Andrew Holleran / Photo editor
For nearly a year-and-a-half as the sports editor of The Lantern, I suppressed my inner sports fan out of professional obligation. Having come out the other side and attempted to rekindle my love of sports this past weekend for the first time since resigning from my post in January, I’m not sure how much of a sports fan still resides in me.
The times I spent as the sports editor of The Lantern were some of the best of my life. I had the privilege of roaming sidelines and locker rooms all over America while bearing witness to the Ohio State athletic department’s many teams and student-athletes. The price of admission for this rare opportunity was shelving the sports fan in me. Upon taking the position in the summer 2011, I was all too happy to abide by that stipulation, which all sports writers must do, of course.
I didn’t stop to realize what I was looking at during my editorship, but there were times when covering the OSU athletic department went far beyond the chalk on the field. In truth, the editorship was a lot like walking in on your parents having sex. By this, I mean that you also bear witness to the ugly side of things – things that are burned into your memory forever.
It is the kind of stuff that is obviously taking place but you’d rather not see. In the case of the sports writer, it is the kind of thing you’d prefer not to report on or witness, but must.
It is the things you read while sifting through hefty documents after Freedom of Information Act open records requests are fulfilled. It is the stories you hear about coaches and athletes being jerks when the bright lights aren’t shining their way. Of course, it is also the public relations person that argues you have misrepresented the truth about their team or their department.
There is no ugly side to the true sports fan, though. Fandom, in its purest form, is innocent and unassuming. Men, women and children of all ages commit themselves to their chosen team and make an emotional investment with no promise of a return. The team’s success can be the daily metric of a fan’s happiness or despair. This can be a cruel way to live, but it’s the chosen way of life for so many.
When I attempted to awaken my inner sports fan for the occasion of the OSU men’s basketball team’s game against Indiana on Sunday at the Schottenstein Center, my inner sports fan didn’t wake up. I don’t know if he ever will. With only a vague recollection of the game day rituals OSU fans partake in, I did my best to recreate an authentic fan experience. To gain admittance to the stadium, I pulled a crumbled ticket from my coat pocket and held my breath as an usher scanned the barcode – I had purchased the ticket for an exorbitant price from a scalper just five minutes earlier. This, of course, was a departure from flashing a press badge to get inside.
Once inside, I didn’t have a free meal with unlimited Coca-Cola products provided for me. Rather, I had to pay for a hot dog and a pop like the other 18,808 fans in attendance.
And my seat wasn’t arm’s length from the court. I was up in Section 332, Row “R,” Seat 12. It is not as posh as press row, but true fans take pride in simply being present for the big event, proximity to the playing surface aside.
I even perused the souvenir shop on the lower level and wore an OSU T-shirt to the game – to the untrained eye I was just another nameless, ticket-bearing, die-hard member of Buckeye Nation.
This die-hard died quickly, though, and I quickly had to concede that my experience was anything but authentic.
I observed the game with the submissive silence and shifty eyes of a deadline reporter. No time or cause for cheering as far as I could see. Of course, silence in the presence of two top-10-ranked basketball teams playing in sold-out arenas was beginning to make me stick out. The media resist emotional reaction to game play, but the wild crowing and bellowing of the sports fan – let us call those reactions “fangasms” – is accepted bleacher etiquette in most stadiums. In a desperate attempt to participate and gain the approval of the people I was sitting near, I began to curse and cry out loudly during the second half of the game.
Having not attended an OSU game of any kind as a fan in about a year-and-a-half, I had all but forgotten how to cheer. I was crying out at inappropriate moments, or too long after the play was over. My reactions were a forgery. I was a fraud. I was faking my fangasms.
The embarrassment of my fraudulent fangasms arrived midway through the second half, and Indiana was in control of the game by that point. The Hoosiers went on to coast to an 81-68 win.
I stayed until the final buzzer, but I knew I had spent each second of the 40 minutes of game action occupying a seat that would have been better suited for someone eager to twirl a Homage rally towel and root hard for OSU. If there was a way for me to realize I wasn’t fan enough anymore that didn’t involve handing a fistful of cash to a ticket scalper, surely I would have pursued that action. For all that I gained as sports editor of The Lantern, and I promise you that I gained greatly, I lost the fan in me, for now at least.
Sports are my lifeblood, so shelving my fandom and my passion for sports writing simultaneously is out of the question. I suppose it is really a win-win situation because, as I did during my editorship, I’m sure to continue meeting interesting people and seeing things that true fans can only dream of seeing. There are more good days ahead.
Perhaps I came into the field of sports writing too naive about how things really work. Maybe my view of sports fans is more of an idealistic hope than a reality. In any event, the path of the sports writer, and not that of the sports fan, is the path I will continue down. That is to say, I’ll stay on this path as long as I can continue to stomach a job that occasionally requires me to witness things that we don’t always want to see.