Friday Night Fanaticism
November 2, 2017
It’s a beautiful Friday night, and the football game is packed. Sure, this high school only has about 600 students. Sure, they’ve got a losing record this year. But the stadium’s full, and it’s crazy. In the parking lot, the sound of revving engines convinces me to park in the grass. Even though they happen weekly, races in the school parking lot still make me nervous. I walk by a car owned by one of the other team’s fans. They shouldn’t have scribbled “GO BULLDOGS” on their windows. Their car isn’t safe. You can’t say that here. When I reach the ticket booth, my 20-year-old former baseball coach asks me, “Are you still going to be a lawyer in three years?” while laughing with the man next to him. I tell him, like I always used to, “Actually, I’m going to grad school, and I want to teach someday.” He snorts, muttering “Oh, whatever” as I walk into the game. He must still be upset that I graduated early and left the baseball team. Prioritizing learning over sports wasn’t approved at my old school. I saunter over to the bleachers and find a seat. I know the lady behind me and the ladies in front of me. They go to my church I arrived five minutes late, and, as I focus on the action on the field, I notice that our team has the ball. Ten yards away from a touchdown, it’s second down. Soon we’re 15 yards away on third down. I and the spectators around me grow silent. As our boys of fall fumble and give up a touchdown in just a few egregious plays, the fans shout in angry passion. The silence of the previous moment gives way to profanity and insults to the team. A 10-year-old boy selling raffle tickets hears it and doesn’t even change his facial expression. He hears it every week, and he eagerly awaits the day when he can talk like the other adults.
Finally, half-time arrives. My stomach tells me I’m hungry, so I decide to get a snack from the concession stand. But as soon as the clock had run out, streams of hungry fans had formed into a massive line, pushing and shoving toward the front. I decide to stay seated so I don’t have to stand in a line of grumpy people.
Everything’s too expensive, and I have to wonder if all those fans in the line will behave rudely toward the people working the concession stand. It begins to rain. I have a feeling they aren’t going to be polite. They’re worried about the game, not the people behind the counter sacrificing their time for the sake of the school, football team, and community. When they see the prices, they treat the workers as if it’s their fault. Many leave the counter without a word of thanks or look of appreciation. As the line slowly vanishes, I see the boy selling raffle tickets. He had been watching the people in line.
They just taught him how to be a slave. As the game winds down, I realize the score. It’s 21-19, the Bulldogs in the lead. But our team is going for the two-point conversion—a classic opportunity to tie the game with less than two minutes left. The wide receiver catches the ball, and the fans jump up and shout in ecstasy. What a moment for the team and fans. But we are wrong. The receiver had dropped the ball, and the game was virtually over. All the fans on our side sit down in disgust as the other side of the stadium roars. Cursing and yelling, the fans on our side storm for the exit. Shoves, shouts, and hatred fill our half of the stadium. Finally, I find my way out of the stadium. Trucks are peeling out of the parking lot. Shouts fill the air. If it’s like former years, a group of high school students from our school will probably vandalize their school’s property. Tonight, the spirits of violence and revenge dominate this small rural school. All because of a football game which won’t even change the postseason layout. Most of us fans came that night to watch our own team win. To feel the thrill of football and being a fan. Do we know we are slaves? We are slaves to our passion for winning. We love football more than the boy selling raffle tickets. We don’t think we love sports more than people, but we sacrifice other people’s benefit to our passion for victory.
Wanting to win is a noble desire. Winning, even if it’s just a high school football game, is worth much effort from the team and concern from the fans. But desire and concern does not justify angry behavior. Disappointment is a natural result when our team loses. Disappointment can control us, or we can control disappointment. Uncontrolled disappointment produces angry actions. When the fans let anger control themselves, unfortunate results follow. Booing in disappointment does not mean the disappointment is in control. Swearing and acting rudely, especially in front of children, are perfect illustrations of the pitiful actions slavery to the passion for winning can cause. Without competition and nervous tension, football wouldn’t be enjoyable or worthwhile. It is best when the fans react to the game in moderation.
The next time I go to a football game, I’m going to be free from my passion for winning. I’m going to be a free man. I will enjoy myself and cheer for my side, but I will do so respectfully. Thinking about the people around me, I will treat them kindly and be an example to them. Putting others first, I will treat my fellow humans as if a 10-year-old boy is always watching. As if God’s always watching.