Me, We, Ali, And Whitney: The Most Important Rule For Being A Sports Fan

DALLAS, TX - JUNE 09: Fans of the Dallas Mavericks hold up asign which reads "We are all Nowitznessess in reference to Dirk Nowitzki #41 of the Mavericks against the Miami Heat in Game Five of the 2011 NBA Finals at American Airlines Center on June 9, 2011 in Dallas, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Can sports fans say "we" when they talk about their favorite team? Yes, but that's beside the point.

Let's get this out of the way up front — there may be dumber shows out there on television, but there's nothing on TV that's quite as infuriating as Whitney on NBC.

The worst part isn't even the show itself. I've only seen one full episode, but NBC runs like three promos for it every hour. This means that Whitney Cummings and her zany one-liners have become a permanent fixture in American living rooms whether we like it or not. It's the worst. Like someone took a piece of broken glass and decided it would be funny to spend millions of dollars dragging it across a chalkboard on national TV.

All of which is to say, I thought of Whitney on Tuesday night when I finally read this column — in which Grantland's Chris Jones wags his finger at sports fans with the temerity to say "we" when talking about their favorite team. Because when you think about it, sports fans, you're not actually part of the team. Did you ever stop and think about that?

It all reminds me of my favorite Whitney promo. 

See, Jones' argument may be dressed up with allusions to Muhammad Ali and the Green Bay Packers, but the reasoning's essentially the same as Whitney's.

And sports fans hear stuff like this constantly.

We deserve it, of course. Depending on the level of commitment, being a sports fan either means being slightly dorky in a kind of a sheepish way, or totally nerded out in a completely unapologetic way. Either way, the absurdity's inherent. Anyone's emotional investment in a group of other people's athletic pursuits requires a suspension of disbelief on par with Magic: The Gathering, Trekkie conventions, and any number of other underground cults. Sports fans just enjoy a bigger crowd.

But the old cliche "it's funny because it's true" doesn't translate to "it's true, so it's funny." Calling out sports fans for being immature is way too obvious to be funny or interesting.

When Whitney does it, we can groan and possibly try to stab our TV. When a sportswriter writes an open letter to poor old sports fans, it's probably worth pointing out how ridiculous he sounds. I like and respect Jones, but he was sort of begging for a response with all this:

We really need to find a better rebounder.

I can't believe we won that game in the bottom of the ninth.

How do you think we're going to do on Sunday?

Here's the deal: If you don't play for, or you are not an employee of, the team in question, "we" is not the pronoun you're looking for. "They" is the word you want.

And then there's the finger wagging.

Don't get me wrong. You might very well be in deep love with your team, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. There is nothing wrong with falling in love with something or someone outside of yourself. There is nothing wrong with finding faith and belief in forces beyond your reach. ... But no matter how much love and faith and belief you might have in something, you don't necessarily then become part of it. Put all your hopes in the stars if you'd like; that doesn't make you a constellation.

As someone who's spent his entire life accidentally referring to my favorite team as "we", and as someone who doesn't like being lectured, in general, the bait's sort of impossible to resist. And when you think about it, there are a number of different ways we could respond here.

  1. Maybe we could point out we all accidentally say "we" because the basic, absurd premise of sports fandom means identifying with the team we cheer for.
  2. Maybe we could mention that watching sports without identifying with competitors sort of feels like the king watching two gladiators fight to death. So sophisticated, just enjoying the spectacle.
  3. But is that sophisticated, or soulless?
  4. Maybe we read the last sentence in the excerpt above — "Put all your hopes in the stars if you'd like; that doesn't make you a constellation" — and maybe we couldn't resist linking to this photo in response.
  5. Maybe we all got caught up parsing the Ali poem the writer begins with in his piece—"Me, We"—only to marvel at the way he discards it by the end, adopting an Eli Manning quote instead.
  6. Maybe that sorta says it all.
  7. Hey, what about the fan who spends his life rooting for his hometown team and outlasts owners and players and championships and lockouts and stadiums? Can he say "we"?
  8. Maybe we'd dismiss the paternalistic calls for maturity and perspective, because on some level, doesn't the whole enterprise require that we abandon maturity and perspective? When sports are great, we lose ourselves in the game—that's sort of the point. The twist comes when the games end, and we reconcile with the result on our own.
  9. Maybe that's what makes loving a sports team unique. Because we can spend embarrassing amounts of time nerding out over live music or Magic: The Gathering, but only sports give us experiences that really feel like they belong to us.
  10. Maybe in the end, though, everyone experiences sports and sports teams differently, and that's sorta what makes being a fan so much fun. Everyone has different rituals and understandings. And no matter what a sports fan does to annoy you, there's nobody more annoying than the sports fan who tells other sports fans how all sports fans should watch sports. Maybe that's only truly meaningful rule to being a fan: don't be that guy.

...Yes, any of those would work. But we could also just step back and ask: "Wait a second: Who died and made Whitney Cummings the ombudsman for sports fans?"

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