There is, and always will be, something fundamentally dishonest about sports. How exactly that breaks, though, depends on the fan in question.
Sports, unless we’ve happened upon some broke-down bean counter toiling away in a franchise’s accounting department, can always locate love. Love of the game. Love of a team. Love, I’m guessing, of one’s fellow athletes. There’s even the misplaced, and largely useless, love that some fans attach to players, whether in the form of hero-worship, man-crushes, fan favorites, or the making of matinee idols.
Without trust, there’s no love. That’s the easy answer. We want to trust that our teams, from each individual player up through management, will try their hardest and follow through on our expectations. If only life were so simple. Trust isn’t absolute, unless you really believe that football is a proxy for organized religion. (“Hey, Jesus, what gives? This wasn’t what we discussed!”) Trust is about a maddening interplay between honesty and dishonesty, large disclosures, and harmless secrets. White lies, outbursts of feeling…these are the nuts and bolts of any kind of lasting relationship.
Framed in this way, the fan/team dynamic is a two-way street. It’s also one far less frustrating. Seeing your franchise as a tyrannical, unfair, and often stupid government occupying your native land is often painful. But if you can at least learn to see some of their sins as forgivable, even necessary, and appreciate their good vibes as more than just public relations, then the picture changes. I know, taking this concept all the way up to the level of “franchise” has some serious Citizens United overtones to it. The alternative, though, is unremittingly bleak. The manipulations and un-truths are part of working together, part of—bizarre as this may sound—cultivating real trust with the fan community.
All good or all bad doesn’t lay the grounds for feeling like, really, fans and team are all in this together. That’s not what love is all about. Honesty is seasoned, hardened, and tested by dishonesty. Without the latter, the former is limp, disingenuous. Of course, there has to be a balance, but the cynicism that sees nothing but lies and bullshit, and is satisfied only with the utmost results, isn’t really any kind of trust.
Remember, though, it’s a two-way street. Let’s not pretend for a second that being a fan isn’t full of contradictions. No one loves a team more than its fans; no one is harder on it, either. There are days when it’s our responsibility, personally and socially, to complain even it hurts to. There are also times for unreasonable optimism. These may appear to be divorced to reality, but in fact, they’re negotiating it—complementing it, even. Being a fan isn’t about speaking the objective truth all the time, in a so-called “reality-based” community. It’s the other side of everything that’s wrong with sports teams (well, everything that’s not just miserable failures of professional or financial competency). It’s sometimes said that sports are modeled on politics, but these days, it seems as if politics are modeled on sports. Constituencies aren’t rational independent agents, they’re locked into a relationship that contains plenty of honesty and dishonesty alike. At the end of the day, though, they are fooled, and fool the powers that be, for the love.
Wait, that makes no sense. In sports, there is love, fleshed out and sustained by this crazy thing called “trust,” made up of this mess we call “(dis)honesty).” In politics, there is nothing but mutual deception and occasional lip service to largely symbolic values. Politics could learn a lot from sports. Dysfunctional sports teams should take a step back before they devolve into today’s Washington, DC.