On root, root, rooting for the home team


I had the good fortune to accompany some good folks, all of whom work for Mozilla*, to a Blue Jays game. They are currently in the midst of a series against the Boston Red Sox, so around 30 per cent of the crowd was cheering for the other guys. Annoying, particularly when they're winning.

But as I sat there, watching a troglodyte in a red and blue jersey celebrate the prowess of a particularly steroid-soaked star, I started to think about the virtues of cheering for the home team and what it says about you as a person. Baseball, perhaps more than any other sport, is fueled by metaphor and allegory. Its ability to illuminate the dark corners of human nature is therefore more powerful than any other professional athletic endeavour; still, I think the following principles apply to any sport.

Before proceeding, we need a typology of the variety of  "cheering for the visitors" fans. Since the image of the slavering Red Sox devotee is fresh in my mind, I will use them as an exemplar for my analysis. There are three main varieties:

  1. The "Couldn't get tickets at Fenway, so drove up from Boston to see them play in Toronto" fan. I actually don't have a problem with these folks, since they embody the kind of home-team loyalty that I respect. Nevertheless, they should bear in mind that they are in my stadium, and should limit their cheering to demure applause. They should also accept my heckling with a good-natured and resigned silence.
  2. The "Born and raised in Boston, but I now live in Toronto" fan. Again, not a huge problem with these guys. But if you've moved to Toronto, and plan on staying here for a long time, at some point you should probably switch your allegiance. Sure, keep a little soft spot for ol' Beantown. But you're a Torontonian now, and you should damn well act like one.
  3. The "Born in Toronto, but I cheer for Boston because they, you know, win and stuff" fan. For me, these people are beneath contempt, a form of animal life lower than protozoa and about as intelligent. Why? Allow me to explain.

When you cheer for your home team, no matter how badly they're doing, you ally yourself to certain principles. Loyalty. Community. Pride in your city. You also conform to the unspoken rule of sports: if your place of residence has a sports team, you should support that team, because that's how sports works**. If people were encouraged to choose teams with no reference to where they lived, the perennial dogs of Baseball would have no fans, and the MLB would look a lot like the CFL: eight teams playing each other over and over again. Given the number of games in the baseball season, this circumstance would push the sport to baffling levels of inanity.

Conversely, when you cheer for the out-of-town team, you basically announce to the world that you are fickle, disloyal, and wont to ally yourself to the most powerful contender at any given moment. To use a wildly innappropriate historical analogy, this is rather like Britain observing the  effectiveness of the German Blitzkrieg and saying, "OK, this is clearly the winning team, let's cheer for them." The consequences of this behaviour, in both war and baseball, are monstrous.

Of course, it isn't easy to cheer for the home team in Toronto, an athletic black hole from which no light - but plenty of talent - escapes. But to once again pillage the past for a convenient rhetorical device, a great President once said "we do these things not because they are easy, but because they are hard." Cheering for the home team in Toronto is an excruciating exercise in patience and self-mortification, all in the vainglorious hope that somehow, someday, the Raptors/Jays/Argos/Leafs*** will do something. Anything. As Buddha once said, true enlightenment comes through suffering. If that is true, then Toronto fans are all geniuses. But whatever the outcome, sticking by the home team is an act that demonstrates character. To do otherwise hints at a profound failure of the human spirit.

So go home, Boston fans. You don't belong in my stadium because you're bad people. It's as simple as that.

*Which is in itself amusing; they are all passionate people who know a lot about the interwebs. And they have fabulous conversations about it, which I barely understand. All I can do is pipe in with an occasional "one billion downloads, eh? Woot! Am I right? Am I right?", which elicits pitying looks all around.

** My fanatical loyalty to the Pittsburgh Steelers is an exception. Since Canada has no NFL team, I have the rare luxury of choosing any team I want. And Pittsburgh is the obvious choice because they are awesome.

***Of course, if you're a Lacrosse fan, Toronto is a veritable paradise. But then, you're still a lacrosse fan.