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A sports fan’s prerogative

I didn’t watch the game when the Edmonton Oilers finished their eighth straight season out of the playoffs last weekend. But I took some comfort that it was on a hopeful note (a convincing win, and with slightly better than a .500 record in the last 30 games of the season).

I didn’t catch much of the action this season, either. But I was happy to see that Oilers stalwart Ryan Smyth was able on his last game, at home, to personally feel the goodwill and appreciation of the fans he served so well in his 19 years in the NHL — the vast majority of it either as an Oiler or as a Team Canada member, and that he finished his career with a C on his jersey.

I was also sad to see him retire, because I wanted him to be there on the ice, finally lifting the Stanley Cup — in an Oilers jersey. That would have been the movie ending, but this is real life.

Such are the dreams of fair-weather sports fans like me.

The phrases are given as a pejorative. “Fair-weather fan.” “Bandwagon-jumper.” One can’t control the judgments of others, but I don’t recall signing any contracts when I decided, a long time ago, that pro sports teams from Edmonton would be my go-to favourites in their respective leagues.

People who regard themselves as “true” fans of sports teams will break their own marriage vows before they would foreswear their allegiance to a team logo. I try not to judge that, either, but I do not understand their ranking of loyalties.

I don’t buy season tickets. The only team jersey I own supports soccer’s Arsenal in England’s Premier League — and I got that as a gift. I devote fewer hours per week to watching sports than I do volunteering in the community. No team anywhere will ever make money mining my loyalties.

But loyalties do exist, such as they are. Every August, my interest perks up for both the Edmonton Eskimos and the Oilers. It’s early weeks yet, but I am hopeful for Toronto FC in the MLS (mostly because I like the narrative; the team grew out of terrific fan support, before there was a business plan).

So why should I be judged an individual of poor character if my personal interest should wane when a particular team underperforms for an extended time? They do not benefit from my interest when they do well, so how are they harmed when I decide to catch up on some reading, rather than spend three hours watching them lose?

Some time ago, a scientific report was released that attempted to quantify the health benefits (and risks) of sports fandom. In general, it was found that when a fan’s team does poorly, the fan’s physical markers of poor health increase.

Blood pressure rises, as does blood cholesterol levels. In males, testosterone levels drop when their team loses. There is an increased incidence of depression among “true” fans of teams that lose a lot of games.

All of these things not only hurt the individual, but society as a whole. So why would releasing one’s attachment to a particular team when they go into the tank be judged as an expression of poor character?

Far better, I believe, to be a “fair-weather” fan who is healthy and productive, than a “true” fan who is on a downward personal spiral along with his team.

True fans know that elite sports teams are in the entertainment business. If they do not provide good entertainment (or at least a reasonable expectation of it), why should their business not suffer?

For example, the Toronto Maple Leafs continue to make scads of money from thousands of “true” fans whose hopes of seeing winning seasons have been continuously dashed for as long as I can remember. Maybe I just have a selective memory, but that does not follow the business model.

If a certain movie studio continuously produces bad movies, they go broke. The same applies to television studio. If a restaurant cannot guarantee good food and good service for money spent, the doors will quickly close.

An entertainment dollar is subjectively spent, by definition — except, it seems, when it is to be spent on professional sports. Even organized religion cannot count on such ardent financial support from its followers, or on the internal judgment made against followers whose financial support is not ardent enough.

I confess that I do not understand this.

The Edmonton Oilers will be back next season (alas, without Ryan Smyth). And so will I.

But if they mess with my health by losing games for an extended period of time, I will once again disassociate. I don’t have a jersey to throw on the ice — and certainly not enough money to make one disposable if I did own one and could afford tickets close enough to the ice to make the toss. Or the incredibly bad manners to do so.

However, I do have a stack of good books I have yet to read.

I will stay true to my family, no matter what. But a professional sports team? I want something in return. What’s wrong with that?

Greg Neiman is a retired Advocate editor. Follow his blog at or email

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