Sports Enjoyment Heightened by Taking the Fanatic Out of Fan

By Jason Menard,

If you could watch me watch a sporting event, you might be struck at how little passion I display. But I’ll tell you right now that I appreciate and enjoy sports more than I ever did in my youth.

The main reason? I’ve become less of a fanatic and more of a fan.

Despite the fact that the word fan is derived from fanatic, there are significant differences between the two terms. And the clearest distinction is that fanatics live and die with their teams; fans love the sport unconditionally.

I’m a few years past the hanging-out-in-sports-bars phase of my life, so my exposure to fanatics has been limited as of late to only those instances when I attend a live sporting event. But with the NHL playoffs upon us, some of those fanatics are coming out of the woodwork through the world of social networking.

Whether it’s trash-talking tweets, pointed Facebook profile posts, or incendiary images, hockey fanatics in particular are already in full throat. It helps, of course, when the And it always helps when the Montreal Canadiens are in the playoffs and the Toronto Maple Leafs are not, or vice-versa.

For many of these fanatics, however, their interest in the game is overwhelmingly influenced by the presence of their favourite team. Each moment of a game featuring their club is to be savoured. The highs seem higher; the lows more abject. But what happens when their club is eliminated? Some continue half-heartedly on watching the sport, while many more lose all interest.

Which raises the following question: what exactly are you a fan of? You can say you’re a hockey fan, a football fan, or insert-sport-name-here fan, but is that actually true? Or would it be more accurate to say you’re a fanatic supporter of a particular franchise?

Yes, I have my preferences. I was born and raised a fan of the bleu, blanc, et rouge. I still want to see them do well and, given the choice, I’d prefer to see them win the Stanley Cup. However, if they get knocked out of the playoffs, that doesn’t mean I won’t watch.

Part of the joy of being a fan of the sport is appreciating the game as a whole. Yes, the Leafs may be spawned from Satan’s loins, but should that unfortunate fact of geography and lineage render spectacular plays any less spectacular simply because of the team who executes them?

There’s a great satisfaction that comes from just enjoying a game on its own merits: appreciating the talents, efforts, and abilities of its participants, without having a vested interest in which club comes out on the winning end. There’s a joy that comes from being able to sit down in front of any baseball, football, or basketball game and just get lost in the on-field action, without needing a rooting interest to guide me.

I can’t count how many hockey games I’ve attended where the fans feel that the officials are flagrantly biased against the home-town club. They boo obvious penalties and go into apoplectic fits at borderline calls. They then hyperventilate over the fact that the referees didn’t call that phantom offense perpetrated by the opposition.

In fact, for many their attendance at a sporting event seems almost masochistic. Opposition goals seem to cause physical pain; missed opportunities and stifled play by the home-town boys cause surges in blood pressure and anger. Instead of being able to appreciate the other team’s efforts and defensive play, these fanatics spew forth venom and disgust at their former objects of affection.

I was once there. I know. In my teenage years, I was a fanatic – my moods rising and falling with the fortunes of my team. Fortunately, I grew up and so too did my perceptions towards sports.

Sure, I may seem quiet during a game. And perhaps I’ll confuse you by clapping for good plays by both teams. But I know that, no matter what, I’ll walk away from that game having enjoyed myself and appreciative of the talent and spectacle that occurred in front of me.

So while no sports team can guarantee a win, the true sports fan can guarantee a winning experience each and every night.

It’s not hard to do when you love the game.

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