The ethics of fandom

By Alex Bullock

Last week I was watching highlights from NBA games on ESPN when I saw one for a game between the Miami Heat and the Chicago Bulls. It seemed like a normal highlight to me, showing LeBron James and the Heat going on to beat the Bulls 86-67.

Then the highlight reel showed a seemingly normal play, a foul committed by Bulls guard Nate Robinson on James. James came up limping after the hard contact and the Bulls fans started cheering. To me, it was a shocking loss of class on the part of the Bulls fans.

But I understand where they are coming from. Sometimes people who enjoy sports enjoy them a little too much. They get caught in the intensity of the game. People are passionate about their sports teams. I am certainly guilty of this, and I will not apologize for it. One thing I’m always wary of, however, is to not let not allowing my passion to overshadow the respect that the opponent deserves.

Sometimes in the heat of the moment you can lose sight of the big picture. There is no real benefit to winning if you lose the respect of your opponent. You can call yourself a winner, but the only value in winning comes from the recognition from your opponent.

Athletes and fans alike have an obligation to show true sportsmanship. I played CYO basketball growing up, and before each game the teams and the fans, who were almost exclusively parents, were required to read a short prayer. Part of that prayer specifically spoke to this obligation to respect:

“We ask that you protect us from injury and help us remember that our opponents are our brothers and sisters who are also under your guidance.”

Frankly, a failure in sportsmanship is a failure to uphold the integrity of the game.

The sports world is filled with fierce rivalries. There’s the Yankees versus the Red Sox, Duke versus North Carolina, Michigan versus Ohio State, the Lakers versus the Celtics, not to mention all of the countless high school rivalries.

These bitter rivalries have lasted for decades because of the presence of mutual respect amongst the ferocious and staunch feelings of the players and fans. These teams recognize greatness in their rival and seek to show that they are even greater.

Fans aren’t the ones on the field or on the court. They’re not scoring points for their team. They don’t have a direct impact on the outcome of the game. They do, however, have a direct impact on preserving the integrity of the game.

Fans create the atmosphere in which the game is played. It is their duty to their team to set a tone of respect and good sportsmanship to ensure that their team’s success is not marred by their actions.
Most of all, fans are obligated to accept defeat and to respect the success of their opponents in order to inspire their team to demonstrate that kind of greatness themselves.

LeBron James is a great player. The Miami Heat are the reigning NBA champions and a favorite to win the title again this season. James very well may be the greatest player of his generation and looks to be on his way to being known as one of the greatest players of all time.

The booing from the Bulls fans after James appeared injured was in poor taste. Some may argue that this kind of action shows their passionate support for their team, but supporting your team does not involve disrespecting your opponent. In fact, I would argue that you must show respect for your opponent in order to truly support your team.

After all, the foundation for why we watch is for entertainment. If our actions are rooted in disdain and contempt, we surely cannot be entertained, nor will we get the most out of our support for our team.