When it comes to sports, there are a variety of idiosyncrasies I find capricious and arbitrary. Part of this may simply be my lack of interest in most sports per se, but my pragmatic inner self also finds widely held sports truisms to be dubious. For example, as a pragmatist it has never occured to me that I was somehow obligated to root for the local team rather than favoring a team from somewhere else. I realize many people automatically favor their home team, but I also know many who have moved yet still follow a favorite team located where they used to live or a team long favored for other reasons.
This last summer, during the World Cup, I noted to my wife that too many American fans seemed more intent on fixing fûtbol rules and practices than simply enjoying the matches. My wife’s response was that in supporting their side, they may have become overly critical of a sport they might not know much about. Well, maybe, at which point I mentioned I really wasn’t all that interested in how the U.S. team did anyway. She seemed quite taken aback by this, and when she shared this with other senior executives at work, they didn’t know what to make of it either.
I find the whole home team construct overrated. I know someone who doesn’t want to spend the money for home team baseball coverage on cable, but instead of watching other teams from other markets for little or no additional cost, she watches no baseball games at all. Liking baseball should not require an emotional investment in a home team to enjoy it. For me, I much prefer certain European fûtbol leagues, which have a large number of the world’s most talented players, and I enjoy matches without having a vested interest in either team. I do have a “home team” or two in one of these leagues, but they’re thousands of miles from where I live.
And where but in America would the home in home team be so malleable. Of course players, coaches and managers come and go, but entire teams can and do move from one city to another. Owners punish cities that won’t build them new stadiums by moving their team, becoming a home team somewhere else more willing to have taxpayers fund a stadium. Or they perceive a different city as being a better (more profitable) home for their team. Permanence is not always an enduring quality in American professional sports when it comes to home teams.
Moving on (no pun intended), I have another issue: the famous saying that winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing. I’ve always considered this an odd sentiment. First, as an editor, I find it troubling because swapping “everything” and “only thing” doesn’t change the meaning. And when it comes to meaning, the saying is fundamentally incorrect despite how widely it is believed to be a sports truth. In reality, what makes sports interesting to real fans is the process, which is to say, the playing. Winning (or losing) is an artifact of a game played well enough to be enjoyed regardless of the outcome.
Let me rephrase the concept. Winning or doing as well as possible by season’s end isn’t really the most important reason to watch. If that’s all that matters, there are better things to do and ways to spend one’s time. Just keep track of the results. Done. Watching a game has deeper value. There are thousands of games and matches every year, and in every case there are winners and losers, and sometimes a tie or draw (at least in fûtbol). But they’re just numbers. What really matters are talent, execution and strategy, all part of trying to win. In fûtbol, even the losing team can be very good during the 90 minutes of a match. Winning really isn’t everything or the only thing.
Besides, if winning were really the only thing, how does one explain the many fans who continue to support teams that play well but not good enough to finish first (or even close to it), season after season. It could be the home team effect, or it simply could be enjoyment of the game for itself. Indeed, rooting for the underdog is a tradition, and not just in sports. And having the same teams always finish well (including first place) can become tiresome and too predictable. Pragmatically, winning is nice, but it’s also easily an unrealistic expectation.