by Rebecca Koerselman
I enjoy the competitive nature of sports. But if you want to see the world’s biggest eye roll, it will be me at a game, listening to the “experts” in the stands or the trash talk of fake fans.
Like most folks, I cheer for the teams from my home state (Michigan), and the teams of schools that I attended. I spent six years doing doctoral work and teaching at Michigan State University so I root for Spartans the loudest and most often. I also cheer for Iowa State University, but I attended for only two years, so my ISU fandom is more subdued. I also cheer for my alma matter, Northwestern College, since I attended there for four years. I enjoy the ritual of sporting events (eloquently described by fellow Twelve blogger Debra Rienstra, a few weeks ago), the excitement of cheering for the Spartans during March Madness, defending my bracket, celebrating victories and amazing achievements, and managing the disappointments of defeats.
To be a sports fan is to be well acquainted with humility. This week I ventured some light trash talking about the upcoming MSU vs. Nebraska football game. I find Nebraska football fans rather obnoxious. Nebraska is having a less than stellar season, and I assumed the Spartans would give them a good whipping. I was wrong. Proverbs 16:18 says “pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” I usually don’t bother with trash talking, since I have absolutely no control over the outcomes of games and so there doesn’t seem to be much point. But I did this week, because I was, well, haughty. And now I will eat humble pie.
Over the years, I have received plenty of good-natured ribbing about Michigan State and their wins and losses. I had a student suggest I should cancel class in honor of MSU’s epic win over the Michigan Wolverines a few weeks ago. I enjoy this back and forth. For many people who don’t know each other very well, this is a less personal means of communication, touching on something in American culture that we might have in common. All good things.
I have noticed, however, the omnipresence of the “expert in the stands,” and the “fake fan.” Both annoy me.
The expert is someone who knows everything that the coaches, the players, the managers, and the support staff need to do. They critique every play or mistake, but celebrate all the scores or good plays. They are an endless fount of knowledge about everything in the game, along with offering up rapid-fire suggestions, accusations, and evaluations of the referees, coaches, and players. I have noticed that the experts’ enthusiasm is not dampened by the irritated glances of the plebians who know a little something about the game, but prefer to keep their helpful hints to themselves. I have talked to a few of these experts in the stands. Some have watched countless games, but most have never actually played, especially at a college or professional level. But they ALWAYS know what to do in any given situation.
The ‘fake fans’ are the folks that are big supporters of certain teams and like to trash talk other teams, even though they have no real affiliation or connection with “their” team. For example, last spring, after Michigan State lost to Duke in the Final Four, a student of mine wore a Duke sweatshirt to class. I jokingly told him that he was not allowed to wear that filth in my classroom. We had some good-natured ribbing back and forth about the game. At some point he talked about how much he liked Duke that I could not help but ask, “so did you go to Duke or have family that went there?” He looked sheepish and replied, “Well, no.” I see. So you just like the team? That’s fine. But can you be a real fan if you never attended the school? I suppose so. But shouldn’t there be some deference to the fans who actually attended a particular school?
When I think about what it means to exhibit the fruits of the spirit, especially as a sports fan, I think I have some work to do. Our culture does not value humility, but exalts pride. God requires a humble spirit. What does it mean to be an enthusiastic sports fan, but also a humble one?
Rebecca Koerselman teaches history at Northwestern College in Orange City, Iowa.