Finding Peace With Sports Fandom

While the Toronto Blue Jays sit on the brink of imminent internal implosion and the Virginia Tech Hokies have finished a trip to Syracuse where they found a way to show their true colors – I wonder about the nature of fandom.

For some, these two events would drive fans to question the managers, players or refs. Others may  wonder what could have happened at a different moment in the game had “this play” occured.

I’m sure that some die hard fans watched and screamed at their televisions and possibly even threw things whenever they got the chance.

Not me.

Not recently anyway – the last thing I threw was my hockey stick.  To be fair, it wasn’t my hockey stick’s fault but it took the brunt of my frustration.

It was either the stick or something else.

Looking back, I should have picked the “something else.”

I wonder about the children who sports market to.  The mascots dance and look for kids at games.  Teams use cutesy graphics and shirts to get kids to wear their logos.  Once they get kids in the games they are hooked.

Kids watch these games and become “fans” of these teams.  I recall crying over the University of Tennessee Volunteers losing to Alabama in football and think about what led me to become a UT football fan.

Was it the team?  I didn’t know anything about the coach.  I didn’t know the players.

Was it the history of the University?  Of course not.  I had no idea about anything to do with it.  I didn’t have any connections to anyone involved with the University.

Was it the mascot?  Smokey is a Bluetick Coonhound.  I grew up with cats, birds and a hermit crab that I killed when I forgot to water it.  I didn’t think about the fact he needed water so I left it for a couple of weeks and it curled up in its shell and died.  Oops.

But Smokey was real, there was a real coonhound on the sidelines.  It was Smokey VI when I was growing up.  There was a Smokey caricature that could be found in different places that attracted kids.

Was it the winning?  I’m not sure.  That team didn’t really win much as the crying under the desk attests to.

Maybe it was part tradition (the team running out through the giant T that the Pride of the Southland band formed at the start of the game), Smokey and some kind of need to be a part of something.  I needed to be a part of the Volunteer Army – I didn’t know anyone with a boat who could get me into the Volunteer Navy.

There was the tradition of Tennessee high school football that seemed to flow into it as well.  Andy Kelly played high school football for Rhea County High School and I can remember going to see him play on the other side of Chattanooga – which I’m pretty sure was at Red Bank High School.

The kid was an All American and went to Tennessee – and a friend of the family knew him. So maybe I did have a connection?  Maybe that was part of the lure?  I’m not sure.  I just remember taking what seemed like a long bus ride and being out in the cold Eastern Tennessee night air.

As I grew older and moved away, my loyalties shifted just a bit because of my closeness to Virginia Tech.  However, my Tennessee roots are always there and at times I wonder if they are still there.

(My Mississippi roots don’t seem to run very deep – sometimes I think that’s probably a good thing but every state seems to have its fair share of problems)

In fact, my college choices were VT and UT with an invitation from the Pride of the Southland band to try out.

I’ve never said anything about that invitation but that weighed heavy on me.  I went back and forth on that.  I thought a lot about how much that band means to the people of Tennessee and the University as one of the oldest marching bands in the country.  Both schools knew I was involved in color guard but UT cared enough to invite me to the Pride of the Southland band.

I know there were reasons that I took up VT as opposed to UT and I know football was one of the main reasons.  Looking back on it I can say that was probably one of the key factors.

In high school, VT football was everything for me.  I went to VT games in high school from home games to away games (East Carolina, N.C. State and two Gator Bowls – one with Peyton Manning as a UT freshman QB).

I don’t know if I went to VT because of the English department or because of the opportunities there.  I don’t know if I went there because Nikki Giovanni, ironically born in Knoxville, TN,  was there or that I would get the chance to show her my work.  Ultimately I would get to have Giovanni read my work as well as interview iconic VT football coach Frank Beam for a piece in the Collegiate Times.

These are two things that not may can say they were able to attain.  As for how I got the meeting with Giovanni – I am to this day still confused.  I don’t believe my work was that good but nevertheless I am thankful for her guidance.

Some say things happen for a reason.  Others say we make our own choices.  Whatever it is we all are at where we are at.  The past is the past.

I didn’t choose UT and the Pride of the Southland band but VT and the chance to watch VT football.

Sometimes I think about it when I hear Andy Kelly on the UT football broadcasts.  I saw you play your senior year when I was just a kid.

People can make decisions – whether they are for sporting reasons or personal reasons or whatever reasons and look back years later to wonder what could have changed.  To look back and wonder what could have changed brings back nothing but wasted time.

Time heals but time changes – it’s over and done.  We can subscribe to any personal philosophy when it comes to why we made a decision.

We have to accept that there are things we will never be able to do.  In many ways that acceptance is what frees us from the burden of realization of limitation.  Yes we are limited, all humans have limits, and we have to find our limits.  Once we can “see” our talents and how much we have to give – we know where we can use them.  The ability to use them plays a key role in our happiness – which is why we must start inside ourselves.

Everyone can begin by accepting that whatever decisions, whether 30+ years ago or 30 minutes ago are past.  We can start by accepting that whatever it is we like, whatever it is that we find as a key part of our lives, we must acknowledge that it is important to us and not let anyone take away those pieces of us.  If we can make peace with those pieces, we can become whole with ourself.

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