"Loyalty to any one sports team is pretty hard to justify because the players are always changing, the team can move to another city, you're actually rooting for the clothes when you get right down to it. You know what I mean? You are standing and cheering and yelling for your clothes to beat the clothes from another city. Fans will be so in love with a player, but if he goes to another team, they boo him. This is the same human being in a different shirt! They hate him now! Boo! Different shirt!! Boo!" - Jerry Seinfeld, “The Label Maker.”
We’ve heard that line above many times, and I’m sure I’m very far from the first writer to take on the subject. Still, I just felt a need, for whatever reason, to give my two cents on this.
I actually don’t necessarily disagree with what the venerable Mr. Seinfeld is saying here. At least, at the core. For the most part, we don’t necessarily cheer for particular players, and if we do, it’s because there is a personal connection of some sort. Either you knew them or when to school with them or something along those lines. Other than that, you cheer for your favorite team regardless of who actually constitutes that team. And, in that sense, yes, fans to cheer for laundry.
And yet, that still isn’t terribly accurate. Now, I know the line was put together like for comedic effect. But it points to something a bit deeper that I wish more teams would pay more attention to. That laundry we’re rooting for, it represents something. At its heart, for most fans, that shirt, that jersey represents a city and a region, and most of us, whether we like to admit it or not, do have some pride in our hometowns. We all came from somewhere, and in many inescapable ways, we are a product of where we came from. I may not have any desire to live in Covington as an adult, but I am a product of Covington and have been molded a certain way because of my experiences there. The same goes, to a certain degree, anyway, for Wabash or wherever you might have gone to college. You are a product of your experiences, and your experience is largely dependant on where you are. To disrespect or disregard your roots is to invalidate what molded you, and for the vast majority of people, being invalidated is not a pleasant thing.
So, yes, that shirt means something deeper than the name on the back or, in a way, more than the person wearing it. That’s a cliche, too, but it’s true. The name on the front should be more important. These teams are part of a greater community, and they ought to feel a larger sense of civic duty. Some teams do this well, others could use some improvement. But, in all cases, the community hangs on them. If sports were truly just another business, it wouldn’t hurt so much when the Seattle Supersonics became the Oklahoma City Thunder. And there wouldn’t be so much joy in Seattle when the team was confirmed to be coming back yesterday. Nor would there be so much anguish the last few years in Sacramento when it was rumored this would happen.
I think, too, it’s especially hard someplace like Sacramento. The Kings were, in many ways, their claim, their stake in being a big-time American city. Without them, they’re just the capital of California again. They might as well be Pierre or Montpelier.* That was a huge reason why Indianapolis wanted so badly to bring the Colts to town. Sure, we had the Pacers and the Indianapolis 500, which was great, but if a city is going to hitch their economic wagon so firmly to sports as Indianapolis has, it was going to take something more than a once-a-year event and a team in the third-most-popular professional sports league to really put the stamp on Indy as being a big-league town.
*Maybe a bit of an exaggeration, but you get the point.
So, sure, call it rooting for laundry if you want. I suppose it’s not entirely untrue. But it runs deeper than that. Whatever you want to call it, fans, do it with abandon. Because that shirt means something, and it’s something special.
Pride on three.