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Fan or Fanatic

When you put your heart, soul and every effort into something it is understandable to be upset when things do not turn out the way you expected. This can help explain the emotions athletes and coaches express at the “thrill of victory and the agony of defeat” (ABC’s Wide World of Sports). If you are Gen X or older you know what I am referring to. Athletes and coaches are still expected to control their words and actions in the heat of the moment. It is somewhat understandable if they lose control but still not condoned. It’s an entirely different matter when fans cannot control their words and actions.

Fan (Britannica Dictionary definition) “A person who likes and admires someone (such as a famous person) or something (such as a sport or a sports team) in a very enthusiastic way.”

Fanatic (Noun)

A person filled with excessive and single-minded zeal especially for an extreme religious or political cause. Similar: zealot; extremist; militant; dogmatist; devotee; sectarian; bigot

(Adjective) Filled with or expressing excessive zeal “his fanatic energy.”

When I googled “fan or fanatic” this is what came up.

“Fan or fanatic? A fan, according to the American Heritage College Dictionary, is "an ardent devotee, an enthusiast." Fanatic is defined as "a person marked by an extreme unreasoning enthusiasm, as for a cause." The distinction, then, apparently rests on whether the enthusiasm is ardent or unreasoning.”

This fall I have heard of more fights between fans at NFL games (and I don’t even watch, follow the NFL) than I can number. This caused me to reflect on fan verses fanatics. These reflections lead me in three slightly different areas of the same space.

1. The first is fans fighting other fans (us vs them).

2. The second is how fans treat “their” very own players and coaches (us vs. us).

3. The third is a combination of the two and deals with youth sport parents and how they treat coaches and other teams, not to mention referees.

I have had little direct contact with opposing fans fighting but I have been hearing about it almost every week this fall. The most I can say from my coaching career is some opposing fans could be pretty brutal to my wife and kids when they traveled North to away games. I spent 25 years on the football sidelines as a strength & conditioning coach at many levels from the University of Texas to South Dakota State. It takes passion, hard work, dedication, and determination to put in the hours required to be a coach that most “fans” do not understand. The athletes themselves require that same focus, effort, and commitment. Very few “fans” comprehend just how much year-round work goes into a successful sports season/program. Multiple times throughout my career a, well-meaning, fan, at church, would ask me “now that it is January, what do you do?” I would inform them, probably not as politely as I should have, I would be busier now with football off-season training and recruiting than I was during the season. I attempted to educate them that at the collegiate level it is a year-round commitment for these athletes. Multiple times I spoke with the parents of an athlete who quit the team and they were so surprised because their son “loves football”. What they did not understand is just how much of a commitment they needed. When confronted with the realities of the level of work and commitment some athletes’ perspective changed. Hell, it changed mine over 25 years. I decided for a better family and work life balance I could no longer continue to put in the time and effort into collegiate athletics that was required so I walked away. Often a student athletes day involves waking up before 6am to get to the weight room and workout, then hustle off to class. After class they may have a study hall or lab, as well as treatment or rehab sessions with the athletic trainers. The afternoon will be filled with meetings, film study, and practice. After dinner they will need to study. Weekends in the off-season involve recruiting visits or spring practices. Sure, sure, I know they are not as “busy” as you with your job and a couple kids, but I would challenge you to keep their physically demanding schedules. You can start by showing up at training with me at 5am if you would like. All are welcome at my garage gym. Yes, they earn a scholarship and reap rewards, but they do not sign up for abuse from the stands especially from their own “fans”. I was fortunate on the sideline I usually could not hear the yells and criticism from our own fans. I do, however, recall how quickly some fans turn on our players in 2019 when we lost to the University of South Dakota. This was the first time we lost to them in the division I era. It negatively affected our player when they realized how quickly some “fans” turned on them. I always thought It was fun when opposing fans would yell at us. That was motivating and I could really laugh at it when they were creative with it. Hearing derogatory statements from those who are your “fans” is just horrible. It is especially egregious because first they are adults and second, they have not put in all the time and effort, so they have not earned the right to criticize. Transitioning out of coaching to a fan replacing the sideline with a season ticket has furthered my education of fan conduct. I am calm now as a fan. Yes, I want the Jacks to win and cheer when they do well, but I don’t feel I have the right to criticize since I have not put in all the effort and hours. It also will not ruin my day or week if they fall short. I am now in a position where I hear the criticisms from fans and I think, “You seem to have it all figured out. ”My first experience of being in the stands was watching my son playing high school & youth sports. So many parents have it all figured out and know exactly what to do. I coached T ball, baseball and basketball at the youth level. I wish all those parents who were in the stands with all the right answers would have volunteered to coach. Over the last several weeks I have been organizing my thoughts about writing this article and on the radio today I hear about a youth football coach who was shot by an angry father over his son’s playing time. Read that again, he shot the coach at practice in front of his son and the team over his son’s playing time. What is going on? Oh and did I mention the players are 7 and 8 years old. This guy lost his mind and attempted to murder his son’s coach over playing time. I guess he is another parent who had it all figured out! Fortunately the coach is still alive but this parent is going to “figure out” where he will spend the next 5-10 years. He modeled to all these young boys the exact opposite of what youth sports are meant to teach them. As a young strength coach I took 4 ibuprofens on game day because I would scream myself into a head and back ache. Every Sunday in the fall my voice was gone. I was invested, I put in the time, and I was competitive. I still had to control my emotions and how I interacted with players and fans from our and opposing teams. Now as a “fan” I want my team to win but I am certainly not a “fanatic”. Attempted murder, verbal abuse of “your team” and fights at games between rival teams’ fans is insane. Knowing human nature, I am not surprised, but this is just stupid. Grown “men” wearing some other dude’s jersey are so invested in “their team” that they come to blows with another “man” wearing some other dude’s jersey of another color. To that I have to say “come on man!”

If your identity is so wrapped up in a team that you do not coach, play or work for you need to ‘GET A LIFE”. The “us against them” group identify leading to fights is somewhat understandable (not excusable) but how quickly many fanatics turn on “their” players or coaches is mind boggling. Fans can be so quick to criticize.

But then again, all the correct decisions on which play to call or coverages to run are brilliantly clear from the 15th row after 6 hours of tailgating. When you are criticizing a coach do you have any concept of how many hours, they spend each week breaking down/studying film and tendencies, formations, and situations. You really think the one thing you are mentioning is the key piece that they have missed? While you were wasting time at work reading every article, opinion and listening to the talking heads the coaches broke down every formation and play by tendency and percentages in every situation. They discussed and debated the merits of how, exactly, to defend or attack each of their opponents’ strengths & weaknesses. Then when it did come to the game often, they encounter new schemes, concepts or wrinkles they had not seen on film. There will be in-game and half-time adjustments to what was thrown at them not to mention the strategy of the back-and-forth chess game between opposing coordinators. The coaches have a couple days to develop the plan after devouring film and then they must get the players to understand and execute it. To be fair, that is their job and what they signed up for but let’s be honest how often do 18-23 year olds do everything exactly as expected. The coaches and players want the fans in the stands and want the support but not the criticism. Can you image having “your supporter” at your job, 20 yards away yelling obscenities at you every time you made a mistake. As a former coach I worked with used to say“…you have to remember that the other team gives out scholarships also.” By this he meant they have good players too, and they will make plays. I guess I am just asking fans to have a little GRACE. Be a fan, support your team. Yell and scream in SUPORT of your team but keep your perspective. The sun will come up tomorrow even if your team loses. No matter how talented the players and coaches are they are also human. They will make mistakes, they will drop the ball, miss the tackle, or jump offsides. The sun will still come up tomorrow, but will you let the outcome ruin your entire week? Will you be proud of what you said to and about a player or coach on “your team”? Or will you really let the hangover ruin your life because you are locked up, charged with assault and fired from your job?

Grow up and get a life. Be a fan, don’t be a fanatic, support your team with “ardent” not “unreasoning enthusiasm”. Basically don’t be an asshole. So as you enjoy the games this Saturday remember

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Right on! Well thought through especially with your experience as a coach and very well written. Everyone should read this. Thanks for sharing!


Oct 21, 2023

What is happening in our world! So many things, I know, but the lack of respect for each other, for human life in general, has become very hard to hear about. Thanks for sharing! Great read! Very well written and thought out!

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