new friends and pick up a sport I enjoyed.
Several years after becoming a Knicks fan, I enrolled at Florida State University. Here, of course, I have to admit the validity of Shanoff’s point of college acceptance. As I cared little about the team prior to attending, because they were the only school to accept me, I became a full-fledged Seminole fan. This fandom created more friendships and associations and still does to the present day, as I frequently watch Seminole broadcasts with other transplanted alumni.
Most recently, since moving to Tampa in the last year, I have begun to associate myself with an example of Shanoff’s geographic affiliations. Living closer to a major league park than I ever have, I’ve attended numerous Tampa Bay Rays games, met other Rays fans, and as many across the blogosphere may attest, have even been known to defend the Rays on occasion. Although I am still a Mets fan, I have slowly begun to acknowledge a budding fandom towards the Rays.
In all of these examples, as well as Shanoff’s “fan-in-law” approach, the affiliation was completely voluntary. In each, the affiliation was also secondary to group identity. I chose to root for the Mets for family, I chose to root for the Knicks for friends, I chose to root for the Seminoles for classmates and peers, and I chose to root for the Rays for community. Similarly Shanoff chose to root for the Florida Gators for the bond it would create with his wife, her family, and the entire Gator Nation. In all of these cases, the group dynamic was the catalyst, not the team itself. A winning team might raise the interest level and involve a larger group, but without any form of the group dynamic to stimulate the fandom, there wouldn’t be much concern at all.
In my opinion, Shanoff’s methodology in choosing a team is neither greater nor worse than those he dismisses. Few and far between are those who discover a team and root completely alone. For most of us, being a fan is about identity, it’s about family, and it’s about sharing the emotion of sports with others, no matter how life brought you together.