The Cognitive Dissonance of Sports Fandom
So this is the second installment of my reaction to Curt Schilling’s recent firing by ESPN for an insensitive Facebook post Schilling made about transgenders in the wake of the new North Carolina bathroom law requiring that people use the bathroom corresponding to the gender delineation from their birth certificate. In this first part, I discussed how our politically correct public outrage has begun to undermine our freedom of speech. Today, I will speak to how difficult it can sometimes be to be a fan of team sports when modern athletes act in unconscionable ways that are contrary to our own personal ethos. I swear I will get to that momentarily, but let me provide a bit of context here first. My path is often circuitous, but as my former students can attest, I always come back to my point.
I play in a recreational hockey league for old men (defined by players over 40 years old). None of us are getting calls from the NHL. No D1 schools are calling to offer us a scholarship. Shit, no one even sits in the stands to watch this nonsense, not even our own wives or children. Even they don’t care if we win or lose. But you sure as hell better believe that some of the guys on the ice do, and far too much at that. They apparently think that we are playing for the Stanley Cup and that the municipality of Centennial is going to throw the winner some sort of celebratory parade at the end of all this. Trust me, they won’t, but that doesn’t stop some of the more agro players out there acting as if they were. For example, at the conclusion of our last game, a genuine melee broke out, resulting in the game misconduct and one-game suspension for three players. Again, this is grown men we are talking about here. As the game ended, one of the players from my team was jumped on and pummeled repeatedly by some asshole who apparently takes steroids and cocaine with his Wheaties each morning. As he was being pulled off of my supine teammate and restrained to prevent him from further thuggery, he actually head butted one of the players trying to calm him down. That’s right- he head butted someone. While I appreciate the tribute to former wrestler, Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka, I have to suggest that if this is what he does in the midst of a rec league hockey game, I would hate to be his wife and kids. As we were skating through the now awkward line to shake hands after the game, I turned to one of the players on the other team and said, “That guy’s an asshole!”
His response? “Yeah, I know. There’s one on every team.”
I hate to admit, but he’s correct. In a group of twenty or so people, the law of asshole averages just tell you that somewhere on that team there has to be at least one asshole…which brings me back to Schilling.
For those who may have forgotten or perhaps never cared in the first place, Schilling was an integral part of the 2004 Boston Red Sox team that brought a World Series title back to Boston for the first time in 86 years after also becoming the first baseball team to come back from a three games to none deficit in a seven game series as they won four straight games to beat the rival New York Yankees. As a lifelong Red Sox supporter, that was a seminal moment in my life as a sports fan, and Curt Schilling’s game 6 heroics where he pitched the Sox to victory despite an ankle injury that was dramatically highlighted by his now infamous bloody sock lives in my memory as one of the greatest performances I have ever witnessed. In terms of being a baseball player, I loved Schilling. I loved his grit and perseverance. Now, how I feel about Schilling as a person is quite another matter….
Since his baseball career has ended, Schilling has used his platform as a baseball analyst to promote his conservative agenda and has often made derogatory comments about specific groups (Muslims, transgenders, etc.) that many found offensive, leading ultimately in his dismissal from ESPN. While I defended Schilling’s right to make such statements in my last column, that does not mean I have to like them. As one who supports universal tolerance, I find Schilling to be a difficult individual to embrace.
He is hardly the only one. Every professional sports team has at least one giant douce bag. Be they domestic abusers, drug addicts, narcissists, homophobes or misogynists, somewhere on your favorite sports team there is a player whose personal conduct leaves much to be desired. So what are we as fans to do about the cognitive dissonance created by rooting for a team even though some of the individual players on that team do not pass our own personal moral sniff test?
There is a cliche in sports that players should play for the name on the front of the jersey (the team) and not the name on the back (the player). The same is true for being a fan. Root for the team, not the players. You don’t know them, and to think the players on one team are inherently morally superior to another is patently absurd. Almost as absurd as comparing Muslims to Nazis…
Steven Craig is the author of the best-selling novel WAITING FOR TODAY, as well as numerous published poems, short stories, and dramatic works. Read his blog TRUTH: in 1000 Words or Less every TUESDAY and FRIDAY at www.waitingfortoday.com