I Am A Fan – Unapologetically

Yesterday I was called a joke for the way I represent myself as a fan of the United States Women’s National Soccer team. Not something to be taken lightly, being called a joke. So I spent some time pondering what kind of fan I think I am.

What people think of me personally doesn’t really affect my decisions in life, but I do often evaluate if I am projecting a positive image. So, that’s the lens through which I evaluated what kind of fan I think I am.

The first thing I asked myself was, am I really a fan of USWNT? I do all of the generally accepted things someone characterized as a fan would do; I follow the team, attend games, buy gear. I know about the players and coaches. I follow all the social media accounts, many pundits and more than a few fans. Am I really a fan? Yup.

Next I asked myself, what kind of fan am I? In order to answer that I had to look at a few different kind of fans, these are my definitions:

CASUAL – Follow when some major tournament is going on, support the US more than the WNT.
ENGAGED – Follow the team before, during, and after major tournaments. Attend games, buy gear, know players, coaches. Probably follow on social media. Most likely follows favorite players closely. May or may not have opinions on style of play, personnel.
AFICIONADO – Follows the team and the game of WoSo in depth. Can converse on tactics and style of play. Usually has firm opinions on tactics, style of play, and personnel. Willing to share and discuss opinions on social media, to include blogs/pod-casts/major articles. Usually interested in furthering understanding and reach of WoSo in general.
FANATIC – Enthusiastic supporter of all things USWNT to the extreme. Frequently seen in face paint and red-white-blue everything at games, watch parties or just on the street. They love their team and aren’t afraid to show it. They often do not care about tactics, style of play or personnel, it’s all about the USWNTeam

So, where do I fall on this spectrum? As I defined each kind of fan I quickly realized almost every fan is a combination of two or more definitions.
I guess I’d have to say I am:
0% Casual
55% Engaged
35% Aficionado
10% Fanatic.

The last question I asked was, am I projecting a positive image in each of these areas?
Well, I’m not a Casual fan so I hope that itself is some kind of positivity. Since Engaged is the definition I think I identify with most, I hope it’s where I’m doing the most good. I do follow the team year round, including before, during, and after major tournaments. I do attend games, buy gear, know players, coaches. I do follow on social media. I do follow favorite players closely and all players at a minimum. I do have opinions on style of play and personnel. I think I check all those boxes. About a third of my fan make-up is as Aficionado and I think I’m doing an OK job at it. I’m knowledgeable, and continue to pursue knowledge, about the game. I can converse about tactics, style of play and personnel, in the right circumstances. I am immensely interested in furthering understanding and interest in WoSo. Pretty much check all those boxes, too. And yes, a small part of me is a Fanatic. I am very enthusiastic about USWNT, and have been known to do/say some crazy things in support of them.

Overall, I think I am projecting that positive image I try for, so why would someone call my type of fan a joke? In all of my definitions there is also a spectrum of expression. I choose to see my style of trying to look at both sides of a discussion as a positive. If you don’t agree with me, I am OK with that. If I can’t persuade you to see it from my perspective, I’m OK with that, too. I don’t see a need for people to come to my side of an argument, but I find not everyone is happy with expressing their opinion and letting it go at that. I put my opinion out there, knowing it may not suit everyone and I’m OK with that. I welcome a discussion of ideas, not a battle of wits. I appreciate good snark and sarcasm for what they are, but what they aren’t is a substitute for thoughtful discussion. I’ve been told I have my head in the sand, on the contrary, I seldom miss much. The internet is a wide open place, if you know where to look. I see much more than people might think. I choose not to dwell on the negative, plenty of people are doing that already. I see it, I analyze it, I just choose not to dwell on it. I try to have a balanced view of the team, its tactics, style of play and personnel. I try to look for what might be intended but not carried out. I do not try to disparage individual players, my favorites or not. I try not to look for the evil in coaches or federations, not to say it doesn’t exist, but there are plenty of people who will point it out, few who look for the good things accomplished. I try not to destroy other peoples interest in the team and game I love by looking for every perceived flaw (just or not) and exploiting it. I want people to come to the team and game with a vision of what it is and could be, but I don’t think tearing it apart in every aspect will do that. I choose to want people to get to know the team first before they decide what the shortcomings may be, let them discover their love before the other end of the spectrum tries to break their hearts.

All of this is not to say that people I perceive to be on the opposite end of the spectrum are bad, or that their opinions are wrong, it’s just not the way I choose to look at the team. I am positive that those people are convinced they are doing the right thing by pointing out all the shortcomings of the team, players, coaching staff, and federation. And they have a point, if you don’t call them out on their stuff, they will think it’s OK and continue doing what they’ve always done. But to my mind there is a time & place for it. In the knockout stage of the World Cup isn’t it. This is where the Fanatic in me comes out. If anyone thinks their constant badgering of what USA is doing wrong is going to change anything now, they are the delusional ones.

At the end of the day I think I’m the perfect type of fan, for me. I enjoy the games, the players and the atmosphere in the moment and save all the other stuff for another time. I get to watch and analyze and watch and cheer..what more could an engaged, knowledgeable, fanatic ask for?

#InternationalWomensDay

Today is International Women’s Day and as such is a day to take notice of all the ways women move through the world. Today, I’d like to focus on WoSo, big surprise.

This is the time of year and the time in the international cycle when women’s soccer is highly visible and scrutinized; by fans and foes, by broadcasters, and journalists, and sponsors. A large part of that scrutiny is carried out over social media; Twitter, tumblr, instagram, snapchat, Facebook… and as much as it is a boost to the sport and the players it is increasingly becoming a place where that boost is being cancelled out by the very personal and very demeaning comments about players.  Nothing new, you say? Just read any sport site comments, you say? Well, you may be right, but the difference here is that many of these personal and demeaning comments are coming from other women.

Don’t get me wrong, I  think criticism is good for the sport and certainly should be engaged in openly and freely, I just have to draw the line at personal and demeaning. Negative comments and resulting barbs and jokes about someone’s appearance, their mental state, their age, or their faith – to name a few – should be considered offside and therefore not allowed.

When comments go from professional to personal is when we as women cross over to  the “mean girls” mentality and undo all the good that it takes thousands and thousands of positive comments to build. Think about it, all it takes is one negative personal comment about a player that other social media users repeat and share to bring the wrong kind of scrutiny to the sport. Negative comments aren’t only seen by your followers or friends they’re also seen by broadcasters, journalists , and maybe more importantly to the players, sponsors. It doesn’t matter which player those comments are directed toward because even though it may hurt your target more, it affects all the players.

I know as a group we’re better than that. ‘Mean Girls’ was just a movie, but I think as time has passed we’ve forgotten the real intended message. The movie wasn’t intended to glorify meanness, it was to point out how truly harmful it can be.

So on this International Women’s Day I  want to challenge all fans of WoSo, but especially other women, to be as professional in your criticism as you expect players to be on the field. To bypass the easy personal jab for a more enlightened comment. To raise the level of discourse one social media post at a time.

I’m inspired and impressed by all the women involved in the game and I  truly want that to extend to the women who comment on the game as well.

Celebrate International Women’s Day by being a better woman.

*Full disclosure: I’m not perfect, I’ve made a few comments from time to time I’m not especially proud of. But I try hard not to, I wouldn’t ask you to do anything I’m not asking of myself.