Saturday, July 12, 2014

Football Fans, Caring, and How I Failed My Daughters

Mahlia Lindquist

To my mind, a big difference exists between being a fan, and actually caring about a team.

My friend Bud cares about Gators football, though for many years I mistook him for a mere fan. Yes, a cluster of ceramic alligators lie in wait outside his front door.  Yes, a spectrum of cute to ferocious gators adorn Bud’s cutlery, mugs, and cocktail napkins. And yes, even the decorations at his annual holiday party are Gator themed. But, I assumed his Gator accoutrements were gifts from friends for a hard to buy for dude. It never occurred to me they were a reflection of bona fide concern for the Gators. 

At Bud’s house for a football party one afternoon, I learned  I had grossly underestimated the depth of his feelings for the Gators. When the game was over, Bud was morose and I asked what was bothering him. He seemed surprised I didn’t know, but patiently explained he was upset because the Gators had lost. At that moment I realized the Gator stuff wasn’t just in good fun. Bud actually cares if the Gators win or lose. 

At first glance, my mom seems similar to Bud, except rather than alligators, her decor has a Native American theme, in honor of the Florida State Seminoles. Headdresses and tomahawks adorn the walls.  My mom’s phone rings to the tune of the official Seminole war chant, and she faithfully posts “Go Noles” on her Facebook page on game days.  She has a pontoon boat painted with the FSU logo, and flies a Seminole flag whenever we go boating. As we motor down the Homosassa River near her house, Mom gleefully exchanges the FSU tomahawk wave in solidarity with other Seminole fans and taunts passing Gator lovers. 

But after talking to Bud, it is clear he and my mom are of a different ilk. Unlike Bud and his Gators, there is no change in my mom when FSU loses. Before, during and after a game, she is there for a good time, and a losing team could never ruin that for her. Though my mom revels in being part of a larger something, she doesn’t actually care if the Seminoles win or lose. She is a mere fan.

Bud is like the Christian who goes to church and truly has Jesus in his heart. In contrast, my mom is akin to the churchgoer who attends without fail, but mainly because it’s fun to see what the other church ladies are wearing to services.  To the outside observer they both seem devout, but only one of them really cares about God.

Unlike my mom, when it comes to sports, I am like the heathen who never even bothers making a show of going to church. Even as a cheerleader in high school, the only sentiment I could muster when our team lost, was regret that the post-game party would be a downer. I felt zero attachment to whether Miami Sunset High won or lost.  Though I am ashamed to say so, I was a cheerleader fraud.

That sense of detachment has stayed with me. I felt nothing for Colorado teams when I lived in Boulder, nor do I care for any of the Florida franchises now that I am back in Miami. Last month I could detect the collective sense of pride pulsing through my community with the Heat in the basketball finals, as well as the communal shame when they were crushed. But I was as indifferent as ever. 

It’s not that I don’t get or like sports. I understand and actually enjoy watching games. I admire the discipline, talent, courage and artistry of great athletes, teams and coaches. It's just that I am not a fan of one in particular and I certainly don't care about any of them. 

And, it’s not that I am at all critical of people who do. I myself actually want to give a whit, and am pretty sure it’s a fundamental character flaw that I don’t. With the extensive coverage of the World Cup, I see the fervor of soccer fans, their obvious sense of belonging, and wish I identified with a team in that way.  Instead, I am stuck in the role of the curious, but ultimately detached, observer. 

Talking to Bud that day, I struggled to understand why he loves the Gators. I suggested that his allegiance was irrational, in that Division I college football is pretty much about the money. That cracked him up.  When he learned that my girls had never even seen a football game, he was aghast. Bud’s reaction was similar to my girls’ Catholic grandparents when they learned I was not got going to baptize their grandchildren. 

That’s when I realized I had failed my daughters. I had raised them in Boulder without television and sent them to groovy schools that promoted yoga over sports. At ages 16 and 13, Dylan and  Zoe didn’t know a touchdown from a free throw. To put them at risk of spending eternity in purgatory was one thing. To make them sports handicapped and social outcasts was quite another.  How were they going to function in society? How would they ever fit in? According to Bud, it was not looking good.

I tried to make up for lost time, taking them out whenever possible to watch games and discuss football basics.  They were eager students, but the byzantine intricacies of American football  need to be absorbed over time. It is now four years since that fateful conversation with Bud, and at ages 17 and 20, neither daughter is even close to conversant about football or any other sport.

Even with continued remedial measures, when it comes to sports they will feel like an immigrant who learns the local language, but speaks with a thick accent and doesn’t really get the natives’ jokes. I have unwittingly raised my daughters to forever be sports outsiders. They will never be fans, much less care about a team.

I wonder if it’s too late to get them baptized? 


  1. It's not too late to have them baptized - the door to Heaven is always open.

  2. I love the allusions to religion, and I think they're particularly apt.

    In both religion and sports (and nationalism, for that matter), people adopt an identity that has, as a central tenet of that identity, distinct characteristics from different identities.

    In sports, one is distinct from the folks in the differently colored clothing, singing different songs (sometimes in different languages). In religion, one is distinct from the folks with different interpretations of ancient religious texts.

    Even seeing this, I too follow Florida State football "religiously", and witness how physical feats of complete strangers cause surges of chemicals in my body that have absolutely no basis in reality.

    We are strange animals...