Wherefore Art Thou, Champions? A Female Sports Fan's Lament


My most complicated and heartbreaking relationship is with a group of men who probably couldn’t care less about me, and yet, I can’t ever see myself leaving them.

They raise and dash my hopes more than 162 times a year. They break promises, they lie. They keep me up worrying about them at night and yet they’re indifferent to my suffering. They abandon me every winter and return every spring like nothing happened. My most chaotic, emotionally draining relationship is with the Minnesota Twins.

As I watched the San Francisco Giants celebrate their World Series victory over the Texas Rangers on Wednesday night, I felt a pang of sadness. I wasn’t upset that the Giants had won — seeing Tim Lincecum sad at the hands of possible future Yankee Cliff Lee would have done confusing things to me — but I was upset because that should have been my team. That should have been the Twins, the team that’s won the AL Central Division Championship six of the last ten years and yet managed to lose their last 12 playoff games (that’s the equivalent of getting swept multiple times. That is a tradition of sucking in the postseason). The nationally celebrated facial hair of the moment shouldn’t have been Brian Wilson’s beard, but Carl Pavano’s mustache. This was all wrong. I’d been let down again, as I have been every year since 1991. When I was 8.

At least my relationship with the Twins involves some positive memories prior to the disappointment. If the Minnesota Twins were my boyfriend, they’d be the type of boyfriend who surprises me with a trip to Italy and then forgets my birthday. Other teams I support aren’t as kind. For example, if Notre Dame football were my boyfriend, it would be the kind of boyfriend who would give me the silent treatment for days after refusing to have anal sex in a Target dressing room during business hours and then sleep with my sister after accidentally losing my cat. If the Minnesota Timberwolves were my boyfriend, they’d constantly tell me I’d be way hotter if I lost 10 pounds or if my boobs were bigger. If the Minnesota Vikings were my boyfriend, they’d stick with me through my cancer treatments only to get busted for leaving creepy voice mails for a buxom twenty something sideline reporter.

A reasonable person looking in from the outside would suggest to me that, after losing years of my life to freaking out about the Twins or about Notre Dame football or Minnesota Gophers basketball, I should just cut my losses and stop paying attention or start cheering for better teams. The thing is: it doesn’t work that way. I can’t just drop everything and suddenly care about the Miami Heat or the Boise State Blue Field Abominations. My relationship with the teams I support isn’t like a romantic relationship that I can just end at will; it’s closer to my relationship with a family member. I can choose to pay less attention to the stupid crap that family member pulls, like how I refused to watch any Minnesota Vikings games for 2 years after Gary Anderson missed that fucking field goal — the only one of the season! — in the 1999 NFC championship game against the Atlanta Falcons, causing the Vikings to lose the game. But no matter what crap the team pulls — from Notre Dame’s Coach O’Leary debacle to the Twins letting Torii Hunter go to the Angels — I always come back.

It seems that sports fandom is ideal for women who are gluttons for bitter disappointment. Why ignore sports and be disappointed by one man at a time when you can be a rabid fan and be disappointed by entire teams of men at once? At least my teams have seen a modicum of success in my lifetime; some people never get to taste success, like Detroit Lions fans. Jezebel commenter bluebears recalls with much bitterness a 1995 playoff game wherein the Lions were down 51-21 heading into the fourth quarter and describes being a Lions fan as an existence full of “general misery and pointlessness.” MsAvignon, another Jezebel commenter/Detroit Lions fan, explains her experience-

The Lions have accumulated over half a century of close calls, blown calls, blow outs, fumbles, interceptions, penalties, missed tackles, dropped passes, sacks … and then we entered the Matt Millen era. The number of wasted first round – and second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh – draft picks from those eight years meant that my husband and I owned a number of jerseys purchased in optimism and then become obsolete. I should say “had,” as over the summer we held a garage sale and those jerseys of former Lions for $1/each to an autistic kid who loved numbers. (An argument could be made that we overcharged him.) We thought the worst was over when Millen was fired, and then the Lions became the first team in history to go 0-16.

Is it worse, though, to have never loved a championship at all, or have won, and then lost? Alec, a fan of Italian soccer, laments,

The Italian national soccer team (“Gli Azzurri”) won the World Cup in 2006 and the individual players are on some of the best league teams in the world. When they utterly fell apart at the 2010 World Cup, it broke my heart. Falling from grace is never pretty, but my boys-my golden boys whose 2006 World Cup clippings I still had adhered to the inside of my closet door-had failed… not with a bang but a whimper. They didn’t even make a passably respectable showing, especially considering they’d been World Champions for the previous four years.
One of my favorite players took a dive so ridiculous, it’s now the first thing that pops up when you google him. In a move more sad than embarrassing, another favorite (who announced he would retire from the Azzurri after this World Cup), played only one half of one game, ending his international career by accidentally slicing open another footballer’s knee with his cleat in a tackle gone wrong.

Ouch. Another friend of mine, a female coworker who is so obsessed with the Chicago Bulls that she bases her wardrobe around the red, black, and white team color scheme, recalls with bitterness their playoff loss to the Orlando Magic on the heels of their early 90’s domination of the NBA.

After reflecting on my heartbreak-riddled relationships with my teams and conferring with other women who felt similarly, I’m convinced that the reason that televised sporting events are always sponsored by breweries is because the only way to deal with all of the feelings is by dissolving them in watered down American light beer. Being a sports fan — male or female — is ultimately about entering into a relationship with a team that can never be fully dissolved. Sure, it’s melodramatic, and to a non-sports fan, our dedication might seem silly and pointless, but we all commonly cling to the hope that some day our devotion could pay off, like it did for San Francisco Giants fans, because, no matter what, the hope’s there. It could happen. This could be the year.

Unless you like the Cubs.

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