When did college football fandom become college football fandumb? How did something re-creational become de-creational? (“Are we not Men? We are Devo! Are we not Men? D-E-V-O!” Forgive me, Mark Mothersbaugh.)
What’s gone wrong?
College football was meant to be a pastime. It was meant to bring unity to campuses and to alumni, to be a source of interest and even, dare I say it, joy. But it has become a source of something else. Not of unity, but of mercenary alliances, not of interest but of obsession, not of joy but of desperation. College football is no longer a pastime.
What are some of the pathologies of current college football fandom?
1. We. Listen to a college football fan who has gone over the edge, and you are almost sure to hear: “We need a new coach.” “We played lousy.” “We killed you.” “We got 12.” Of course, the fan using “we” has no standing in coaching searches, has never missed — and certainly never made — a tackle, has never been on the winning team in a college football game. That a team is your team does not mean that it is your team. (Attention: Bobby Lowder. Attention: Bobby Lowder.) There is the team — and there (waaay over there) are you, the fan. You are not on the team. Being a fan is not a way of being third-string (and surely not a way of being first-string). Being a fan is not a way of being offensive or defensive coordinator, or even of being a position coach. It is not a way of being recruiting coordinator. It is not a way of being water boy. Fans are not on the team, they don’t coach the team, and they don’t recruit for the team. They don’t carry water. They cheer their team on — and things would be better if they could be of good cheer in doing so. We need to be more circumspect with the first-person plural.
2. Another sure sign is Internet Fixation. Surely, there is nothing wrong with following your team in your spare time. Being more knowledgeable can make the pastime more enjoyable. But that is not what Internet Fixation is. Internet Fixation is the state of not only reading all that can be found about your team in your spare time, but of devoting unspare time to doing it, and, most importantly, to reading what you read in a perverse lectio divina, doubled over the screen, scrying for anything that jolts your conviction about your team, anything that you disagree with, anything that you can meditate upon blackly. And that results in barely literate and wholly uncontrolled spasms on message boards and in comment boxes.
3. Boordom. Members of fandumb believe that membership has its privileges, the first being the freedom to act or speak in any way whatsoever, no matter how boorish. Fans of other teams are immediately denied any standing as human beings; they are no longer seen as made in the image of God. Fans of other teams are cattle, gadding about mindlessly, chewing the cud of their own insipidity. They can be treated in any old way, verbally slaughtered. They have no dignity and the way they are treated does not reflect back on the person dishing out the treatment. But this is crazy. Being a fan does not allow us to dissolve or deface the laws of charity or human society: We cannot so consider fans of other teams that we forget they are human beings. In some ways (not in all, of course), being a fan of a team is like a matter of conscience. We ought to respect the consciences of others, and where their conscience disagrees with our own, to recognize that we cannot simply substitute our conscience for theirs or pressure theirs.
We would all be better off if we recognized that we are fans of our teams due to quite contingent factors: where we grew up, where our parents went to college, where we went to college, what colors we like, and our taste in fight songs. Any one of us could have ended up as a fan of our rival. Despite bumper stickers, God’s grace has nothing to do with what team we support. Chance, not grace, has decided the issue.
Of course, it is not only college football fans that exhibit these pathologies. We see them in fandom generally. But I am concerned with college football. And I do think that some of the pathologies are hidden from view by college football more than they by pro sports. The pathologies are hidden behind the school colors, the school mascot, the school song, by the whole alma mater pageantry. But it is worth remembering that the object of that pageantry is the school, not the team. The team exists for the sake of the school, not the school for the sake of the team. (That is the deep difference between college football and, say, arena league football.) Still, the pageantry can keep us from realizing that we are losing our way by making us feel that we are doing all in the name of loyalty. But just as there is a difference between love and obsession, there is a difference between loyalty and, well, fanaticism.
I do not believe that anything I am saying here is news. I say it as a reminder, as a way of making contact with your better selves. Nonetheless, I expect that some of you will reject what I say. You will reject it because you believe that these pathologies are the price of the “incomparable high” you experience when your team wins. But is that true? I reckon that members of fandumb cannot really experience much of a high when their team wins. Usually, what they experience is a kind of relief, and perhaps a feeling of self-justification that is incompatible with joy. The outcome of the game matters too much, and, even worse, they expect so much from their team that any error, any gaff, even (maybe especially) in a winning cause, is a torment. Read message boards or comment boxes and deny this. And even where the fan manages a bit of a high after a win, it will not even remotely compare the low after a loss, either in magnitude or duration. That asymmetry itself should be enough to show that your fandom has become fandumb.
I speak from my own experience. I am trying to progress fandumb to fandom: mea culpa. So far, little steps for my little feet.
Dr. Jolley is a professor in the Department of Philosophy at Auburn University. He works in the theory of judgment, the history of 20th- Century philosophy, metaphilosophy and philosophical psychology. He also likes football. His book, “The Concept ‘Horse’ Paradox and Wittgensteinian Conceptual Investigations” was recently published in Ashgate’s Wittgensteinian Studies Series. “Leisure with Dignity,” his column for TWER, will run bi-monthly to monthly. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.