Earlier this spring, Jared Allen, one of the better pass rushers in the NFL and a longtime Minnesota Viking, signed as a free agent with the Chicago Bears. If you’re an NFL fan you know the Bears and Vikings are divisional rivals. If you read this column with any regularity you know I am a Vikings fan. Needless to say, seeing Allen cross over to the enemy wasn’t pleasant.
Last week the NFL held its annual draft. The Vikings had the eighth pick, and I desperately wanted them to select Johnny Manziel, the polarizing quarterback from Texas A&M. I love Manziel, but apparently the Vikings did not. The Cleveland Browns selected him later in the first round.
In these situations fans like me are faced with the question of how to react to the players. Do we turn on them? Is Allen a turncoat and a Benedict Arnold to be spurned by all Vikings fans? Should I root for Manziel to fail now that he won’t be wearing purple even though just a week ago I thought the world of him? In the past I passionately rooted against players. I wanted Brett Favre to throw interceptions and Derek Jeter (or any Yankee) to make errors.
Not everyone in sports can win (also true in the rest of life). It’s a zero-sum game; if one person or team wins the other cannot. As a result, it’s part of being a sports fan to root for opponents to lose. On the whole, though, it’s much more enjoyable to root for a team or player than to expend emotions and energy rooting against someone.
Rooting for opponents to fail is an empty, heartless endeavor. Having rooted for some bad teams, I have often resorted to it out of a “misery loves company” mentality, but it didn’t bring me any pleasure even when they did fail. In intense rivalries it can devolve into personal attacks and real vitriol. Rooting against someone can become downright hateful.
Competition is more enjoyable when all the participants are at their best. Whether you are watching or playing sports, it’s a better experience when the performance is high. Winning feels better because it is earned, no excuses. Losing is a bit (a tiny bit) more palatable because it’s fair and well fought. In all, the competition is purer making it better for those participating and viewing.
So how should we respond to rivals and opponents? We should wish them the best and hope for their success. It’s better for everyone. I genuinely would like Jared Allen and Johnny Manziel to do well. Will I root for their teams? No, I couldn’t do that, but I will enjoy the success they have. In my years as a fan I have learned that the game, no matter the sport, is better when everyone is at their best and fandom is more enjoyable when it’s not based in spite.