Not a Real Fan

How many times must the "non-traditional" sports fan prove their love for the game?

Sticking to Sports

The first time I was asked to recite a roster, I was probably 11 or 12 years old. The joke was on the guy who’d challenged me, because I owned a calendar depicting the team in question, Liverpool. (I know, I know, withhold your judgment.) I’d rattled off all 12 players on the calendar before he conceded. In retrospect, I could’ve made up my own lineup and he might not have realized; he wasn’t even a Liverpool fan himself.

The last time I was asked to recite a roster was a few months ago; the asker didn’t watch the sport in question. I’ll give him this: He was honest. “You only like the team because you think their star player is hot,” he’d said, as I sputtered with indignation and listed off the entire team. At first, I was pretty proud that I’d remembered 20-something names. Once the self-satisfaction faded, and I’d made enough jokes about it, I was angry.

Quizzing is a phenomenon that no newbie fan—especially no female newbie fan—is a stranger to. One could even classify these variations into different species. There’s the classic: “Name more than one player on that team.” There’s the evergreen: “What’s offside?” or “What’s icing?” or “What’s a no-ball?”—every sport has its own version. Beyond that, the quizzing gets even more eclectic: “Name the reserve players on the 1984 world championship team, if you’re such a big fan.” Well, I was busy memorizing the blood types of the 1980 team, so I’m afraid I left that one out. Sorry!

There’s so much to unpack about this flat-out ridiculous questioning. Where does it end? What’s the catch-all question that really, truly proves I’m a gold standard fan? New fans aren’t limited just by their lack of experience. They’re also limited by age. I was born in 1998; naturally, that means I don’t know much about teams that came before that. No matter how much I read or how many highlight reels I watch, I’ll never have the same experience as someone who’s watched Wayne Gretzky play live. Does that make them automatically a more legitimate fan than me? Am I already a better fan than the generations after me that won’t see Alex Ovechkin, or Wayne Rooney, or Roger Federer play? Because I don’t want to be. I don’t even want to be ‘better’ than the fan who just watched their first game. It’s arbitrary, and it has, I think, something to do with the human tendency to romanticize the past. In our minds, the golden age of every sport has already passed, and we’re blind to the countless golden ages being written in front of us, every day.

But quizzing isn’t just about not letting in newcomers. It’s about dismissing and invalidating the voices of people who’ve been there all along. The real problem with gatekeeping is that it’s almost always at a woman’s expense, or an LGBT person’s expense, or a person of color’s expense. It’s sexist, it’s homophobic, it’s transphobic, it’s racist. Sometimes it’s all at the same time. Since you’re so fond of asking questions, quizmasters, ask yourselves: Would you really have said the same thing to a “typical” white cis male sports fan? If not, then it’s time to admit that quizzing is about more than allowing only the truest of fans to join your ranks. It’s about keeping those that you see as different, as outsiders—as not the right audience for sports—on the outside. It’s about you, as a sports fan, deciding that someone isn’t worthy, before they’ve even answered your question. The decision is made in the asking.

As fans, we should be delighted when someone else enjoys what we watch, because a wider, more diverse audience means an improved product. It shouldn’t matter if some kid bought a Messi jersey after watching Barcelona play yesterday. After all, it’s money to your team, and that can only help. This isn’t just about inclusion and allowing the game to grow; it’s about accepting that some “unconventional” sports fans have really always been around. It’s time that the straight white cis male sports fan made space in the stands, because the rest of us are tired of standing all the way in the back.

Stuti R. Telidevara ’20 is a Crimson blog editor in Cabot House. Her column appears on alternate Tuesdays.

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