Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

KPBS Commentaries

Why We Root for the Home Team

The San Diego Chargers just followed up their best regular season in team history by bombing out in the NFL playoffs. Their loss to New England was a body blow to local fans. And it underlines the strange fact of sports in our lives. We invest so much ego and emotion in something we have virtually no power to influence a home teams performance.

I grew up playing and watching sports. Living in the rural Midwest, my spirits would soar and then plummet with each win or loss by the Iowa Hawkeyes. Kids from corn country suffer a certain inferiority complex, thanks to the snobbishness of the coasts. An Iowa win made me feel more significant, while a loss felt like fodder for ridicule.

With time, I learned how foolish I was to believe my favorite teams ups and downs cast some reflection on me. As I followed pro sports, I learned that the athletes and their coaches were mercenaries, moving from team to team in search of the biggest paycheck. Baseball Hall of Famer and former Padre, Tony Gwynn, was as exceptional for his loyalty to one team and one city as he was for his uncanny hitting ability.

The late great columnist Mike Royko, a Cubs fan, once suggested that we should cheer for the city, not for their avaricious sports teams. Ironically (for me), he mentioned this while writing about the 1984 World Series between the Detroit Tigers and the San Diego Padres. Royko said he favored the Tigers because Detroit was a town full of salt-of-the-earth, sausage-eating working folk while San Diego was a shallow suburban morass more like Disneyland than a real city. (People who know their baseball history understand that Cubs fans had other reasons for hating San Diego that year.)

But despite what Ive said, I actually find myself becoming more wrapped up in sports in recent years. I feel my emotions rising or sagging based on the fortunes of the Chargers and the Padres. Even though I now live on one of those snooty seacoasts, I manage to cast my home team as the underdog as a team somehow more worthy of victory than the other guys.

Objective studies show that a city has little to gain, financially, by hosting big league sports. But emotionally, sports are a treasure trove. We love the highs they bring us when they win, and in a way I think we also love the lows. Win or lose, our passion for the team makes us feel more human, and it makes our city feel more like a community.

Unfortunately, money does rear its ugly head. In San Diego County we now have to put aside our emotions and give sober consideration to whether the Chargers deserve some civic subsidy so they can build a new stadium. I remember living in Minnesota when the Twins were begging for a new baseball stadium and, of course, threatening to leave town if they didnt get one. A very clever bumper sticker at the time said: Go Twins! And take the Vikings with you!!

Funny? Yes. But that bumper sticker doesnt tell the whole truth about pro sports. Im the first to say that cities need to hold professional teams to the fire to recognize their greed and their willingness to play communities against each other to get the best deal. If teams make unreasonable demands, we have to be willing to cut them loose. But of all the lows the Chargers have brought us over the years, I think that seeing the team pack up and leave would be the lowest of them all.

Don Billings
January 16, 2007 at 11:49 PM
When Dean Spanos' corporate enterprise, the "Chargers", is on a winning streak, we all know that we'd better watch our wallets, because the emotions you write about push aside the common sense of the voter. He knows that his chances of successfully picking the taxpayers' pockets are directly proportional to the number of times one of his overpaid employees gets a ball over a chalk line. I suppose that this kind of professional entertainment, like circuses of the past, is harmless if it helps people feel connected. But it becomes harmful when the working people of the city or county get stuck with the bill for the greed of the players, their agents, the corporate parents, and assorted hangers-on. Don't get Fabianied. Let those who enjoy this type of entertainment pay for it, but don't tax the rest of us to subsidize outrageous pay packages and corporate profits. I am quite sure that, if we all just take a pledge to not cave in to greedy corporations like the Chargers, and let it be self-sustaining, it will thrive for many years to come. I expect that Spanos and the Sports Oligarchs can still enjoy excellent monopoly profits on their own, and the players can live just fine on $2 million a year instead of $2.5 million. I know I could. -----

Richard Milhaus Narlian
January 17, 2007 at 01:11 AM
This is an issue that has its ying's and its yangs. I really have never heard of Don Billings prior to today.And,I doubt that if Elliott Smithers(or whomever)in Debuke has as well. But,I am reasonably sure that if Elliott heard of the Chargers/Padres,he would immediately associate those words wit hour city. And,if Elliott has ever seen the broadcast booth(barely big enough to hold broadcasters,but football generally requires 3)in the SD Stadium,Murph,Qualcom and whoever is next,he would be ashamed of SD. That and San Diego's lack of foresight re:freeway planning,mass transit,power grids,schools,fire departments..... San Diego has been beckoning the tourist dollars as far as I remeber(since 1963-a resident here). Don't they expect SOME of these visitors to return as residents?Where will these newbies shop?drive?get educated?......... Wjy does San Diego settle for 1 airport?LA has 4,the Bay area has 4,and we have 1? If the SD Convention& tourist bureau,and taxpayers care not to pay for their returns.........I give up.

Bill M
January 17, 2007 at 01:46 AM
Watching the Chargers lose as a result of silly misplays and mistakes brought to mind the psychological term "self-fulfilling prophesy". A day didn't go by prior to the playoff game that I read or heard in the press how Marty Schottenheimer can never coach a team all the way to the Super Bowl in spite of his excellent win/loss record. It's kind of like telling a kid how stupid he is and then expecting him to get straight A's?

Greg Duch
January 18, 2007 at 12:54 AM
We all need to identify with something greater than ourselves; to become part of a larger whole. We all need a means to escape the toils, cares, daily stress, and monotony of life. We all need role models and icons to emulate. We all need to fill these needs in a wholesome manner. We all need to get away from the wife once in a while. That's why there's football. fr: Greg

Greg Duch
January 20, 2007 at 10:39 PM
Our Chargers are now on winter sabbatical. I'm NOT ENTIRELY sure; but isn't the first exhibition game of next season not until late July or early August of this calendar year? Are there any other municipally revenue-enhancing events scheduled during the interim SIX MONTHS OF EMPTINESS? I think it is aesthetically delightful from a visual perspective; I pass by it everyday. The SIX-NON-FOOTBALL months of the year (or, STATED DIFFERENTLY: the other 349 NON-FOOTBALL-GAME DAYS OF THE YEAR) plausibly could offer that number of opportunities to schedule non-Charger events at the "Q". Might THE Q's central location, size, and aesthetics be employed for the fiscal enhancement of the City of San Diego's General Fund MORE THAN IS NOW THE APPARENT CASE? Still,-- just the visual site of the empty "Q', as remains supine in its winter hibernation, sends chills of civic pride up my spine. Greg