Let’s Just Admit It: We’re All Casual Fans

In the age of televised sports commentator debates, everyone wants to have an opinion, qualified or not.

Richard Sherman doesn’t want to hear Skip Bayless’ opinions. Illustration by Cassidy Lee Phillips

I’m a boxing guy. But I enjoy watching American football, almost as much as I enjoy playing it. I never developed the finesse to play basketball, but I enjoy watching it. I have never even tried to play fantasy football — I cannot find the time in my life to accurately track the activities of the entire NFL.

I wear this ignorance on my sleeve, often creating deafening awkwardness at bro-downs. I shamelessly admit that I have no idea what happened in last night’s major sporting event. After a few decades of this awkwardness, I have come to suspect that most bros are equally casual sports fans.

“What do you mean you don’t play Madden???!”

Jack of all trades, master of none

You’ve noticed all the half-baked sports commentary by so-called professionals. From paid arguer Stephen A. Smith, to moonlighting Rush Limbaugh, to the proto-TMZ Jim Gray. Smith is just one of the talking heads on TV constantly yelling about every sport under the sun. While I can’t be certain if Smith is an expert on any single sport, I am absolutely sure that no man can be an expert on every sport.

Rush Limbaugh tries to talk Football
Jim Gray trolls James Toney and Evander Holyfield in prototypical TMZ fashion.

Celebrity commentators are paid to stir up debate and create headlines. Most of them are better at talking trash than they are at referencing actual data to support their positions. As long as we recognize that their job is to get ratings from controversy, we can probably abide by this. But why do casual fans feign knowledge of sports they don’t follow?

Man vs. Man

Sports can be seen as simplified representations of our very real natural instincts to compete with each other. Some people strive only to improve themselves through athleticism. But most of us simply want to defeat our opponents. I can’t speak to the world of women. The competitive world of men, though, I am happy to mansplain.

Cavemen battle in Stanley Kubrick’s “2001"

Growing up, the challenge from every kid, for every game, was the same:

“I’ll kick your ass!”

The competition was always high-stakes, no matter the weapons, someone’s ass was getting kicked! You weren’t just playing to win a game of Battleship— you were playing to save yourself from an epic public humiliation — that would forever define your place in the pecking order of the class (until the next game).

The implied violence immediately confused a kid who had been specifically training to punch and kick human butts years before he learned to read. Rather than responding to the challenge on a basketball court, or whichever other arena had been intended, I was ready to throw my hands.

As I participated in other sports over the years, I learned that my defensive instincts to fight were never completely unfounded. From contact in basketball…

..to punches in football…

I soon realized that I was never going to achieve the restraint needed to “take a beating like a man”, for the opportunity to play these sports. Some people will do anything to win. Anything to be better or best.

For some of us, the violent competition is thrilling. We become addicted to the adrenaline rush that comes with fear and pain. Or maybe we just love the feeling of having “won” something, by any means.

Cassidy vs. Bill: Caveman Frisbee Deathmatch! Illustration by Cassidy Lee Phillips

I used to play Ultimate Frisbee with a 300-pound former football lineman. He loved to directly run over opposing players (against any Ultimate Frisbee rules I’ve ever known). Everyone jumped out of this man’s way. I instinctively met his charges with elbows, clotheslines, and trips.

I just couldn’t let him have victory without a fight. As it turns out, we were a match made in neanderthal heaven. From the first game we played together, we were never allowed to be matched against anyone but each other. We could play our own adrenaline-warped version of the game, without hurting anyone else.

If that all sounds like macho bullshit, that’s because it is.

Welcome to the world of men.

The Bigger Man

This isn’t to say that women don’t compete. Whether it’s getting the best parking spot near the entrance, or racing that old check-writing grandma to a cash register, we’re all competing every day. But I haven’t seen many women standing around the water cooler pretending to know something in the way men might pretend to know Peyton Manning’s value as a quarterback.

Just another manly conversation between pals

Why pretend? Because other men might emasculate you for your lack of testosterone-drenched knowledge. Consider why those men feel the need to emasculate you: their masculinity is fragile and they are desperate to establish dominance over anyone they can.

The same guy who calls you a “fairy”, for not watching football, is probably at home crying about his inadequacies every night.

It takes a bigger man to admit fault. Take solace in the fact that some of the men laughing at you are actually feeling small — because they don’t have the guts to just be honest. You may even be relieved to stop living the lie.

Man up. Admit that you have no clue, or that you don’t care.

Or just shut up.

Just breath, no need to make up an opinion for everything!

Bonus Points: