March is my favorite month to be a college sports fan. The college campus is my place of work and ministry. I love college students. And in March it feels as if everyone is paying attention to them, as college basketball and March Madness and bracketology fill water-cooler conversations. What's not to love?
I marvel at the skill and heart and teamwork that student-athletes bring to the court. I hang on the come-from-behind-at-the-buzzer storylines. And I love the fans.
I hesitated as I wrote that last sentence. It’s true—I do love the fans. I am one. And we are some of the most intense and playful sports fans anywhere. But, if I’m honest, we fans can sometimes be obnoxious.
I remember watching fans tease a free-throw shooter about his weight once. They waved Twinkies at the poor guy. The mean-spiritedness made me uncomfortable. When he missed his shots, I felt guilty. It was good for my team, maybe, but bad for my soul.
There must be a way to be a fan without being a jerk.
Tip #1: Cheer, don’t jeer.
This should be the first rule of sports fandom. If you do this, you will be well on your way toward being a fan without being a jerk.
I admit that I’ve broken this rule. I’ve chanted: “If you can’t go to college, go to State. If you can’t go to State, go to jail.” I’ve yelled: “I’m blind. I’m deaf. I wanna be a ref.” I basked in my cleverness but did no good for anyone. My jeering motivated the opposing team, hurt my neighbors, and angered the refs (and you don’t want to see the refs angry).
Imagine what would happen if we applied Jesus’ teaching to our lives as fans: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
My father-in-law cheers for my archrival school. One year, after my team trounced his team, I teased him. In his gentle, Southern way he replied, “Your boys sure did play great today. They looked special.” He is a different kind of fan, a fan who loves his team and loves the sport but still treated me exactly the way I wanted to be treated.
How do we want to be treated by fans of opposing teams? We want them to be gracious in victory and defeat. We want them to cheer hard but also to be kind. We want them to treat us and our team with respect. Let’s go and do likewise.
Tip #2: Connect with other fans.
For some, March Madness means watching TV alone (though not in silence). Often this means we ignore our children or roommates, or say harsh things, unchecked by a communal conscience.
Let’s face it: in isolation, we all wander toward the Land of the Jerk.
We were made to share the things that bring us joy. We need other fans around us, fans who cheer and don’t jeer.
March Madness can reconnect you with college friends and fellow fans. It does for me. Rob will be yelling at the TV. B-rad might be wearing his lucky hat. Laura and Chris are teaching their newborn daughter about basketball. I know they’ll be watching as our team plays.
Who else loves your team? Who can you share your joy with?
Tip #3: Remember that it’s more than a game.
Never, ever, ever believe that college basketball is just a game.
College athletes put their hearts on the line. They train and sweat and strain. Behind every free throw lies hours of practice. And they share with us. They encourage us to participate, to cheer, to be fans.
There’s something special about these sports.
Generations ago, an early Christian writer used athletics to talk about the Christian life. In the Bible you can read:
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. (1 Corinthians 9:24-25)
When I watch college basketball, I’m reminded of the beauty and value of discipline. I’m reminded that teamwork matters. I’m reminded that the clock is ticking. I’m reminded that I have better things to do than be a jerk.
How else can we be fans without being jerks?
Steve Tamayo is an InterVarsity Area Director for South Florida and also blogs at http://yosteve.blogspot.com/. He will be loudly but unobnoxiously cheering for Duke during March Madness.