When I think back to rooting for the Giants in the 1970’s, I remember family camping trips in Yosemite. At night, way out there in the wilderness, my dad and I would sneak off to the car and turn on the radio–and we would strain to decipher what was happening in the Giants game.
The signal would come and go and only a few sentences here and there would make it all the way to the valley floor. But on clear nights the picture would slowly emerge—and with the hopefulness of line drives down the line, that would often hook foul, we would sometimes learn the score.
Whatever was happening in those game was so amplified, it was our connection to something that mattered in a place just out of reach; and it mattered so much.
We were glued to that radio—to deep fly balls getting lost in the Sierras.
This is how I was raised a Giants fan.
Sometimes I think about what it would have been like if the Giants had actually moved to Tampa Bay in 1992 when they signed that letter of intent to do so. But I quickly push that thought away. I can’t even picture them in another city.
But after seeing the San Diego Chargers become the Los Angeles Chargers, and the Las Vegas Raiders not far behind, it’s a subject that has forced its way into all our realities.
I went to college in San Diego and I saw the love that community had for the Chargers. The powder blue and gold decorating laid back beach towns during playoff runs. And Hacksaw Hamilton on the radio shouting “show me your lightning bolt!!” What a bitter pill to swallow for San Diego: to not only lose the Chargers to a city that already has a football team, but to have it be LA.
I also remember the first Raiders move in 1982, their “commitment to exodus”. Some say that no team embodied their city as much as the Raiders did of Oakland before that move.
The thing about these moves is that no matter how common they become, each one is a jarring punch to the gut of anyone who cares even a little about professional sports. Each move is like a puncture in a Matrix that has been built over generations.
What do people really get from their team besides the ability to love and be loyal?
If you are a fan of McDonalds you can get food to eat.
If you are a fan of Audi you can drive a car.
If you are a fan of a sports team, uh…you get the opportunity to be a fan of a team. This in itself is a unique relationship dynamic. If you take this team/fan relationship and make an analogy to human relations, you are essentially describing the most narcissistic relationship possible.
And yet human beings by nature want to show loyalty and be part of a community. Sports teams can bring people together of all ages and ethnicities, and it brings so much to a region. But the basis of this is that the team and the community have both a history and future together. Without these two things, what is really there?
When professional sports teams decide to relocate, wow their fans sure look foolish. Because up until that moment, the only consideration the team has really given fans is operating in that community–with an underlying assumption that by giving loyalty in the present fans would also get to maintain this loyalty in the future.
Professional sports is like a social contract. The franchise offers up a team, and the fans accept this and give their money, time, love, and passion. But what does the team give back?
There are a few key drivers fueling these moves and the following blog series will explore them—things such as shared relocation fees and political bidding wars. Of course, there’s also a very simple component: an owner’s ego may get hurt, the grass is always greener, and owners just move ‘because they can’. But for sports to continue to be a heartbeat of our nation, they can’t.
In our country right now we hear so much about divisions getting amplified. And here we have something that is a unifier like sports dissipating into the air like steam. Sports teams bring people of all ethnicities and socioeconomic background together, giving them reason to pull for the same team and bonding them together. Can you name something else that does this as effectively?
Teams abandoning the fans who have loved them through thick and thin is like a metaphor of the humanity being sucked out of our communities, replaced by traffic jams and new corporate offices. I guess the Las Vegas Raiders are a sign of the times.
It’s so painful to see the Raiders and Chargers leave their fans who have given so much. These moves are such a kick in the mouth to these towns that the kick is reverberating beyond these areas. Leaving a city violates the key premise which professional sports bases its brand on: loyalty.
Sports hold a soft spot in our hearts, and these moves are hardening this.
In my youth, fly balls getting lost in the Sierras may have cemented my love of the Giants. But today, instead of getting lost in the Sierras, the Raiders and Chargers are gambling and getting lost in glitz. Pretty soon, without a history and a fan base which has passed the love of the team down through generations, the stands could be as empty as beautiful meadows in the wilderness.