Super Bowl Sunday holds a special place for the American sports fan. Visions come to mind of overweight forty-something men yelling at screens large enough to fill an entire wall and their buddies dripping beer and nacho cheese as they laugh at the prospects of winning their friendly wagers.
Guilty. I am one of those guys. I watched my favorite football team, the Carolina Panthers, and yelled at every incorrect call and laughed when things went my way. But I didn’t watch simply because I am a sports fan, I watched because it allowed me an opportunity to hang out with my friend and his two sons and bond as part of a community.
I haven’t always seen sports as an opportunity for community and I wasn’t raised in a sports-loving family. I played some sports but they were merely pastimes, and as the uninspiring coaches and disappointing aspects of sports piled up I stopped playing. I could have been completely done with sports in 1987.
In 1988, two things happened. Charlotte received an NBA expansion team and one of my best friends played basketball for the state champion, A.C. Reynolds Rockets varsity basketball team. I became a fan to support my friend and for the first time I had essentially a hometown pro team for which to root. North Carolina sports fans were becoming a community.
In the fall of 1989, I attended UNC Chapel Hill and quickly became a Tarheel fan and just as quickly began hating Duke. That combination becomes its own language for sports fans and alumni across the state and the world to share as it binds them together.
As a student of the humanities, thanks to UNC Asheville, I can reflect back and see the inherent othering that sports causes. I can reflect back to the time I was cut from the basketball team and felt left out. Also, there are valid complaints about sports fans and players. Idiots killing opposing fans and violent acts against women are definite reasons to not be involved with sports, but I think UNCA can redefine what it is to be a sports fan.
UNCA sports are not in the limelight the way UNC CH teams and professional teams are. They don’t attract the meathead sports fans; therefore, there is a void that can be filled by a new kind of fan, a fan that is there to support its community. There is an opportunity for fans that are there to applaud diversity and support equality of the sexes. There is an opportunity for fans that want to connect with all of their fellow students, not just one or two small groups. There is an opportunity to support the opposing teams for their efforts and not fall into the trap of othering.
This may seem ridiculous, but sports can be a positive aspect of college life, and you shouldn’t let the stereotype of what it means to be a sports fan keep you from participating. When I go watch a Bulldogs basketball game, I can’t leave the fact that I’m forty and overweight at home, but if you come and outnumber the guys like me, you can change what it is to be a sports fan at UNCA. Only you’ll know why you’re there but being there will send a message of community.
As a bonus, the men’s and women’s basketball teams are both playing very well and are quite entertaining.