How to be a halfway decent sports fan

(In six easy steps.)

As an unlikely fan of people playing games for money, I have been to a respectable range of events from Serie A football in Italy to Single A baseball in the U.S. I’m pretty devoted to my teams, but I’ve also made a study of fan behavior in live arenas. Fascinating stuff a lot of the time. And pretty annoying stuff at other times.

The major lessons I’ve gleaned:

1) Know the game. I don’t know how many people I’ve sat in front of, next to, or behind in a stadium that just didn’t know what the fuck they were talking about. There’s not necessarily inherent shame in being a total rube, but if you’re going to talk, know what you’re talking about.  Try to know the rules, at the very least. And if you don’t know, ask. (Also, your fantasy team does not make you an expert, but it might make you a jackass.) And along those lines:

2) Enjoy the game for what it is. If you think low-scoring games are boring, you’re probably not paying attention. A 0-1 baseball game in the 7th more than likely means there’s some amazing pitching happening. A 3-3 football game in the 4th probably indicates two hardcore defenses. Sure, big scoring games can be fun to go to, but if you’re going to admire the art of the way a sport is played, you could do a lot worse.

3) Cheer. This might sound crazy obvious, but I’ve sat in some dead quiet sections over the years and it is awkward. Sure, if it’s a nail-biter you might not be too noisy during play, but at least clap for your ladies and gents as they exit the field. In my view, there’s a contract between fans and players–players do their thing, fans support them. End of story. And if you’re annoyed by other people cheering…maybe you’ve chosen the wrong outing? As for the other side of things:

4) Boo sparingly. Booing can be fun, I get it. And I’ve heard small, elderly Italian women call the opposing team’s players names I wouldn’t call my worst enemy. But catharsis and expanding your vocabulary aside, excessive booing just creates a crappy atmosphere–and it sets a lousy example. (Sports always, always, always mean kids are present.) In my book booing is truly acceptable in three situations: 1) lousy calls by the officials, 2) player/manager from the other team throws a tantrum, 3) other team hurts one of your players (still far more important to cheer for your hurt person.)

Last but not least: never ever ever ever ever EVER boo your own players. That’s just shitty.

5) Have fun. I can get wrapped up in my feelings as much as anyone about a game. But at the end of the day, it’s a game. It’s a sport. It’s meant to be entertaining, not ruin your life. Go with your friends and your family. Have a good time. Love your team. Remember that they and the other team are people, too. Give people a break. Find things to love even in a game that doesn’t go your way. (E.g., there were some great defensive plays at the last O’s game I went to, even though it was a 10-0 shutout against them. Not the easiest thing to watch, but I found things to appreciate in it and I cheered on my team.)

6) Be respectful of other fans. Bottom line, just like on the internet, don’t be a dick. If you’re going to razz someone from the visiting team, don’t be an asshole. A little ribbing is fine. But there’s no reason to get in a fist fight over a sport. Not being wasted when you’re at a game helps tremendously with this, by the way. Because if you have to be drunk to enjoy it…why are you even there? I mean, seriously, sports tickets are expensive. And if it’s the summer, you’re going to be dehydrated as fuck.

This goes double when you’re visiting another team’s place. (Yeah, I’m looking at you, Yankees and Red Sox fans.)

How do you cheer on your favorite teams?

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