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Thursday, August 23, 2012

Portfolio - Sports in Society (The Influence of Fanhood)

In 2010, I had the privilege of going to a post season baseball game in Atlanta.  Along with the emotion of seeing a childhood idol retire, the game was a furry of insanity. Here, in a piece for the Cardinal & Cream newspaper, I describe the occasion and examine sports' influence and relation to society.  Hope you enjoy!

View from the Seats: Postseason Baseball
October 11, 2010
            Patriotism. Religion. Fanhood.
            If you were to examine world culture, you find that these three ideologies are at the heart.  While I look at that list, I think how strange it is that a love for sports can be so intertwined in culture to be compared with the former two.
            Research in the “Journal of Sport & Social Issues” reported approximately 70 percent of Americans watch, read or discuss sports at least once a day. This is compared to 58 percent who say they pray once a day.
            Never was this obsession of sports more evident to me than at Game 3 of the NLDS playoff series between the San Francisco Giants and Atlanta Braves.
            Over the course of the 2010 season, I had been to five Braves games at Turner Field, which could easily be described as a “family-friendly” park. However, on this muggy October evening, fans were not so friendly; they were hostile and determined.
            The Braves had not been to the playoffs since they snapped a streak of 14-consecutive playoff appearances in 2005. Fans were hungry.

            As more than 53,000 fans poured into their seats, so did the desire to win a championship, not only for their fanhood, but also for the Braves retiring manager, Bobby Cox. He was the Braves manager for 25 years, a legend of the game and crowd favorite.
            The urgency of his last season made his pregame introduction comparable to the front row of a Led Zeppelin concert.  However, the roar for the beloved manager paled in comparison to the fans’ response to going live on national TV. Just as TBS started its coverage of the game, Braves fans erupted into their traditional hymn: the “Tomahawk Chop.”
            I have been a part of many Tomahawk Chops, even some as random as in the Brewer Dining Hall, but never one as thrilling or significant as this. It was our war cry. It was our song. It was our oath of allegiance.
            Turner Field had turned into an eerie, haunted corridor filled with mindless fans waving red foam tomahawks in sheer violence. We came for victory, but in that moment, we wanted blood.
            While it sounds exaggerated, the feeling was undeniable. From the first pitch to the last, each moment was focused and intense. Bathroom breaks and concession runs were out of the question, as every second commanded the attention of the crowd. 
            However, the fans’ joyous concentration did not last long, as a sad turn of events altered the mood.
            Braves regular season hero and second baseman, Brooks Conrad, fumbled a ground ball in the first inning and dropped a pop fly in the second inning to allow the first run of the game. While Conrad was known for his late inning heroics, his poor fielding had plagued him in the last few games of the season and carried over into the playoffs. In his last eight games of the year, Conrad committed nine errors, including three on this night.
            There is a fine line between a party and a riot—only poor circumstances differ the two—and Turner Field was in an outrage. Some fans were yelling in hostility for him to be taken out of the game, but Conrad’s favorability had not been completely squandered. Yet. 
            Each game between the Braves and Giants in 2010 was an intense pitching duel with relatively low scoring. Conrad’s blunder put Braves fans in constant anticipation for a majority of the game, until the eighth inning.
            If there were two things the Braves proved this season, it was that their bench players were solid and they excelled in the late innings. The Braves led the National League with 46 comeback victories and 25 victories in their final at-bat.
            So, when Eric Hinske’s pitch-hit, eighth inning home run cleared the right field fence, it was stereotypical, but the furthest thing from ordinary.
            As I sit here and try to think of an illustrative, hypothetical situation to guide your mind to imagining this moment, all I can think of are natural disasters and explosions.
            Even these phenomena do not compare to the experience I shared with 53,286 fans that were, at that moment, my family. As I hugged random strangers, slapped hands with senior citizens and watched in amusement as intoxicated fans gyrated their body in unforeseen ways, I was overwhelmed by an ominous, joyous chant. Louder and stronger than ever, the sea of red foam appeared again as we recited once more the creed of the Tomahawk Chop.
            Order was restored again. We had done it once more. Victory was three outs away; three very long outs.
            Atlanta’s new villain, once again showed his face. In the top of the ninth inning, Conrad let a simple ground ball roll right under his glove, allowing the go-ahead run to score.
            Shock. Frustration. Mass hysteria.
            It all happened so fast. On an emotional road as crooked as it was long,
Atlanta fans did not know how to feel. Some resulted to furiously yelling, while some just sat and stared.
            It is hard to be a fan of someone you hate.
            The game was over. We did not even have to bat in the bottom of the ninth inning to know it was too much to overcome.
            In one of the longest car rides of my life from Atlanta to Jackson that night, I considered this article and this is what I concluded.
            Sports and entertainment are vital to a thriving culture. Besides the relief it offers from a dull, monotonous life, sports provides an element other forms of entertainment and media cannot provide: the unpredictability of human error.
            Conrad’s errors left him in a theater of shame, surrounded by more than 53,000 angry people. Leaving the field, several fans wanted to wait by the player’s gate and follow Conrad home to “torch the place.” We are passionate about sports and the teams we love.
            Although fans were furious leaving the stadium, on the way home and a few at work the next day, eventually they realized their love for their team was stronger than their hate for that terrible moment. No matter how the season ends, a true fan always comes back the next season.
            Fanhood is the perfect example of forgiveness and grace. Fans rely on other people to be perfect, but quickly learn they are not. People disappoint. Friends get mad. Friends forgive. It is an intricate and necessary part of culture.


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