The first-ever sports game that I attended was a Korea Baseball Organization game in Seoul as a one-year-old child. Legend has it that infant me enjoyed the game in the only way that I knew how: in the great depths of a profound slumber. According to my mom, she and my dad (along with maybe 10 other people around them) had to cheer for their beloved LG Twins with greatly subdued vocal support, lest they risk inciting the wrath of a developmental Do torn away from his dreams prematurely.
Needless to say, my sports fandom has come a long way since those early days. That being said, my path to fandom diverged significantly from those of others around the world. I’ve always had friends that have ridden the highest of highs and sunk to the deepest abysses with the teams that they support. But I never really bought into that frenzied, committed following of a team in the way that others have, without having sacrificed my love for sports in the process. (Granted, when your hometown teams are the Twins, Timberwolves and Vikings, motivation can admittedly be tough to find.)
It takes an important quality to be a diehard fan of a team: You need to be willing to (irrationally, at times) buy into the idea that a group of people on a field playing a game has the ability to fundamentally sway your feelings and actions through competition with another group of people — competition that ultimately doesn’t affect your everyday life. And enough people around the world have feverishly bought into that idea to the point that the inherent entertainment value of watching organized games between two teams has evolved into something much, much more — transcending the everyday world in which we live in the process.
That’s why contests like the Super Bowl draw tens of millions of viewers every year and sports icons like Joe DiMaggio, Wayne Gretzky, Michael Jordan and Johnny Unitas are adored, glorified and forever preserved in history. They compete on a stage that, to most, is outside of the realm of fans like them. They’re not just any people, they’re professional athletes. That’s why fans strive to identify with them by wearing their jerseys and mimicking their most memorable moments. On the highest of stages, plastering television screens around the nation, they grip the hopes, frustrations and dreams of people with every swing of the bat, every punt and every bicycle kick.
And I think that’s where I went wrong. I never became a true fan of any team. Instead of giving in to the dramatic ecstasies and sorrows that define diehard fans of teams, I became a fan of the sports themselves. Instead of applauding the fact that Joe Mauer doubled to right field and put the Twins in scoring position, I applauded the idea that the Twins and Tigers would play a 163rd game to decide the final wild-card spot. I didn’t cheer for a brand; I cheered for moments that I would remember and skills that I would respect. Because of that, I was never as emotionally invested in the outcomes of games or the successes of teams, and I feel that I’ve been missing out on a critical element that really defines the experience of a sports fan.
When I first came to Stanford, I came to the brink of experiencing those emotions for the first time. The Stanford Cardinal stood for something that defined part of who I was as a person and student, and I thought that I could use the fact that my existence for four years would intrinsically be tied to the Stanford brand to elicit those highs and lows.
And indeed, when Stanford football upset No. 2 USC last season, I was screaming and jumping for joy in front of my computer. When Stanford played Arizona at home and eked out a 54-48 overtime victory, I experienced the all-consuming dread of, “Oh god, we’re going to lose to Arizona,” before being overwhelmed by joy when Stepfan Taylor plunged into the end zone to seal the victory. And when Stanford upset the No. 2 Ducks, I was so overjoyed that I was running around my living room and making my mom think that there was something seriously wrong with me. I took those emotions with me through the Pac-12 Championship victory and the Rose Bowl victory. I finally really felt what it meant to be a fan of a team.
Joining the sports staff of The Stanford Daily was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. But from the perspective of me as a Stanford Cardinal fan, it was one of the worst decisions I’ve ever made, because it took those hard-earned emotions away from me. I fell into the habit — as journalists should — of watching sports from an analytical, unbiased perspective. Just as quickly as I found my fandom, I lost it again.
When I attended Stanford football games this year in the press box, I found myself still a fan of the team (I always will be at heart), but more of a fan of the game again. When I went to Stanford basketball’s near-victory over Arizona, I sat in the student section and thought that I’d found that fervor again, only to realize that I had only really gone through the motions.
I love sports, and I love being a fan of sports. But I’m afraid that I’ll never again experience what it truly means to be a “normal” fan.
Do-Hyoung Park was, at one time, so out of touch with his hometown teams that he didn’t even know the Minnesota Wild was an NHL franchise. Enlighten him about the majesty of ice hockey at dpark027 ‘at’ stanford.edu and Tweet at him at @dohyoungpark.