Open Court publishes on Tuesdays and Fridays, bringing you sports, life, and the stuff we need to talk about. Subscribe here and get Open Court straight to your email! If you're part of our subscriber fam, feel free to share this email and get your friends involved. We welcome all!
Ways to be part of Open Court:
Howdy! As promised, my friend, sportswriter extraordinaire, ninja professor and all around good person Molly Yanity is your captain for today's Open Court. Her perspective on how fan frustration and demands, as filtered and amplified through social media, is a must read. Social media is a free bitch session, but is it also spoiling the reality of winning and losing for fans?
Take it away Molly....
By Molly Yanity, Ph.D
Though this attitude is prevalent everywhere, for this exercise, let’s stick to professional football in the U.S.
In Week 10, the Pittsburgh Steelers tied the lowly, winless Detroit Lions.
(JCG note here: The Lions suck. They have been beyond awful in my lifetime, in my parents’ lifetime – save for the three NFL championships won over the Browns in the 1950s – and have amounted to nothing. It is what it is. The Lions can only make you sad. Carry on, Molly…)
The Steelers had the best odds of the week, fivethirtyeight.com’s highest percentage to win – and they’re my favorite team playing a hapless team at home. What could go wrong?
Ben Roethlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers reacts after a touchdown against the Los Angeles Chargers during the fourth quarter at SoFi Stadium on November 21, 2021 in Inglewood, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
The starting quarterback (Ben Roethlisberger, above) gets COVID? The best defensive player in the league goes down with injuries? Pouring rain and a muddy field?
All of the above, but let’s not relive it.
By Monday morning, I was over it, though. I don’t stew on these things. Mondays are hard enough without marinating in a game over which I have no control. I did, though, read the analysis on The Athletic as part of my routine.
But, the comments at the end of the article, as well as the tweets that followed it struck me: The commenters were miserable.
Reading the comments and tweets, one might expect the Steelers to be in last place. The tie put them in second at 5-3-1.
One might think head coach Mike Tomlin is awful at his job. After that game, he is 150-81-2 in 14-plus seasons. That is fourth-best among active coaches and behind only New England’s Bill Belichick among active coaches with 10 or more years’ service.
Fire Tomlin? Seriously?
The word “fan” is short for fanatic, or “redoubling your effort when you have forgotten your aim,” philosopher George Santayana wrote in his 1905 book “Life of Reason: Reason in Common Sense.”
That aim has been forgotten for many fans.
I saw this in action when, dressed in a Steelers jersey, I attended a Week 6 game in Pittsburgh.
For the most part, the fans around me were strangers to me and each other. Yet, I listened as they lamented the poor team that played before them -- bad offensive line, bad quarterback, bad coaching.
“This is the worst Steelers team I’ve seen in my life,” said one fan who couldn’t be much more than drinking age. He wanted Tomlin to be fired. Others agreed.
The young man seemed to be in agony right until Chris Boswell kicked a game-winning field goal in overtime to seal his team’s victory over the Seattle Seahawks.
That’s a perplexing phenomenon when half the teams must lose each week.
With the advent of social media, fans’ requesting personnel changes is as part of the game as the coin flip.
“This has always gone on, but now their reach is farther than just the local sports radio airwaves. They put it out on social media, into the echo chamber and it reverberates,” Danielle Coombs said.
The gist of the theory is that people become a sports fan by performing the role of a sports fan. How they act, then, is based on context and audience.
"A big part of this is fans now think they have the expertise because they can manage a fantasy football team. They’re quicker to say, ‘I know what’s going on.’”
Fan identities can change based on who you’re watching the game with, for example. Those identities are also forged through how much fans know and care.
From purchasing jerseys to the NFL Sunday Ticket to traveling to games and buying tickets, that monetary commitment only raises the stakes for fans. Fantasy football and gambling boost them even more.
“Fans have the financial investment because they care deeply,” Coombs said. “They resent it when they feel a coach or players doesn’t have the same investment. You see the emotional commitment, the fan identity and it often shows itself as, ‘This is the person standing between my team -- me by proxy -- winning.’”
Of the 32 NFL head coaches, only 11 have been a head coach for more than five seasons. It stands to reason, then, that fans often get what they want.
“There is only a select group that sees what that truly means. Coaches move their families. They lose their families for months of the year. They are well compensated, but they go through the ringer,” Coombs said. “Fans don’t see that. And, even if they did, I’m not sure they’d care. Fans don’t want to give them time or grace.”
Here’s where this research gets crazy: Coombs is a rabid Cleveland Browns fan. Osborne? You guessed it: A Steelers fan.
Coombs remembers Browns fans clamoring for a coach to be fired, or for a new quarterback -- even Johnny Manziel.
“Someone has to pay for what happened,” she said, recalling the Browns have gone through 11 coaches in 20 years. Only one of those coaches -- the current one -- has a playoff victory.
For most of those years, Browns fans had every reason to be despondent.
After a win Sunday against the Lions, the Browns are 6-5. They still don’t seem to be happy, though.
In that echo chamber of social media and comments, the performance is one of misery, of never being happy, of calling for jobs and heads.
It makes for a miserable pastime.
JCG note: HAPPY THANKSGIVING!!!