I first experienced sports fandom’s concentricity in 1965 when I watched the baseball All-Star Game with my cousins from St. Paul. As fans of the Minnesota Twins, they naturally rooted for the American League All-Stars. As a six-year-old Los Angeles Dodgers fan, I normally despised the Dodgers’ National League rivals, the San Francisco Giants.
Yet as soon as the All-Star Game started, I desperately hoped Giants Willie Mays and Juan Marichal would team up with my Dodger heroes Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale to crush the vile American Leaguers. I was so scared that the American Leaguers would score that I fled the TV room every time the AL came up to bat.
A central question in ethnography is whether a polity is organized by ancestry or territory. For a decade, the US military has used bombs and bribes trying to convince Pashtun tribesmen that because they live in Afghanistan, they should be loyal to the Afghan government, which the American government has gone to great expense to buy and build.
The Pashtuns find this American assumption of territorialism naive. Rather than trust a government in Kabul or Islamabad—depending upon which side of the Khyber Pass they happen to be on—they team up (and fall out) with each other along patriarchal bloodlines.
Like modern governments, American professional sports teams, in tandem with local media, strive to demand territorial loyalty. Chicago is the extreme example of geographical rule, with the Cubs dominating the North Side and the White Sox the South Side. (The yuppie Barack Obama would seem a Cubs fan by class, but his Hyde Park residence made him a White Sox fan.)
Like tribal societies, however, college rooting patterns have strong links to family trees. In the movie The Blind Side, the white parents live in a suburb of Memphis, TN, but they inculcate in their giant black adoptee a disdain for the University of Tennessee that they acquired at Ole Miss. In Los Angeles, few neighborhoods are uniformly loyal to USC or UCLA. Instead, as in an African nation with multiple tribes, USC and UCLA fans live side by side in apparent amity most of the year.
Just as visionaries of post-nationalism predict virtual countries linked only by the Internet, a future sports team might develop a transnational virtual fan base around some trait other than region or friends and family. But nobody has quite done it yet.
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