Originally published at Convivium on October 12, 2021.
Don Hutchinson notes that when sports and politics overlap we become fan-atics” cheering for our favourite sweaters and socks.
Once upon a time in Canada, we knew where we’d be on Sunday mornings and what would hold our attention on Saturday nights. For some, Sunday faith and Saturday fandom were effortlessly exchangeable.
For today’s Canadian fans of team sports, it’s the best of times and the busiest of times. Soccer, baseball, NFL football, NCAA football, CFL football and hockey compete for our attention. Even with screen in screen technology, time is not sufficiently divisible to take in every game in real time. It may be easier if you favour one sport over another or one team over the others. Still, our favourite jerseys ask a lot from us.
Fans of politics had a whole other game to follow, and the recent federal election further crowded our calendar.
A friend formed his sports allegiances in a time when television signals were broadcast over the air and ABC was the only American network his antenna could capture. His love for the Fighting Irish and Big Bad Bruins was stimulated in black and white, but lives on in colour.
Some allegiances rise and fall with teams that do not survive the test of time―the Expos, Nordiques and Fury come to mind. Fans hold on to their memorabilia with nostalgic heartfelt fondness.
It’s rare that analytical reasons compel changing from a sweater to which we have become emotionally attached. When an insider friend told me the management driving the 2012-13 NHL lockout was from the team for which I owned jersey, hats, and more, it was discouraging news. As the lockout dragged on I became distracted by the beauty of players and management actively serving in my more recently adopted city while waiting to get back on the ice. Go SENS Go! I wear red and black now, also the colours of my CFL home team.
The first Sunday night this October featured a different test of fan devotion. The NFC Tampa Bay Buccaneers played a rare game against the AFC New England Patriots. Former six-time Vince Lombardi Trophy winning Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was visiting Foxborough with his seventh Super Bowl ring and the defending champion team that went with it.
A guy named Schwartzy succinctly expressed the sentiments of Patriots devotees. “I’ll cheer for him when he comes out, but after that, nah. I want some sacks. I want to see our frigging linebackers just pummel them and punish him.”
There was a walk-down-memory-lane video before Brady emerged to cheers for the pre-game warmup. But TB12 was heartily booed the first time he took the field on offence in his Bucs jersey.
Even when a player is considered the G.O.A.T. (greatest of all time), if he changes jerseys we stick with our team.
As Jerry Seinfeld observed,
Loyalty to any one sports team is pretty hard to justify, because the players are always changing, the team can move to another city. You’re actually rooting for the clothes, when you get right down to it. You know what I mean? You are standing and cheering and yelling for your clothes to beat the clothes from another city. Fans will be so in love with a player, but if he goes to another team, they boo him. This is the same human being in a different shirt; they hate him now. Boo! Different shirt! Boo!
It takes a lot for us to consider changing colours. Not just in sports, in politics too. The recent federal election confirmed that there are base fans―short for fanatics, by the way―for political parties as much as there are for sports teams.
With no team in the game, nearly 4 in 10 eligible Canadian voters decided to do something other than mark an X. Of the remaining 6, the red team and the blue team didn’t advance much beyond their fan bases even though they were the only two competing for the most seats. Each remained at roughly 2 in 10 electors, translating to 3 in 10 who voted.
Friends campaigning door-to-door heard variations on a common theme from homeowners. “I always vote Liberal (Conservative). My parents voted Liberal (Conservative). My grandparents voted Liberal (Conservative).” The orange team has now been around long enough for similar fandom to be voiced, just on fewer front steps.
It seems political fans are also committed to rooting for their team season after season.
Following the election, red team insider Gerald Butts opened up about Liberal efforts to strategically build on their 2 in 10 base, if only minutely.
Intentional “Microtargeting” of electoral subgroups in key ridings, particularly in multiple-riding high-population municipal areas, secured enough Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver marginal voters to supplement the base for big-city-fueled electoral victory.
Micro-targeting wasn’t in the red party platform. It showed up in candidate Trudeau’s campaign stump speeches: the blue team harbours right wing extremists; the blue team leader is hiding blue candidates’ vaccination rates and won’t protect you; the big blue tent cultivates a home for those who will make abortion illegal; elect the blue team and licensed military-style firearms will flood city streets. These were not just Achilles’ heel issues for approved campaign media to kick at in daily press scrums. They were carefully chosen and crafted statements based on polling in select urban centres, before and during the campaign.
On reasoned observation and analysis: right-wing radicals congregated and animated with a party sporting a different colour; vaccination of MPs is encouraged but not required for return to Parliament Hill (getting on a plane or train to get to Ottawa is a different matter); the blue party leader is pro-choice and there are not enough votes in the big blue tent to re-establish a law on abortion in the only one of the big-three federal parties that tolerates diversity of opinion in discussions about social issues; crime rates have risen steeply during the Trudeau tenure due to illegal guns, not licensed ones.
However, thoughtful deliberation was not the purpose for microtargeting. Liberal microtargeting was designed intentionally for reasoned resistance to be futile. The purpose of the micro-research and micro-messaging was to spark emotional response from targeted voters in targeted ridings, evoking visceral boos for blue and reflexive cheers for red. Vote Red!
Most fans―fanatics―support their team, no matter what.
Brady and the Minutemen got ensnared in Deflategate on the way to their fourth Super Bowl win in 2015. Go Pats! A season of sign stealing ignited the Houston offence to secure the city its first World Series win in 2017. Go ‘Stros! And, according to Butts, “Vote efficiency isn’t accidental.” Microtargeted emotional manipulation made the difference between losing and winning Canada’s federal election last month. Go Grits!
There are analytical fans who study the stats, assess game tactics, and review playbooks/platforms. Some even assess the character of key players. These fans can be critical of team decisions in a different fashion than the emotionally embedded. Objective thought may lead them to leave the uniform for another.
The newest fans may reconsider their loyalty if unsportsmanlike conduct is reckoned as acceptable by their squad. (Re: politics this could result in joining the indifferent 4 in 10.)
For most, however, fandom is a passionate and enduring attachment. The standard is root, root, root for the home team. Boo! Different shirt! Boo! Like generations before, fans of the chosen team celebrate their preferred clothes claiming victory over other clothes, notwithstanding any misadventure along the way.