I would imagine that people who grew up in sports towns or sports families have trouble even conceptualizing why someone would need to explain their sportsfandom. Growing up in Santa Fe, New Mexico was a little different. I can't even count the number of times I've had to justify my sports fandom to friends from my childhood. It makes sense. I am a very unlikely sports fan. In fact, when my fandom began, I was a little bit ashamed to admit it myself.
This past weekend I got a message from an old friend from New Mexico. The subject line read: "Question". The body of the email said: "Why do you like sports?"
At this point in my Capitals fandom, I am enough of a fan that I felt slightly defensive upon reading the message initially, but then I remembered that I grew up in the land of the sportsless and so did my friend and so, I will attempt to explain in a succinct way, why I like sports.
I used to ask my husband why he liked sports when he'd want to tune into a game on TV and all I wanted to do was watch Desperate Housewives. He always told me something about how it's the best entertainment - live drama and you never know how it will turn out. There is some truth to this that I understand now, but at the time I just wanted him to surrender the television.
For me, the love of hockey developed over a period of time, but there were some key elements that combined and provided my entry point into fandom. First I live really close to the arena where the Capitals play and it's very convenient to attend games. Second, the game of hockey was interesting enough to grab my attention. (It's not slow like baseball, not incomprehensible like football, not dull like golf, etc.) Third there were some compelling players on the Capitals team when I moved here in the fall of 2005 - people who I could learn about and care enough about their characters to be invested in following them. Fourth, as time wore on, there were other fans.
In my pre-sports-fan days, I would have wanted to hide if I were trapped in an arena full of screaming fans. But once you begin to comprehend why people are yelling, and (gasp) even feel compelled to yell with them, there is nothing more fun than being in a packed building with 18,000 people dressed in red and screaming their lungs out like mad mad lunatics. As I began to understand all the nuances of the games - the rules, the line changes, when a ref made a bad call, when a goal was particularily amazing - I grew to appreciate the games even more. I knew when to yell. I was compelled to stand up and even to scream. (Did I mention that I used to be embarrassed to cheer in public? For anything? )
For me, being a sports fan has been therapeutic in a way. Cheering for the Capitals got me through some rough times last winter. It is fun to follow a team, to be a fan, to go all-out and wear as much red as humanly possible. Becoming a sports fan has also helped me to better understand the vast majority of Americans who follow one team or another. It has given me an entry point in the great national conversation of sports.
I am a Capitals fan. I'm part of of a red-clad army. It's a special club that anyone can join and we can all get together on game days and scream our heads off in the hopes it will help the Caps win. I know that being a hockey fan will not solve the problems of the world, but it makes my world a little bit happier, a little bit more fun.