I was considering this yesterday while watching my Edmonton Oilers take on the Vancouver Canucks (who I hate so much, by the way) – at first it looked like the Oilers were done. Despite out-playing the Canucks and dominating the ice every chance they got – despite countless opportunities to score big – despite that Roberto Luongo had our number for the duration of the three periods, which the Canucks should have been grateful for because in this particular instance, goaltending was not a problem for them, Vancouver was up two goals and the young guns looked like they were guaranteed another loss. My sister’s boyfriend sat across from us criticizing the efforts and asking us, why? Why would you bother cheering on a team that sucks every single year and never wins and blows all their opportunities?
My question back was, “What else are you supposed to do?”
You could switch allegiance… you could leave your struggling team and go find someone else that’s more “worthwhile” to cheer for because they’ll win… you could quit loving and watching a sport – boycott it based upon the fact that your team does not do well and go seek out something better to do… really though, this is easier said than done.
Because if you’re a ‘real fan’, your team is like a part of yourself. When your team wins, you win. You feel triumphant. You feel whole. You feel unbeatable. But, when your team loses, then you lose. You deal with this depressing reality: that you might not make the playoffs; that you are going to have to fight a real uphill battle. You have memories with your team; you have money invested in them in the form of merchandise and tickets. They are a reflection of you and a part of your own personal culture. Because fandom of any kind, particularly sports fandom, makes you feel a part of something and reminds you that you’re part of a community. And you love that community and you love to celebrate with your community if you win and comfort your community if you lose, and this is why you can’t just turn your back no matter what.
His argument back to this was, “There’s loyalty, then there’s stupidity” citing masochism and the fact that “After 30 years, you should just follow your favourite players around”. But, there’s no ‘I’ in team. There is only the team. The team is something that is not just made up by the players : it’s made up of fans and partners and symbolism. And no matter who plays for that team, it’s still something that belongs to you.
So in short, I disagree. I think that with the case of sports, it’s not as important to be loyal to a player, as it is to be loyal to a team and everything that goes along with a team.
Loyalty is remembering the basics of love and commitment. Loyalty means sacrificing what’s easy in lieu of what’s right. Loyalty means choosing history, memories, and feeling over opportunity. Loyalty means choosing delayed gratification over instant gratification.
I don’t think one should be stupid with their loyalty; I don’t think you should be loyal no matter what the circumstances are because in some circumstances it is best to walk away from loyalty. However, I think the only time it is worthwhile to walk away from loyalty is when someone has been your own loyalty has been compromised. In sports, there is no abandoned loyalty. A sports team will be as loyal as its fans, because a sports team relies on loyal fans to aid in its success.
So what does one gain by being loyal? A sense of human decency, and the faith that their concerted efforts to be loyal will someday be rewarded and long-term loyalty in this case, becomes its own reward.
That’s what it means to be loyal.