What does being a sports fan have to do with loving where you live? A lot, actually.
A few years ago, as a gift, my husband got a t-shirt that says “GO SPORTS! Move the thing to the other thing!â€ That, my friends, is my sports knowledge in a nutshell. I know there’s usually a ball. The end.
So why am I excited enough for the NCAA March Madness tournament that for the first time ever, I actually know/care when Selection Sunday is this year? Because chances are good (really good) that my team will play.
My team. That’s the truly weird part. I actually have a team.
Let’s be real: the kind of fans that storm the court and light cars on fire could be an entirely different species from me. But I do have a vague sense, common to sports fans, that my team belongs to me. That when we’re winning, I magically had a hand in making it happen. It’s a collective fate that we’re all creating and experiencing together. How else to explain the adrenaline rush that makes sports fans destroy goal posts? They experience victory basically as if they personally threw the sports ball through the net (or however it works).
All this bears a lot of parallels to being attached to where you live. Minus the ball. For instance:
Your home team is almost always linked to some personal geography – like the city where you or your parents grew up or went to college. Your city actually is your personal geography.
You’re intensely loyal to your team, with a sense of ownership that says “we’re in this together.â€ While that doesn’t stop you from bad-mouthing your team’s losing streak, when an outsider does you’ll jump down their throat. Same with your city. When you’re truly place attached, you both criticize it and defend it passionately. You feel like it’s yours.
You wear your team’s t-shirt. You wear your city’s t-shirt.
You’re familiar with all the rituals and insider background of your team. In a city you know well, you know all the insider lingo.
You hate enemy teams with a burning fire. When you’re place attached, you firmly believe other cities aren’t nearly as good as yours.
At the extreme end, your team obsession becomes the main thing people know about you. It’s part of your identity. Like when your closet is stuffed with 49 sports jerseys or your obituary mentions your team in the first paragraph. Your place becomes part of your identity too – a way to define yourself and represent yourself to others.
Sports fandom and place attachment, it’s clear, operate on similar principles. Imagine if we could channel all that sports passion into community passion. What (totally metaphorical) goal posts could we knock down together? What sports ball courts could we storm?
As a first step, try this March Madness–themed Love Where You Live experiment and become a fan of your local sports team. When it comes to knowledge of football – offense and defense and yard lines and such – all I can really say is “Move the thing to the other thing!â€ In Blacksburg, however, I forced myself to go to a few Virginia Tech Hokie football games. Turns out, the fact that I’m a few pom-poms short of a cheer squad didn’t even matter. The fervor of the football fans in the stadium proved contagious. Now, not kidding, I tear up when I hear the Hokies’ theme song, “Enter Sandman.â€
Even though I know Virginia Tech and Blacksburg aren’t one and the same, being loyal to one makes me feel more loyal to the other. So find a sports team. Minor league baseball, university tennis, high school football, whatever. Go to a game or five. Chant the cheers. Sing the songs. Buy the t-shirt. Defend it at all costs. Be a fan.