American sports are in trouble. At least if I am, in any way, a representation of a typical fan.
I grew up in Philadelphia where following all four major teams is part of one’s DNA. As I sit here, I can name, without prompting, every member of the 1980 Phillies starting lineup. And the 1977 team - 1976 too. I once won a Philly sports trivia contest where my savant-like recall stupefied the quizmaster to the point where he assumed I had to be cheating.
I once paid a guy to cut down a tree that was blocking my southern exposure so I could pay another guy to put up a satellite dish so I could watch the Eagles on Sunday.
I’ve bought every sports package available so I could follow Philadelphia teams wherever I happened to be living, and I’ve moved around quite a bit.
I listen to sports radio incessantly.
My friend, an Eagles’ season ticket holder since 1972, calls me before and after every game for predictions and postgame analysis.
I’m that guy. And I’m not just a spectator. I coach high school lacrosse. I do the play-by-play for my university’s basketball games.
Given my history, you would think after a five-month, COVID-19 sports hiatus I would have rushed back and embraced my teams and their sports as if they were a shipwrecked friend I presumed dead long ago.
And yet, there I was the other day, watching a basketball game for the first time since March and I couldn’t summon the energy to care. I tried baseball. Same thing. I’m not sure why.
Maybe there’s a certain fakeness in watching spectator sports being played in empty stadiums and arenas. Sports, at least for fans, is a shared experience. Those of us watching on TV are living vicariously through the people in the seats. Remove them and the whole thing - from the cardboard cutouts to the pumped-in crowd noise - seems fraudulent.
Maybe it’s the infiltration of politics and virtue signaling into what has always been a pleasant diversion from both. There is something spectacularly ironic about an NBA player who makes tens of millions of dollars per annum and feels compelled to wear “EQUALITY” instead of his name on the back of his jersey. Clearly, based on the tenor of the coverage, ESPN, the NBA and its surrogates are wagging their collective finger at me. They don’t know anything about me but they continue to tap my credit card to renew my subscription.
Maybe I’ve simply learned to live without sports.
Maybe, given everything unfolding in the country, it’s just not that important anymore.
I’ve been a sports fan since I was 6 years old, when my father took me to my first Eagles game at Franklin Field in Philadelphia. I’ve hung in there through strikes, lockouts, decades of losing, colossal disappointments and epoch-shattering collapses.
Every once in a while, after an especially difficult Eagles loss, I would say to my friend - the season ticket holder - “I don’t know if I can do this anymore.”
“Oh, you’ll be back,” he would say. And he was right. The next Sunday, there I was for another three hours of hand wringing.
In Philadelphia, we always come back for more. We always get back up. That’s part of our character, our charm. That’s why there’s a Rocky statue in front of the art museum.
But now? I might be down for the count.
In a recent commentary about the state of the NFL, columnist and historian Victor Davis Hanson writes that the league is in trouble like never before.
“If the multibillion-dollar NFL decides that multimillionaire players have no obligation to stand to honor a collective national anthem, and that there will be separate anthems and politicized uniforms, then millions of Americans will quietly shrug and change the channel,” Hanson writes.
The NFL and, to a lesser extent, the other leagues, have always been able to count on the resilience of their fans. But at what point do fans run out of patience or worse, just lose interest? I never thought it was possible.
Of course, these days, many things have come to pass that I never thought possible.
Rich Manieri is a Philadelphia-born journalist and author. He is currently a professor of journalism at Asbury University in Kentucky. You can reach him at email@example.com.