On the Complex Loyalties of Fandom
Published: Friday, January 24, 2014
Updated: Friday, January 24, 2014 00:01
Like any loyal canine companion, Jack the Bulldog offers unconditional love. Our mascot will “eat that box” with the same tenacity when times are good or bad, and the Georgetown basketball community adores him for it.
In an underwhelming season featuring four crushing losses over the last five games, the loyalty of fans who fill the student section at Verizon Center has been tested. Those who proudly proclaim to bleed Hoya Blue have indeed been bloodied of late, making it hard to emulate our mascot’s unyielding enthusiasm. Apparently, the Georgetown bench has taken notice.
“It’s a shame when your fan base is more excited about Chick-Fil-A than the game. The crowd makes a difference, I wish they understood that,” Eddie Bradley III, a senior student manager, tweeted after the Hoyas’ Jan. 18 home upset at the hands of Seton Hall. He was referencing a popular in-game promotion in which Chick-Fil-A gives free sandwiches to every person in attendance if an opposing player miss consecutive free throws.
Bradley is, of course, correct: Home court advantage benefits player performance. But a Verizon Center employee could press a button and have a recording of “We are Georgetown” blast from arena speakers. Fan support is inspirational not because of the decibel count of cheering per se, but because of the emotion behind it. For those fans who live and die with the Blue and Gray, Bradley and co. should neither expect nor desire blind devotion.
Sports fandom may seem too superficial to take this seriously. Go to the games, cheer and laugh, win or lose, go home, repeat. If such an approach were favored, Bradley’s criticism would be on point. But, hate it or love it, that’s not the reality of college sports. Fans spend hundreds on tickets, the school devotes millions to its programs, the country watches and Georgetown’s general reputation hangs in the balance. When the university president is heavily involved in Big East realignment, and his salary is second only to that of the men’s basketball head coach, you can expect fans to take the game seriously, too.
Student fans are stakeholders in Georgetown basketball, and that is as much an emotional investment as anything else. You could draw an analogy to something as weighty as patriotism or as simple as friendship. Some citizens wave their flags at all times; patriots speak up when they believe the country is off course. Some friends offer positive encouragement on every occasion; great friends call you out when you need tough love. For the true fan, faithfulness to the team demands more than mindless cheering.
Sports critics know to differentiate physical and mental components of the game. It’s one thing to get frustrated by missed shots or poor defense, but what about two seasons of star players lost to avoidable academic ineligibility? A scoring leader booted from the school for misconduct? Countless games when, after being out-hustled and out-coached, all we hear at press conferences is that the team “didn’t come ready to play?” Under such circumstances, how does the loyal fan really show his or her true colors?
As fans, we are fully aware of how good we’ve got it. Georgetown is an elite program with high standards of excellence, and whether you’re a student-athlete, team manager or fan, that’s what makes you so devoted. A disappointing season is not a reason to turn your back on the team, but it brings plenty of reasons to feel disappointed.
After all, “we are Georgetown” for a reason, and if you’re willing to settle for anything less, you might as well enjoy a delicious chicken sandwich while cheering on a team like Seton Hall.
Danny Funt and Ryan Whelan are seniors in the College and McDonough School of Business, respectively.