Gripes with Sports Fans: Bandwagon Crucifiers

     Fair-weather fans.  They love their sports teams when they are championship contenders, and aren’t going to let you forget for one second how many wins they’ve had in a row, or simply how much better they are than your team.  However, when things aren’t looking so bright, they’ll easily just move on to the next rising team, and cheer for them just as loud as they did the previous contender, while adamantly stating that they had been a fan all along.  They’ll even show you their brand new jersey of the star player to prove it.  The more common term used when referring to these people is “bandwagoner.”

     Any one team that looks championship caliber is fair game to one of these fans, and for that reason these fans are constantly under scrutiny from other sports-watchers.  However, I believe the term “bandwagon fan” is used in an insulting manner often when it is unnecessary or unfair.
     Now I want to make one point very clear before I “defend” some people who face criticism for seeming to like the best teams out of nowhere.  I hate bandwagon fans.  Listen closely.  I hate sports fans who follow their sports every season, yet every year seem to be cheering for a different team, one who always ends up competing for a title.  That’s because I believe that you should have a real allegiance to the team you support.  But here’s the deal.  Usually, when someone is called a bandwagon fan, they actually aren’t one.  These people are misunderstood so often that it has come to the point where I hate people who go around falsely accusing others of being bandwagon fans just as much as I hate the allegiance-switchers themselves.  That’s why these “bandwagon crucifiers” are the subject of this edition of Gripes with Sports Fans.
    Here’s a fairly common scenario.  Let’s say someone wants to start following a sport, let’s say baseball (although I’m not sure if anyone does that anymore).  To follow baseball, this person will have to pick a team to support.  Now who are they going to pick?  Well, there’s basically three ways this situation could go, and two out of three could result in this person being labeled a bandwagon fan.  The first solution is choosing to be a fan of the team in the city where they live, or their family lives, or the closest team to them.  Essentially, this is rooting for the hometown team.  In cities with professional teams, this is very common.  So if this person lives in Pittsburgh, then they will likely become a Pittsburgh Pirates fan.  However, most cities in the United States aren’t really close to an MLB team.
     The second possible scenario is deciding to root for either the team who either won the championship in the previous season, or at least one of the best teams in the league.  After all, everyone wants to be a fan of a winning team, so no one would intentionally choose to support a bad team if they didn’t have a connection to it.  This would lead our new baseball fan to choose the reigning World Series Champion San Francisco Giants, or one of the league’s best other teams such as the Kansas City Royals or St. Louis Cardinals.
     Lastly, they could choose to pick one of the historically great teams, or super-popular teams coming from big cities.  In the MLB, this means rooting for teams like the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, or Los Angeles Dodgers.  These teams all have very large fanbases and have historically won many World Series.  These are the first teams people usually think of when they think of baseball teams, and the teams people who don’t follow the sport are likely to still know.
       Since cheering for a top team and rooting for someone like the Yankees could both be seen as bandwagoning, since one is a current contender and the other is a perennial superpower.  However, from the perspective of a new fan, these are exactly the teams easiest to latch onto.  No one wants to pick an obscure, bottom-feeder franchise.  People want to root for teams that win and draw lots of media attention.  They want to associate with the big name players talked about on ESPN that draw sellout crowds to their home games.  That’s what’s appealing.  People can not be blamed for making a reasonable decision.
     Additionally, some people view themselves not as much fans of teams, but rather fans of individual players.  While I have teams I support, I also have many players I like and enjoy watching from other teams as well, and I don’t see any problem with that.  Obviously, I’m not going to be a fan of anyone on the Philadelphia Eagles or Dallas Cowboys since I’m die-hard New York Giants, but some of my favorite players in the league don’t play for the G-Men.
     The Miami Heat from the 2010-11 to 2013-14 season were probably the most bandwagoned team of all-time, and definitely had the most vocal critics slamming the team’s non-Miami resident fans for hopping on the bandwagon that I’ve ever seen.  While I know that many of these fans just decided that their team was in rebuild mode and that the Heat would be winning, I’m also well aware that a large percentage of the Heat fans during that time span were really just LeBron fans.  While I’m not a fan of King James personally, he’s the best basketball player alive and one of the most recognizable sports figures on the planet.  He has tons of fans and those fans instantly became Heat fans when he changed teams.  Now, they’re all Cavaliers fans.  It’s perfectly fine for them to go back and forth as long as they are fans of LeBron.  It’s not continuous bandwagoning to the best team in the East, it’s supporting a favorite player.
     But seriously, to the people that even go to the trouble of pointing out bandwagon fans, I have a question to ask.  Why?  You root for the team you want to root for, so why can’t everyone else?  What makes you so special that you can go around telling people who they can or cannot root for?  You aren’t God, and no one assigned you to be chairman of the fan police.  Many of these people think that the fact that they have been a fan of their team for their entire life means they are better than newer fans of their same team.  In fact, if their team wins the championship and their team gets tons of new fans, some of them will criticize their own team’s fans!  As a Giants fan, I welcome with open arms any potential new Giants fans.  I want the camaraderie of having friends who are Giants fans, and I want someone to share our successes and failures with.  Plus, fans sell tickets, buy jerseys, and give their teams revenue, which allows them to continue playing!
     There wouldn’t be sports at all without new fans and bandwagon fans!  The only way sports grow is by having popular teams and players that interest people unfamiliar with sports, getting them to watch games and become fans.  That’s what it’s all about!
     I said earlier that I hate bandwagon fans, which I maintain, but I don’t call people out or criticize others for it because people usually have their reasons for liking who they like, and almost all of the time it isn’t strictly just to cheer for the best team.
     Some people will say that if their favorite team is eliminated from the playoffs, then they will root for their second favorite team, usually someone in the opposite conference, to win.  Some will say that it is not right to show loyalties to teams other than your favorite, but I think that’s just ridiculous.  Even I am a subscriber to this method of thinking.  When the Giants are eliminated from the playoffs (which actually isn’t often because they’re usually missing the playoffs completely or winning the Super Bowl), I root for the team that knocks them out of the playoffs to win the Super Bowl (assuming it isn’t an NFC East team).  It makes me feel a little better about my team losing if I know that they fell to the eventual champions.  When the Rockets fell to the Warriors in the NBA’s Western Conference Finals, I knew I would root for the Warriors in the Finals (although to be fair, they were playing LeBron and Co., so it wasn’t a hard decision for me).
     Speaking of the NBA Finals, if you weren’t a fan of the Warriors or Cavaliers during the season, and you rooted for one of the teams in the Finals, then by a very loose definition, you hopped onto the bandwagon of the team you chose, even if it was just for two weeks.  Everybody is, to an extent, a bandwagon fan.  There is no one in the world who has been impartial to every game not involving one of their teams.  This includes those who call others bandwagoners.
     The point is, we all have teams we root for, and we should all be respectful of others’ choices.  If you’ve been a fan of the same team for your whole life, that’s great.  No one can take that away from you, and you have every right to be proud of that fact.  Just don’t belittle others who feel differently.  If someone wants to root for the teams of the players on their fantasy team, then they can do that.  If another person picks a team from every division to cheer on, tell them to have at it.  Heck, if someone decides that they’ll root exclusively for teams that wear blue, it shouldn’t really matter.  There’s no need to go on some kind of moral crusade against people that like a different team than they did a couple years ago, or couldn’t even name five football teams before the season started.  The point of sports is to have fun, so just be happy cheering on whoever you want to.
     But seriously, if you are someone who exclusively cheers for reigning champions, try rooting for a dark horse next time.  Sure they might not win it all, but when they do, even if it takes years and years, man is it a great feeling knowing you cheered them on the whole way through their rise to greatness.

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