Pro Sports Teams That Represent Their Fans

Rayo Vallecano, a soccer team from Madrid, recently released images of its uniforms for next season. The away jersey features a rainbow stripe, and is meant to support the “unsung heroes” of the world. Profit from sales of the shirt will be split between seven different causes which help fight discrimination.

To an American sports fan, this might be shocking. Not bad, but its hard to imagine an American team doing something like this. Surely American teams support charities, but to have that support integrated into their uniforms — no, I could never see it.

Rayo are not the only European team to do something like this. They are an extreme example, but plenty of teams are far more connected to their community than American teams. FC Barcelona’s motto is mes que un club — ”more than a club.” The team is a huge part of Catalan culture, and represents several Catalan values. Tottenham Hotspur, the team I support, has a historically large Jewish fanbase, since Tottenham used to be a Jewish part of London. It no longer is, but the supporters’ nickname of the “Yid Army” remains, and while that nickname has faced controversy in recent years, the club have come out in support of its fans’ right to use the term.

This is a much tighter relationship between the fans and the team. The community and the team. And I could take pages to run off more examples from around European football.

You just don’t get that from American teams. And I’d like to see more of it. Maybe not to the degree of Rayo — that’s a lot to ask — but a closer connection with the fans.

I live in Philly, and grew up supporting the Flyers and Eagles. I never knew that those two teams were closer to European teams in the way they interact with their fanbase. When the teams say “Flyers Hockey” or “Eagles Football,” they’re not just referring to the players wearing the uniforms, but to a style, a value.

The Flyers have always tried to put out a team that plays hard, scraps in the corners, and generally wins via more brawn than skill. The tradition is embodied by the Broad Street Bullies, and the team has stuck to those values even to the detriment of success on the ice. They didn’t just want to win, they wanted to win the Flyers way.

The Eagles have also always tried to put out a brand of blue-collar, hard nosed players. See the brutal defenses of the 1980s, right through the current coach who, in one of his first press conferences, said, “We’re from Philadelphia and we fight.” He gets it.

Both teams, by playing these styles in their sports, represent the city. Philadelphia is a blue-collar town, and values grit, sees itself as an underdog. The Flyers and Eagles field teams in the spirit of the city in which they play. This is not to the same level as Rayo or Barca, but I think they’re some of the best examples in the USA.

And I like that. This is an age where high level sports are played almost exclusively by mercenaries (though, to be clear, I begrudge no one their chance to make millions). So, to see a team recognize and sustain a close connection with its community — to really try and represent the fan base — makes me want to support them. It makes me happier when I turn on the game knowing the Flyers get that they’re not just an NHL team, but Philly’s NHL team. And, that’s the only reason to watch sports, for the enjoyment of it.

Of course, winning is also pretty nice, but there’s nothing sweeter than a team winning with the personality of its fanbase.

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