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What is Love?

“Baby don’t hurt me” — Fans to their team

Ben Solomon/Rutgers Athletics

(Sorry for getting that song stuck in your head.)

I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be “a fan” of something, and more specifically what it means to love your team, and in this context, your college football team. Is there a right or proper way to be a fan? Having been caught in some drama on exactly this topic within the Rutgers fanbase lately I was prompted to delve deeper into this question.

This question is based around a single coin, the fanbase, and its two sides. On the one side of the coin, there are those that believe a true fan loves and supports their team without question, through the highs and the lows. The other side of the coin believes that true love comes with criticism,and sometimes criticism that is incredibly scathing.

Of course, it’s not exactly that simple and rather these are the extremes of the fanbase spectrum and where a fan falls on this spectrum tends to (1) vary and (2) reveal itself when your team is in a particularly bad place. There are in betweens which include, “I don’t like where we are either, but we can’t do anything about it so we just have to deal with it and support the team,” “I’m not a coach or player and think they have it under control in a way we cannot see,” and of course the, “I supported them at first, but this is going on too long and something needs to change.” But is leaning towards one end of the spectrum more right than another? This Tweet from NFL player John Kuhn has been making its way around the positive-type fan circles since it was posted.

Is this logic sound? Are being “a fan unconditionally” and extreme criticism during bad times truly mutually exclusive? Let’s talk about it.

Yesterday, I incited some pretty intense anger from various Rutgers fans because of this Tweet.

I was accused of not loving Rutgers, not being a real fan, insulting players, and of making the school look bad to recruits.

Now see, I’ve always been someone that is hypercritical of that which I love. I gather that fans which rip apart their team are right there alongside me with this personality trait. My jobs, my extracurriculars, my academic programs, and my field are all things I’ve personally been intensely critical of, but all things that I love dearly. Obviously, most of those who know me from the briefest of online interactions know that I love Rutgers more than anything on the planet, and having been in the marching band I attended every single home football game and several away games from the 2012-2015 seasons, so I reject the claims that I don’t love Rutgers and am not a true fan outright.

However, the claim that this criticism when applied to college football teams, which deal with young players and recruits is harmful may not be 100% wrong. Maybe, constant positivity is better for the overall image of the program and a recruit zipping through Twitter searching the word, “Rutgers” as an example, may in fact log away a Tweet like mine when making a final decision on where to play College Football. Maybe a current player doing the same might reel a little bit at such a comment that pops up into their timeline (but by the way, I had a good chunk of of friends on the team when I was a student and would ask them if social media bothered them and they all said no. Just FYI).

However, I also think that this burden is unfair to place on a fan in the same vein that it is unfair blaming lowly consumers for their plastic use and its accumulation in the ocean instead of the gigantic corporations which manufacture this dangerous plastic to begin. Blaming the critical fan and not the sources behind why the fan is critical— the team leadership and their on field execution— is shortsighted. The critical fans’ reactions to those decisions and the disappointing team performance which results from them is not the main problem. Our criticism is a response.

Overall though I will concede that the people who are unrelentingly positive are not hurting the image of the program in any way. Maybe their Tweets, Facebook posts, and article comments even help a little bit. They show to recruits, players, and outside fans that the team still has support from the fanbase, and this is incredibly valuable. I may be on the opposite spectrum of these fans, however, I still support what they’re doing. That often blind, unconditional (albeit annoying to someone like myself) support and love in a sea of anger, criticism, memes, and embarrassing articles has an incredibly important role in this modern unforgiving sports culture worsened by the internet. It breaks up the negative and keeps things from falling too far deep down into a black hole of despair, embarrassment and surrender.

The unrelentingly positive and supportive fan is an important voice in a fanbase. I’d argue, however, that those who are hypercritical are actually not hurting the team’s image as much as people think because of the idea that criticism = care. As a fan I’m hypercritical because I want it to be better, I want it to reach farther than what it is reaching for. This, when done correctly, can be a good look in a fanbase and is something that can galvanize those in control of the team to respond to that criticism via improvement. You think critical alumni at various programs around the country haven’t gotten incompetent coaches fired? I am, as a general fan, not in control of any major aspect of my team, so the criticisms that we share come off as pointless whining and complaining.

However, at its heart, our angry Tweets, posts, and memes are the only way can show our version of care and they do reverberate ever so slightly to leaders who can make a difference. The more complaints, the louder the reverb and the higher chance something actually gets done. Positivity and or silence over something that doesn’t work/work well, doesn’t signal anyone that it has to be fixed.

Criticism is a way to let off steam as well, and is definitely a way to cope with the reality that our team just isn’t good (and in the case of Rutgers, that we financially can’t really do much about it— we’re not stupid). And I think that’s the main unifying factor in all this— we all want our team to be good. No side of any fanbase is happy with loss, and definitely not with constant, embarrassing and bad losses. People are complex and so we deal with this in different ways. So going back to the question, “is being an unconditional fan mutually exclusive from criticizing the team?”... here’s some Big Ten related bits for you to ponder before I give my personal answer.

I’ll never forget there was an Indiana fan I saw a few years ago who stormed out of Memorial Stadium back when Rutgers beat Indiana on their homecoming muttering, “we need to fire our f***ing coach.” Does he not love his Hoosier football? I can’t really picture that behavior on someone who is apathetic to their team, can you?

How about the angry “fire Hoke!” writings that went around back when Michigan had that terrible season even losing to Rutgers? Would those who couldn’t care less about the Wolverines care who their coach is?

What about Ohio State fans ripping apart their team’s defense this year? Why tear into something you don’t love?

What about the angry Nebraska, Wisconsin, and Michigan State fans?

And with all of these angry, critical fans, how many of them do you think own mountains of their team’s gear? How many of them purchased season tickets, have a magnet on their care, or a school item in their place of work? I’d wager that most of them do.

So that leads me to my answer: I vehemently disagree with the notion that you can’t love your team unconditionally and be hyper critical when that criticism is warranted. Again, because people are complex, where that criticism is warranted, if at all, is determined by the individual person. In my personal case, I drew the criticism line after the second game of this awful season, but I had previously written multiple articles expressing my support for Ash over the years— which is why the shit I am getting over all of this is particularly annoying, but I digress...

As a fan, you have the right to be a fan however you want. There are positives to each fan style as determined by the fan themself and no one has the right to tell another that they are less of a fan than someone else because of how they go about fan-ing. When your team is bad it is especially important to not let how you fan split the fanbase apart. It is too easy to let the heightened frustrations of the team’s performance cause a rift, but we cannot lose sight of the fact that we are one single fanbase who want a common thing— a great team. For the hyper critical fans, let the positive people be positive, for they provide a needed, refreshing voice. For the unrelentingly positive fans, don’t judge the critical as any less of a fan than you, for their criticism is a sign of care. Together is how you’ll get through bad seasons and emerge as a more unified fanbase who, through criticism or support, remained a fan through these trying times.

And to address the last part of Kuhn’s Tweet on the topic of a “bandwagon jumper,” this is my definition of someone on a bandwagon: Someone who supports the team when it’s good, but doesn’t hyper criticize when it’s bad, they just stop caring and go away.


What kind of fan are you?

This poll is closed

  • 7%
    Unrelentingly positive. I support through thick and thin.
    (10 votes)
  • 51%
    Positive. I think they know more than I do and have it under control.
    (70 votes)
  • 31%
    Critical. Wow, are you kidding me, (insert team name)?
    (43 votes)
  • 9%
    Hyper critical. God my team can really be trash sometimes and I’m gonna express it.
    (13 votes)
136 votes total Vote Now