Why Are We So Quiet?

>> Friday

At last count, I have attended home games in person for 33 different professional, college, or international teams, in 8 different sports (#34 is coming in 12 days). In this time, I've been able to see a lot of fans. They range from passive (Cubs) to pretentious (Notre Dame Basketball) to completely shit-drunk off their gourd and full of the most foul-sounding whiskey-tinged profane misogynist comments I've ever heard and sometimes partaken in (MU Women's Soccer).

However, one thing has always puzzled me. Why are North American (USA and Canada) fans so.....sedate? Not to say that North Americans are bad fans, but it seems to be a phenomenon unique to the northern half of the New World. Why are we so quiet? At least untill the guy on the PA tells us to "MAKE SOME NOIIIIIIIIIIIIIIISE!" and plays the first few bars of "Welcome to the Jungle." Just think for a minute. If someone stands up in front of you at a game to yell support for the team or to hurl a derogatory insult about the sexual practices of the opposing playmaker's mother, what makes most people think or say "Down in front!" instead of joining in? Remember that one Tennesee fan who was reprimanded for cheering the whole game? Think about how quiet the stadium is even when the national anthem is being played.

At first, I thought the reason for the difference was just the sport and the pace of play. Sports that have fewer stoppages would seem to lend themselves better to extended fan support. Soccer is likely the perfect example of this. Almost no stoppages for 90 minutes result in flag-waving, songs, and everyone on their feet to support the team.

Likewise, look at football. Pause. Play. Stop. Pause. Play. Stop. Pause. BIG PLAY! EVERYBODY WAVE THE TOWELS! Touchdown. ROAR. The game set up kind of makes any sort of continual support difficult. But this can't be the answer because what sport has more stoppages than basketball? Dead balls, fouls, violations, out-of-bounds, free throws, coaches' timeouts, TV timeouts, intentional fouls, the lot. And college basketball fans go bananas during the course of a game, the sound doesn't stop. The chants may be simple (Let's go Duke! Let's go Duke!) but that enables them to catch on quickly. Then I see a video showing fans in Greece going completely bonkers. It looked like something out of the World Cup, untill I looked in the background and saw a basketball court, with the run of play going on. These guys are going completely fucking mental and making the Cameron Crazies look like the barflys watching Tuesday league night at the local bowling alley.

Is it a cultural difference inherent in our national sports? If you're from the U.S., the first sporting event you probably went to was a baseball game, where you sat back in the bleachers with your parents, ate hot dogs, peanuts and cracker jack, maybe kept score, hoped for a foul ball to come your way, and if you're Vinnie, came up with a new kind of sabermetric to determine whether or not the middle reliever was worth his pay. If you're in Greece like in the above video, the first thing you probably saw as a kid was a soccer match, with drums and flags and flares and smoke and everything. Then do you just bring that mentality over into every other sport? I don't think so, because during the World Baseball Classic, teams from the Dominican Republic had fan support that I can best describe as "Soccer-ish" while fans of the US team sat back and chanted "USA USA" whenever the Stars and Stripes loaded the bases (which must not have happened often). The Dominican Republic's standing in the admittedly-flawed FIFA rankings is 160th, and even then, baseball makes a stronger case for being the national sport of La Republica. That kind of performance doesn't really get the passion out that would carry over across sports.

My other theory for the difference could be the lack of a community involvement with the team. People will support a crap team if they're considered a part of the community, and sometimes that isn't the case in North America. Just think about how many teams have relocated cities since 1990. Remember any of these guys?
The Winnipeg Jets, The Minnesota North Stars, The Quebec Nordiques, The Hartford Whalers, The Charlotte Hornets, The Vancouver Grizzlies, The old Cleveland Browns, The Houston Oilers, The Montreal Expos, The Los Angeles Raiders, The Los Angeles Rams? How many teams wear commemorative patches every 5 seasons, as if staying in the same city for 10 and then 15 years was a milestone to be struggled towards?

With competition in North America based on a franchise model (where teams pay a fee to operate in an area and can relocate at will), rather than on a club model (For instance, 6 of the 20 teams in the English Premiership are based in London, while no league in the US has more than 2 teams in one city in any league), there would appear to not be as much local attachment to a side as is seen elsewhere, where a club represents your neighborhood. As such, they couldn't think of moving anywhere.

But the franchise system can't be the reason either, because Mexican and to an extent Australian sport also operates on a franchise system as well where teams pay a fee for the right to exclusively operate within a given area, and its fans can always be counted on to go completely batty at games.

Is it because teams abroad are often associated with strata in society as well as neighborhoods? For example, in Scotland, Celtic is the Irish-Catholic team, while archrival Rangers are the Protestant-Unionist team. In Italy, Livorno is the socialist team and Lazio is the fascist team. This can't be the reason why either; look at baseball. The Cubs are the "Rich, North Shore Yuppie team" and the Sox are the "South Side Working Man's team." Those teams are a part of their neighborhoods' culture.

Why do people hate the Yankees? The first thing out of people's mouths usually isn't "Because they've been so successful" it's "Because they have so much money." Notre Dame's a bunch of snobs, Louisville's a bunch of rednecks, UWM's a bunch of slobs, UW's a bunch of pinkos, Marquette is the shining light of the world. We've all heard this, so self-identification with a movement or social class is no stranger to North American shores, and as such, can't be the reason for the disparity.

Then it hit me. Money. After all, the ultras fan support movement in Italy began when top clubs lowered the prices on select sections in their stadiums. When the "working man's spirit" enters the fray; someone who is more likely to go to a game with his beer buddies than to entertain clients, does the support for the team increase? Perhaps, but tickets for bottom-feeders in European top flights can still go for about 60 bucks to sit in the cheapest seats, and the stadiums are rocking.

I'm at a total loss. What is it about North American culture that seemingly shuns fans who overtly support their team. As Vinnie put it "An uptight Joyce Center fan scolded us for cheering too proudly--not even for using profanity or taunting ND players--but for cheering on our own team."


Anonymous,  3:37 PM  

"The Cubs are the "Rich, North Shore Yuppie team" and the Sox are the "South Side Working Man's team." Those teams are a part of their neighborhoods' culture."

Such a cliche. When was the last time you were at either ballpark? Sure, the Ligues were Sox fans, but there are plenty of cell-phone using drones at Sox games and many, many intense, scorekeeping fans at Wrigley.

Just because ESPN says it doesn't make it so.

Nice use of the plural possessive, though.

Mike 3:58 PM  

It actually is a somehwat popular perception. Sure there are all kinds of fans, but there certainly is a view among many people that the Cubs are the "rich team" and the Sox are the "poor team."

I don't need ESPN to give me my information. This is coming through conversations I've had with Cubs and Sox fans. (For the record, I was at Wrigley in May and at the Cell in September.)

I think you're also the first person to compliment us on our grammar, unless you're being sarcastic, in which case you'd be a dick.

Nathan 6:45 PM  

"completely shit-drunk off their gourd and full of the most foul-sounding whiskey-tinged profane misogynist comments I've ever heard and sometimes partaken in (MU Women's Soccer)."

True story: At the second-round of the Women's Soccer NCAA tournament, Mike once made fun of a...nah, I can't publish that. He'll never have another job.

But he did pick a fight with 12-year-olds.

Vinnie 9:44 PM  

The sabermetric thing is true. It was June 1986; I was two; I couldn't stand how badly Lee Smith was pitching that month. Thus, the creation of the Stupidbutt Ratio. Somehow, that never got picked up by the Baseball Prospectus people.

After the first paragraph, I was like, "Oh man, not another 'soccer is better than other sports you like more' post." But I'll admit--it was an interesting topic to bring up.

My theory: Europeans generally do have a more communal mentality. We don't. They get behind things like common colors more easily and are simply more inclined to share in the successes and failures of those around them. We are always looking to differentiate ourselves and therefore, will proudly wear the hat of our winner around town.

But when we're at the game, where everyone is expected to be a fan, we're still looking to differentiate ourselves. So we do so by turning our efforts toward coming up with the best heckles, or making the most insightful, know-it-all comments to our friends, or by acting disinterested in the outcome. I should know; I've been guilty of all of these things. We put the need to project ourselves as winners ahead of helping our team win.

And for some reason, I think there's also this strong part of us that would prefer to be negative and critical rather than supportive. I guess because that also puts our own importace over that which occurs on the field.

Then again, this is all based on stereotypes that I can't judge for myself, having never visited--much less lived in--Europe.

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