Out of Bounds: Single team loyalty illogical, unnecessary

The institution of professional sports in America is a business. Teams are ever changing, perpetually transforming into what they believe is the best product as which they can sell themselves.

This is why, in the 21st century, devotion to a single professional sports team is, at best, naive and, at worst, illogical.

I am aware that I’m undermining over 100 years of professional sports fandom. If people like football, they have their team: the Dallas Cowboys, the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Buffalo Bills, whichever. If they watch baseball, they either love the New York Yankees or loathe them.

Team loyalty is what drives sports – it’s why people watch every single Boston Celtics game and why it takes years to get season tickets to see the Green Bay Packers.

Maybe this was more reasonable 50 or even 20 years ago. But now it does not make sense.

Let’s take the New York Knicks for example. There are two unique circumstances that make the Knicks interesting at this very moment: the departure of Jeremy Lin and the arrival of the Brooklyn Nets. Lin’s departure left many Knicks fans disgruntled, to say the least; the Nets arriving gave Knicks fans an alternative.

The question is whether or not Knicks fans are allowed to “jump ship” to the new Brooklyn Nets. Should those fed up with a team – in this particular case, its management – be allowed to shift their loyalty to a new team? Are the Nets an opportunity to start fresh, or would Knicks fans that switched allegiances be branded traitorous?

Sports and pop culture writer Chuck Klosterman said, “At the professional level, you should always focus on whatever the team represents in the present tense … the current roster, the current coaching staff, the current ownership.”

Loyalty to a team should be reassessed at the start of every season, if not before every game. The question should be: Does this team still represent what I love about the sport? If the answer is no, why would I continue rooting for them?

It is illogical to cheer for a team simply because of routine. There may not even be one similarity between a given team from one year to the next, and yet there will remain a devoted fan base. Why?

Look at the Boston Red Sox teams from the past decade. I’ll give you that the Red Sox meant something during the 20th century; the spirit of the team was there regardless of personnel. That is a legitimate reason to carry over loyalty from year-to-year, decade-to-decade.

But the Red Sox of the past 10 years is a different story. Each year after winning the World Series in 2004, the team looked less and less like that champion team. They won again in 2007 with a handful of the same personnel. But by 2012, David Ortiz was the only player left from that 2004 team.

What reason is there for a fan from 2004 to remain a fan of the team in 2012? The manager was different, the general manager was different and nearly every player was different. The Red Sox had, through the decade, transformed themselves into a completely different team. They were now a team with the “If we can’t beat them, buy them” mentality that they once stood as a testament against. Any fan from 2004 should have been disgusted with the team in 2012.

Consider an even more recent example: James Harden and the Oklahoma City Thunder. How many of the fans that wore faux-Harden beards during the Thunder’s run to the NBA Finals will rethink their team loyalty now that he is gone? Too few will.

And what happens when Kevin Durant of OKC decides to sign a contract somewhere else? Will those that became fans this past season remain with the team even when its two most notable players are gone? There isn’t a reason to.

I’m not saying that rooting for a team is wrong. But consistent fandom regardless of team specifics is illogical; there’s too much change. If McDonald’s changed its entire menu from one year to the next, how could routine customers remain routine customers?

If you loved the Red Sox and hated the Yankees in 2004, how is it reasonable to love the Red Sox and hate the Yankees in 2012 when the 2012 Red Sox represent the same sort of baseball team as the 2004 Yankees?

Team loyalty should be readdressed year-to-year, game-to-game and even play-to-play. Professional sports constantly evolve – so too should fandom.