Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Rules for Home Team Loyalties

In America loyalty to our home team brands our soul and anchors  identity. We move around so much, change jobs, change locations that we often lose track of friends, localities and even identities. Creating and holding onto a personal identity is hard enough without social and geographic mobility and technological disruption to constantly force revaluations. In addition humans take on the coloration of the environment and peers around them. While basic character traits often remain stable, values, loyalties and commitments can shift with displacement and moving.

America makes it hard to forge let alone maintain a sense of self and community across time and distance. One of the classic American solutions has been to moor one aspect of our personal identity through affiliation with sports teams. Rooting for a sports team anchors us in a place and locality. I have not lived in Kansas City for forty years, but I still follow the Kansas City Chiefs and Kansas City Royals. That thread of loyalty and casual checking of daily scores reminds me of my home. It recalls hours sitting with my family arguing over games, yelling at coaches and living and dying by Jan Stenerud field goals or George Brett doubles. The names may not be familiar to you, but they evoke a sense of place and time that reminds me of my roots. These names and memories  weave through the narrative of my own story and self-hood even as it grows and changes.

Team loyalty travels with us. I can follow my teams from a distance and still strengthen the narrative thread of my life. It reminds me of where I came from and where my family and friends grew up. When we come together we can bridge time, distance and even politics with memories of teams and outings as well as campfire sitting around the hearth of TV watching games while catching up on family or friendship. Being loyal to a team combines communal, familial and place bound loyalty and self.

Many remain in their home cities. This badge of affiliation is reinforced by proximity and saturation with news and by handing on these connections to their own family. Others leave and acquire other connections.. In my own career I've lived in Michigan and fondly rooted for the Detroit Tigers. I lived in New Jersey and rooted against the Yankees along with most of New Jersey and I lived in Boston and managed to avoid the contagion of Red Sox nation where your DNA somehow transmutes into a vaguely humanoid fan form. But I ended up marrying someone from Seattle and settling here and raised my children here. It's now been over 20 years and I consider myself an abiding Mariner's fan--not a fate to be wished upon people. Mariner loyalty like Cub loyalty goes to prove that sport team loyalty is not a form of collective egotism designed to enhance one's self of superiority. It sinks deeper into us and becomes an American surrogate for connection to place, work, family and community where a person lives.

This dilemma and reality came up when my daughter moved to Boston and wondered about how to manager her team loyalties. She now faces a moral dilemma. She's a born and bred Seattle Mariner's fan. Her family and geographic identity are bonded to her loyalty to the team. Like so many Americans she left her home to strike out on her own. She is choosing exile in Boston! Now she faces the gut wrenching and identity twisting dilemma of how to assign her sports loyalties.

She sadly is linked, thanks to my own madness, to the Mariners as an avatar of her community and a source of memory and passion linked to our  our family watching the games or obsessively following the scores. She knows the subtle madness of a losing streak and the insane joys of riding a winning streak. She's already had time in New Jersey (no threat to anyone's team loyalties) and just a year in Chicago (not enough to be corrupted). But she plans to stay in Boston for awhile and has attended a Red Sox game in the  Fenway Park.

So far she has navigated the swirling waters of American identity well. Most Americans construct plural identities across time and space. I have devised a few rules of thumb for sports fans about how to manage their sport team loyalties and most important when can they switch or add to their loyalties without selling their souls or rejecting their foundational bonds.These rules are especially important for those of us who move to new cities or localities and live there for awhile.

Rules of thumb for team loyalty:
  • Always hold your home team in your heart even if you only follow it on occasion. 
  • It is OK to find another team to root for, but there are conditions:
    • Find a team in another division or league to follow
    • It is always OK to root for a team in a different sport if your home has no team in that sport, or if the home team arrived on the scene after you left home. 
    • If you live in a town for over five years, you can permit yourself some attachment with the new local team
    • After ten years you can actually root for the team in your new home, but you still have to have a fondness for your home team.
    • If you marry or partner with a local citizen, you can root for the new home team, but just having a boyfriend or girlfriend is not enough to change.
    • If you have children in the new city, you should let them know their true roots but you can root with them for the false home team
    • After fifteen years, it is OK to call your new team your home team, especially if the new team has become your children's home team. 
    • But it is never OK to root for the usurper home team when they play your real home team, NEVER. 
    • If any local  team makes a championship run, you can enjoy the ride regardless of how long you have lived there.

After a decade or so, it's OK to give our new location, friends and family some some semblance of loyalty, but nothing should ever replace our primordial loyalty to the true home team. This is why my daughter has to be careful. The Boston Red Stockings, or "Sox"  do flaunt their world championships. The real danger lurks deeper. The Red Sox fans lived so long in pain, that their secret rage erupts like in 28 Days Later. The rage of Red Sox nation devours all vestiges a person's humanity.You don't quite become a flesh eating zombie, but like Yankee fans, you are not quite human anymore.

Moving to a new place is not just a geographic exercise or adventure in a new life and career. Any move contains a threat to your soul and identity.

My advice to my daughter, follow the north star of the Mariner's compass rose. Don't forget where you come from. Don't succumb to the siren songs of a new sports kingdom, even if it offers you world championships. Keep the faith and follow the rules. .

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