Sunday, July 22, 2018
The dark side of being a fan
Two and a half years ago, I wrote about what it means to be a fan. My main points (for those who want a summary) were that we can be overcome by the beauty of a player's game or athleticism, we can be inspired by a player's personal struggles, or we can conveniently project our own insecurities and other uncomfortable feelings onto players. This last process can make it easier for us to carry our own pain (my favorite players are scared, insecure, anxious, fill-in-the-blank, too!), but it can also make it easier to lash out at them rather than examine the motives behind our very strong feelings.
In most cases, I suspect that real fans are emotionally involved because of all of these things. Athletes are living metaphors for everything about life: working hard, sacrificing, developing skills, overcoming obstacles, taking risks, handling defeat. Their inspiring behaviors are larger-than-life, and their losses and embarrassments are, also. And both are very public, exposing players' vulnerabilities to the world.
There's also a dark side of fandom. The Nadal camp vs. the Federer camp is a good example of enthusiasm run amok, with some fans on both sides finding it "necessary" to insult the other camp (and player) at every opportunity. But it happens in women's tennis, also. There are--it should go without saying--always people who attack WTA players because of their race, and of course, there are many ATP fans who attack the entire women's tour because it is composed of women, a gender which they consider inferior and not capable of playing "real" sports.
Bigotry is the worst kind of fan behavior, but it isn't the only aspect of "dark" fandom. On social media, players are attacked by fans who are big on opinion but extremely short on fact (something we know a lot about here in the USA). Expressing strong opinion without having the facts is not only intellectually lazy--it's mean-spirited. It may also represent a need to have an "enemy."
And then there are the fans who absolutely insist that your favorite player must be compared with theirs. And you know where this scenario goes--their favorite is "better." Or the fans who can't resist making snarky comments about players who are not their personal favorites.
And then there are the fans who cannot tolerate personality styles with which they are not personally comfortable. Here's the thing: If there weren't a lot of different personality styles on the WTA tour, the tour would be a lot less interesting. Alize Cornet's theatrics may not be your cup of tea, but so what? Simona Halep's tendency to get angry on court may not be your style, but so what? Alona Ostapenko's extreme expressiveness may not appeal to you, but--so what?
Finally, there are intense verbal attacks made toward players who slump or choke or don't appear to make progress with strengthening their weaknesses. This, I can assure you, is pure projection on the part of fans. (It's also about sports betting, yes, but that isn't the subject with which this post is concerned.) Are we disappointed when players exhibit stunning errors or weaknesses? Yes. But becoming enraged and delivering attacks or posting insults isn't about the player--it's about the "fan."
The WTA, as The Backspinner describes it, is "the most interesting tour in the world." Why waste our time and energy using it to project our own dark and uncomfortable feelings, reject what we don't understand, or insist that we are "right" and that we are on the "superior" team?