I was interviewed today by someone doing some academic research about how mass media and the Internet impacts cultural preferences. His specific inquiry was how sports fandom has been transformed by cable television, the web and stuff like that. He chose me to interview because he stumbled across some things I wrote about how I became an Atlanta Braves fan primarily because of Superstation TBS in the 1980s.
Among the things he asked me was what it was like to root for the Braves in the days before the Internet despite having no connection to the city of Atlanta and without having friends, family and peers who likewise were Braves fans. The researcher specifically asked me about how, absent that connection, I bonded with others over sports.
It’s a question I have never once considered. Indeed, before today I have never thought about the fact that, unlike most people who are sports fans, I didn’t really have anyone with whom I talked about the games or with whom I engaged in the communal aspects of sports fandom. All sports fandom, on some level, is tribal, but traditional sports tribalism was a close to nonexistent experience for me. Since my 20s I’ve been able to talk with folks online about it all, but as a kid, when I was most impressionable and when most people’s lifetime sports affiliations are formed, there was none of that at all.
I feel like I have a healthy attitude toward sports. Even though my job is writing about baseball, I don’t think sports comes anywhere close to consuming my life. Certainly not in anything approaching an unhealthy way. Sports make me happy, but they rarely if ever make me sad. The highs aren’t too high, the lows aren’t anything at all like the lows a lot of people experience when bad things happen to the teams and players they love.
I wonder if it would’ve been the same if I grew up in a house where my family all rooted for a given team. Or lived in a city where everyone did. Or went to school with kids who all did. I suppose I’ve missed out on some nice communal experiences that happen when a team which hasn’t won much finally makes it to the top, but apart from that, it’s been pretty OK.