Why We Root, Root, Root . . .

By: Alan Levy

All the excitement of the FIFA World Cup led many of my non-soccer friends to come to me (as the resident soccer expert at work) to ask what all the excitement was about. I tried to explain the cultural differences between most of the world and the US; that we have an embarrassment of riches in the sports we can follow that dilutes our fanaticism. Most US cities or regions have multiple sports the local residents may attach themselves to. Most of the world does not.

In the New York area, I grew up with two baseball, football, basketball (yes, I’ll count the ABA Nets who were led by Julius Erving at the time), and hockey teams. We even had niche sports and regular events with four horse tracks (before Roosevelt Field became a regular Flea Market), the US Tennis Open, and (for a short time) major league soccer.

In most other countries, soccer is like college and pro football and the NBA combined. It’s sounds simple, but it’s the only way that Americans can understand it. There are two teams you root for: your local club team (no matter the league level) and the national team. Loyalty is passed down through families. As I learned more about the game and the “football” culture, I identified with it completely.

As I grew up in New York, I rooted crazily for my teams (Yanks, Giants, Rangers and Knicks); played and attended tennis matches; spent way too much “time” at the tracks. I followed them all with the intensity of a zealot. There were many times I was asked to calm down as every missed shot, home run or first down resulted in screams, thrown items or, one time, a slightly dislocated shoulder. I’ve been asked if I had any brothers on the team (by my mother-in-law) and been yelled at (by my wife) for waking the baby when the Yankees inexplicably won the World Series in 1996. I’ll take all the blame because this is who I am. I’m a sports fan.

(Post Break: One former girlfriend played amateur psychologist with me and said I was so invested in sports because I was missing something integral from my “self.” I told her the only thing I would be missing was her – goodbye.)

I’m extremely grateful for the love and understanding of my family – they know what they’re dealing with. During football season, I’m unreachable on Sunday mornings prepping for football; October, May and June nights are spent watching playoff games; and “daddy language” was never to be repeated outside the house.

As summer vacation beckons, my family gladly incorporates a sporting event (it’s a Yankee road game this year). Past adventures have included Giants training camp, Fenway Park, and old and new Yankee Stadium. My daughters have incorporated sports into their life – as athletes and fans (and even some “daddy language”). As time goes on, I feel this love and passion for the games are among the best (and most consistent) things I can pass on.

It’s funny how love and passion lead to becoming a fanatic – you know, that’s how you get the word “fan.”

Just Sayin’

In the spirit of this post, I’ll refer you to Tom Verducci’s tribute to writer (and awardee of the J.G. Taylor Spink Award, the highest honor given by the Baseball Writers Association of America) Roger Angell in Sports Illustrated (http://www.si.com/mlb/2014/07/22/roger-angell-tom-verducci-hall-fame) and a section of a 1975 piece from Mr. Angell:

It is foolish and childish, on the face of it, to affiliate ourselves with anything so insignificant and patently contrived and commercially exploitative as a professional sports team, and the amused superiority and icy scorn that the non-fan directs at the sports nut (I know this look—I know it by heart) is understandable and almost unanswerable. Almost. What is left out of this calculation, it seems to me, is the business of caring—caring deeply and passionately, really caring—which is a capacity or an emotion that has almost gone out of our lives. And so it seems possible that we have come to a time when it no longer matters so much what the caring is about, how frail or foolish is the object of that concern, as long as the feeling itself can be saved. Naïveté—the infantile and ignoble joy that sends a grown man or woman to dancing and shouting with joy in the middle of the night over the haphazardous flight of a distant ball—seems a small price to pay for such a gift.

Amen.