Fandom is never not weird to those blessed without the need for a sporting allegiance. It’s like being able to shop the entire store rather than getting stuck in the same aisle all the time.
And yes, I recognize that this flies in the face of most fan experiences. And no, this is not just a hall pass to say the most important sentence in all human interaction – “Your Favorite Team Sucks, Mostly Because It’s Your Favorite Team.”
But not being a fan also means that when someone on a team you don’t like does something you really do like, you don’t have to rinse that brackish taste out of your mouth first.
Example: Nebraska. I’ve never cared at all about Nebraska football, ever, not for a moment. If Nebraska football had never existed, I would miss nothing at all, and sleep the sleep of the utterly content.
But the team’s salute to punter Sam Foltz, who died in a car wreck, was too good not to enjoy and admire. The team took the field for its first punt against Fresno State with only 10 men at the direction of head coach Mike Riley, taking a delay of game to remind anyone who might have forgotten that they were missing their punter. It was the right thing, done the right way, with the best effect.
And while we’re at it, I like Fresno State coach Tim DeRuyter having the delightful good sense to decline the penalty.
In fact, Riley is on quite the roll, having already spent the summer acknowledging his shortcomings in a rape case at Oregon State by inviting the victim, Brenda Tracy, to visit his new team and tell the players what she endured, from the OSU players and from Riley himself.
That said, I still don’t care about Nebraska football, but I don’t care slightly less than I did this spring.
Then there’s Megan Rapinoe, the first athlete from a sport outside football to fully get what Colin Kaepernick took the knee for, adapting it to her own experiences since coming out as gay. She plays for the U.S. National Women’s soccer team, another group I’ve never much cared about (example: I like Sweden beating them in the Olympics, and even more after Hope Solo shot off her yap on her now-famous Treatise On Cowardice), but the idea that she would help take up Kaepernick’s national scorn burden is simply a good thing to do with no apparent tangible gain.
For that matter, the same is to be said for Eric Reid, the 49er safety for whom my ambivalence is shaped by my professional ambivalence toward the organization as a whole. He stood with and for a teammate who needed standing for, which is what this whole team sports nonsense is supposed to be about, not some robotic testimonial to symbol worship we try to pass off as patriotism.
(Also, a point for Chip Kelly for not trying to enforce the hive mind mentality upon Kaepernick, though my disinterest in the 49ers' success or failure cannot be shifted by one act of tactical non-stupidity)
And Miesha Tate, the MMA fighter (and MMA interests me only cursorily at best, in that it is essentially nothing more than an alley fight for people who don’t want to go to alleys) who carried a six-year-old down a mountain after the child broke her arm on a hike. Again, nothing much in and of itself, but enough to infinitesimally modify my disinterest in her professional-woman-punching career toward her benefit.
And then there's German Bundesliga side Darmstadt, which went to the length of changing the name of its stadium for a year to "Jonathan Heimes Stadium" in honor a 17-year-old fan who died of cancer in March, and for convincing Merck, the pharmaceutical people who bought the naming rights, to go along with the scheme. Darmstadt will still get its teeth kicked in any time it plays Bayern Munich, but I’ll feel slightly worse about it now than I did before, which was not at all.
But the rest of sports? No changes, sorry. Your favorite team really does suck, and it’s almost entirely because you make it so by being obnoxious about your loyalties to your favorite team. Congratulate yourselves for ruining sports forever, you bastards.
Except Darmstadt. And Nebraska. A little teeny bit. For a little while.