As I prepare to immerse myself in another season of ill-fated devotion, there is a question I can’t shake: Why? Not why do the Raiders keep losing, but why does anyone follow an incompetent, perpetually failing team? It’s a question that resonates across an entire nation of fanatics, from the frigid Cheeseheads of Wisconsin to the yodeling herds of Texas, from the mile-high multitudes to the bellowing masses of New York.
In offering explanations, the afflicted tend to stress the laudable aspects of sport. It’s perfectly natural, we note, to admire the grace and strength of our finest athletes. Their contests reconnect us to the unscripted physical pleasures of childhood. They simplify and lend moral structure to a world that feels increasingly chaotic. And they allow men, in particular, a common language by which to express deep emotions (rage, disappointment, joy) that might otherwise feel forbidden ”” as well as activating our ancient yearning for tribal affiliation.
Unfortunately, these reasons don’t quite justify the more pathological practitioners of fandom. By which I mean hard cases like me, who spend decades rooting for teams that almost invariably stomp our hearts. To understand this species of devotion requires the invocation of Omar Little, the mystical Robin Hood figure of “The Wire.” As he puts it, “A man’s gotta have a code.”