Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Why I Can't Get Into American Professional Sports

The 2012 Summer Olympics start this weekend and like most citizens of the world, I'll probably be watching it passively over the next couple weeks. I'm sure a number of events will get me excited, but for the most part, it will just be background noise. But I do like the Olympics.

Whenever it's time for the Olympics or the World Cup, I remember why I never really got into American pro sports. It's not just that I find a lot of sports boring. Sure, American football and baseball have annoying announcers and awful pacing, but I think hockey, (real) football, and basketball can be exciting and interesting. The issue isn't entirely with the sports themselves, it's with the way professional sports are run and organized in America that really bugs me.

When I watch the Olympics or the World Cup, the teams are all representing where they come from. Sure, there are the occasional recent immigrants, but they are still expected to have full citizenship of the country they represent. Each team feels more personal and symbolic. Regular professional sports don't have that. 

"Wait," you might be saying, "each team DOES represent a particular region or state! And the athletes have to be residents of that state/region while they play for those teams!"

Yes, each team technically represents a particular state or region, but only in as much as the team trains and plays home games in that particular state or region. They don't actually come from there. Hell, just looking at the current roster for the Boston Red Sox, I could only find one guy who was actually born in Massachusetts. Hell, looking at their birthplaces, I'd say the team is more an accurate representation of Texas or California. Yes, they all currently live (at least partially) in Boston, but they all moved there explicitly to play for the Red Sox once they signed a contract. They didn't move there because they really liked Boston. It was a job offer. That's how it works.

Being a resident in a different state is not exactly difficult, either. There's no immigration process or anything. You just have extra tax forms to worry about. Yes, there are logistic issues, but considering how much pro athletes get paid, I doubt it's hard to live in two places at once.

As someone who used to live in New England, I know a lot of people cared a lot about the Red Sox and the Patriots as though they actually represented them or their identity. To me, they don't and they can't. All of the teams in all of the sports pick from the same pool of players that they trade and bargain for every year. Just because the region I live in is a part of their name and their base of operations doesn't mean I care about them.

"OK, fine," you might retort, "but people don't have to like teams that represent their region! They like teams with good coaches or a certain combination of players!"

This mentality I can understand better. Maybe you like a particular player and you support whatever team they're a part of. That's fine. I personally can't be bothered to care about that, just because I've never really been one to care too much about celebrities, but I can understand why people would. Maybe you pick a new favorite team every year based on whichever one plays the best. This sounds exhausting, but it makes sense.

That's not what a lot of people do.

Most sports fans that I know are loyal to a particular team through thick and thin, regardless of team configuration.

I can understand being loyal to a particular group in many situations, but not when the members of that group change as part of a regularly scheduled business arrangement.

To me, this would be like if all of the rock band managers got together every year and had a draft for their musicians. Would you still like the Rolling Stones if the musicians changed every year? Sure, maybe they'd still turn out good music, but could you really call them your favorite band?

Seriously, I want someone to try an experiment where they take two hockey teams, have them exchange jerseys, and see if the majority of the fans behave any differently. I somehow doubt it would matter much beyond, "Wow, this guy is having a really off night. That other team still sucks, though. They just got lucky."

This is why the fierce loyalty confounds me. The success or failure of your state/region's team does not accurately reflect the success/failure of the athletic or competitive prowess of said state/region. It's all in your head.

To me, it would be way more interesting if you could only play for a team that you've lived in for at least a year or two prior to singing a contract or playing, kind of like what they do for the Olympics. Sure, teams would still trade players, but it would be a much more involved process. The player would have to uproot themselves and go somewhere without getting paid. Either they would have to remain unemployed for the waiting period or they would have to find another job in the meantime (they're all college-educated, right?). Few people would do that unless they really wanted to play for that team. Otherwise, teams would just be comprised of people who already live there.

Yes, this would mean that the players would have fewer options and wouldn't be able to have as much leverage when negotiating payment. Cry me a river. Yes, I know that most athletes have short careers and they get paid a lot so that they can comfortably retire when their bodies can't keep up anymore, but forgive me if I don't have a lot of sympathy for a guy who gets paid vast sums of money and gets to retire before the age of 40 for playing a fucking game. Yes, I know it takes a lot of work and dedication, but it's still a fucking game. You know what else takes a lot of work and dedication? Neuroscience. Where's their early retirement and summer home? Sorry neuroscience isn't as entertaining to you, but it's sure a hell of a lot harder and more important to the advancement of modern society.

Yes, it would also mean that a lot of teams would start sucking and they couldn't do much about it in the short term. But I would much rather support a shitty team that actually represents my home than an amazing team that just happened to make good picks during the draft that year.

And yes, I know this will never happen. Professional sports in America have no shortage of money and fans and they don't need my patronage. Even so, this is primarily why I just can't bring myself to give a crap about any sporting events other than the World Cup or the Olympics. It's just a business.

Oh, also I might be a little vindictive because I hated it when football games preempted "The Simpsons" when I was growing up.


  1. Patrick, this is exactly why I am happy I don't like sports... and also why I don't comprehend them.

    I guess it would make sense if people supported individuals (I mean, race car drivers have tons of fans, and apart from the dullness of watching people take left-turns, it doesn't really bother me) as they switched teams, but that doesn't seem to happen much.

    The Olympics, though? THOSE ARE FUCKING AWESOME! Especially curling, but I'll have to wait two more years for that, alas.

    I do hate it when they only show us the American teams, though. Is there something wrong with wanting to see the CountryNotUSA's synchronized diving teams?

    1. I would love NASCAR if it was more like "Speed Racer" or "Mario Kart". Sure it would be more dangerous and expensive, but meh.

      Curling is awesome. In 2010 I watched in meditative curiosity, trying to understand the rules. When I finally figured it out, I was very pleased with myself.

      I will admit, I only care about CountryNotUSA once the USA is basically out of the running.

    2. Someday I want to try curling.

      I genuinely just enjoy watching athletes reach their dreams. Also it's terrifying, which can also be fun.