What is the definition of a “true fan”? How do you pin down the qualifications that need to be satisfied in order to consider yourself one? Is it a title that is bestowed upon you by social media peers, or can you just declare that you have achieved level one ultimate fan status?
These questions occur to me on a fairly regular basis when perusing social media, especially when the topic pertains to the Green Bay Packers. If you make the mistake of checking out the comment sections of any Packers related media, you will inevitably see the devolving of human social interaction. It always starts with somebody who disagrees with something the author wrote. They will post their grievance–sometimes respectfully, sometimes not–and then the piranha come out to feast. It has become ritual, and I’m afraid it is a sign of our culture continually being eroded until we are all just piles of angry carbon yelling at each other for daring to have an opinion.
The topics of these discussions vary, but at some point it is almost a certainty that one or all of the participants will end up questioning the validity of their counterparts status as a fan. Essentially, the argument will boil down to “You don’t agree with me, so you are not a true fan”. This is when you know that all of their brain cells are taxed out, and they have fallen back onto their safety net. The discussion has long ago surpassed worthwhile, and is now entering Jerry Springer territory. You can just picture the recipient of this message jumping out of their chair, pulling somebody’s hair, and running around a maze of backstage halls.
Normally, I don’t let this type of cro-magnon nonsense bother me. I like to live by the “Live and let live” philosophy, with a smidgen of “Sticks and stones” thrown in for good measure. But this phenomenon is getting out of control, and that is when I get introspective. The questions I posed at the beginning of this article are not rhetorical. They are meant to be analyzed, and ultimately answered–if there is a definite, logical answer to be had. Do people who say things like this actually believe that their manner of expressing their devotion to a professional sports team is the one and only honest and true way to do so? That seems pretty ego-maniacal. Do they not recognize that there are an infinite amount of personalities in the world, each with infinite feelings and ideas? Are they so deluded and condescending as to believe that out of dozens of millions of people who love the Packers, their love is the only one that matters?
I grew up in a suburb of Portland, Oregon. My family lived there from the time I was 2 until I moved to Wisconsin when I was 19. As a kid, in the 1980’s, Joe Montana was my hero. By extension, the 49ers were my favorite team. Like most kids, though, my devotion to the team was finished once my favorite player was no longer there. After Montana was traded to the Chiefs, I became a Cowboys fan. I loved Emmitt Smith and Jay Novacek, and thought Jimmy Johnson was the best coach ever. I was 12.
Thankfully, my sister and brother were living in Wisconsin at the time. They told me about this new quarterback the Packers traded for, Brett Favor. Living on the west coast, I was not able to see many Packers games, but when I watched (and learned how to spell) Favre, I fell in love with Green Bay. The community, the spirit of the franchise, the history, all of it drew me in. I read every book I could find about my new favorite team. When the Packers were on, I couldn’t be moved from watching–and that continues to this very day.
Am I a true fan? After all, I’ve only been a fan for 23 years, and I was a fan of 2 other teams before Green Bay. I don’t have any receipts to prove how much money I’ve spent on merchandise (although I’ve been tempted to save them after buying beer at Lambeau, if for no other reason than to prove that I will do stupid things for beer.), or any autographed pictures. If you base the validity of my fandom on material objects, I’m afraid that I wouldn’t pass the test. However, if you try to move me from in front of a television during a game or stop me from reading the same redundant training camp tweets from the beat writers in August, or God forbid mention the name Terrell Buckley anywhere within my earshot, we’re gonna have a problem.
This week, the Packers announced that they are going to be selling certificates to stock owners showing “certification that confirms stock ownership”. Some people love this idea as another opportunity to add to their memorabilia collection, while some think it is nothing more than a cash grab. My opinion is that if people are willing to spend money for a piece of personalized cardstock with a Packers logo on it, then more power to them. They don’t deserve to have their feelings judged, just as I don’t deserve to be judged for not purchasing one myself. We’re all fans with differing opinions, life experiences, economic standing, and ideals. Before I hug the complete stranger next to me at the bar after a touchdown, do I ask to see an embossed notarized certificate demonstrating their status as a True Fan? Or do we embrace for a length of time that makes everybody around us uncomfortable, almost miss the extra point, then go back to our respective choices of alcohol and deep fried meat? When life presents you with hugs and fried food, you heed that call.
If you are one of those people who continually judges other fans based on your own personal criteria, let me ask you this: Do you think that Aaron Rodgers calls Olivia Munn and says “Oh my God, you are never going to believe this! I went to the Pro Shop today and cross referenced receipts, and you know that guy Carl? You know, from Wisconsin? He bought my shirsey today!” More than likely not. The probability is fairly high that people who throw out the phrase “not a true fan” are attempting to justify their own expenditures of time, money, and emotions by belittling the expenditures of others. Trying to keep their place in a pecking order made up in their own mind. Attempting to confirm their own relevancy as a fan. Forgetting that we are all on the same boat, floating along trying to get to the same place.
I’m a fan of the Green Bay Packers. Chances are if you’re reading this, you’re a fan too. Let’s celebrate that together without labels. (Unless the label is on a bottle of beer. Then let’s celebrate with lots of labels.) If you choose to go the Jerry Springer route, at least have the common decency to remember that he always closes his show with “Take care of yourselves, and each other.”
GO PACK GO!