Wednesday, November 29, 2006

...Pledging Allegiance to New Banners

This past weekend marked 10 years since I moved from Northern to Southern California. Though I didn’t initially plan the move to be a permanent one, within that time a number of events have unfolded that have solidified Southern California as my “home” and Northern California as a place I visit a few times a year. I bought my first, and then second house in the area. I started a Southern California-based small business. I married a Southern California native whose entire family lives here. I had a son born here.

But it’s only been recently that I finally embraced the truest test of being a Southern Californian: Rooting for the local sports teams.

Sports team loyalty is the oddest thing. In virtually any other situation, we’d ridicule a person for being intensely loyal to a large corporation. I mean, can you imagine how weird you’d think a person was who only used Aquafresh toothpaste; flatly refusing to ever purchase any competing oral care products out of intense, undying, passionate loyalty to GlaxoSmithKline? Or how odd would you find it if someone continued to eat at the same restaurant day after day, despite an ever-decreasing quality of food, service and decor just because they’ve always eaten there and didn’t want to be accused of being a “fair weather diner”? Or would you ever be afraid to buy a different brand of laundry detergent than you’re accustomed to using out of the fear that long-time users of the product would consider you a “bandwagon jumper” or “Johnny Come Lately” to the product?

Yet with sports we seem to lose all of our common sense and demand blind, unthinking loyalty to large corporations whose only interest in us is how much money they can separate from us and our wallets.

I did my best to remain loyal to the San Francisco Giants and 49ers throughout my time here (not so much the Golden State Warriors, who have struggled just to be mediocre for most of my lifetime so altering my loyalty to an exciting Lakers team with Shaq and Kobe happened more or less immediately upon arrival). I tried to keep up with the 49ers by watching them on those rare Sundays when their games were televised in this area (a rarer and rarer occasion by the year as the Niners became less and less relevant as a playoff contender). I even had the misfortune of being what seemed like the lone Southern Californian rooting for the opposing team during the 2002 World Series between the Anaheim Angels and San Francisco Giants; going through the indignity of having to listen to “my” team ridiculed daily on local radio and having to endure the humiliation of hearing the wild cheers and hollers of my neighbors when the Angels made a miraculous come from behind victory in Game 7 to win their first ever World Series.

Ultimately, though, it just didn’t work out. Probably for the same reason most long-distance romantic relationships ultimately don’t end up working out either. Because regardless of how much we try to believe in overly romantic notions like “love will conquer all” or “love knows no bounds”, the truth is we tend to underestimate the importance of physical proximity. Sure, you may feel like you have some sort of deep spiritual and emotional connection to someone who lives 3000 miles away and you may try to believe your love is so incredibly powerful that the distance doesn’t matter. But a phone or IM is just no replacement for a warm body next to you at night or a person to kiss before you leave for work in the morning or a hand to hold at the movies.

That’s kind of what I found with sports teams too. I could be a 49er or Giants fan in theory, but really I’d just be rooting for a set of colors. I need a team whose every game I can watch on TV or listen to on the radio, whose players I can be familiar with because I’ve followed every game on local TV and read about them in the local paper and whose games I can attend live without having to arrange a plane flight or long-distance car trip. I’m sure the owners of the San Diego Chargers, Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim don’t care about me any more than the owners of the Warriors, Giants or 49ers did. But at least they’re around.
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