Football season is approaching and I have a confession to make. I am an Alabama fan/graduate and I do not hate Auburn. Or Tennessee. Yep, you read that right. I actually do not hate any team. Before you make any assumptions about me, let me assure you that I do indeed understand rivalry and I do love sports. I was born in North Carolina and my dad graduated from UNC, Chapel Hill. So, I learned what a rivalry was early in life when I saw the Tarheels play the Duke Blue Devils. I went to Vestavia Hills High School during Hoover’s “Two A Days” Era, so I lived the cross-town rivalry story. I have loved sports all my life. When I was in second grade I could recite the Atlanta Braves’ starting lineup along with each player’s stats. In college I could tell you how many yards per game Mark Ingram averaged, how many catches Julio Jones had in a particular season, and exactly where I was in Bryant Denny Stadium when Terrance Cody blocked Tennessee’s field goal to win the 2009 game. And I still know what a screen pass is and exactly what holding looks like. I know that rivalry is real in the sports world, but the bitterness that comes with it makes my stomach churn.
“What’s an Auburn?”
When my family moved to Birmingham, I was twelve years old. I loved sports but we came from North Carolina where basketball rules. So, the first time I was asked, “Do you go for Alabama or Auburn?” I responded with, “What’s an Auburn?”. I’m pretty sure that kid never spoke to me again. After that, I started answering with, “I like North Carolina” and, let me tell you, that did not go over well either! I literally felt like, if I did not choose a side, I would never make any friends. Perhaps, this was the beginning of my true life as an introvert . . . I could not understand why my team of choice should have such a great impact on who I could (or could not) be friends with. But, there truly were kids who did not want to spend time with me if we did not pull for the same team. Why do we do this to our children? Because, make no mistake, we ARE the ones who put these ideas in their heads. Every time we make a comment about “that other team’s” fans, we are telling our children how they should view their peers. Don’t believe me? Maybe you should talk to the ten year old who informed me that I “must be stupid” because I went to Alabama. I wonder where he could have possibly learned that?
Keep the Rivalry, Lose the Bitter
I am sure that by now, no matter which team you pull for, you are ready to write me off completely. But, please, give me a little more of your time. I do believe there is a place for rivalry in sports. I think that healthy competition is a good thing. I think extra motivation for players is great! But, there is a way we can handle it as fans (and parents) that will have a more positive influence on our children.
- Go big for your team! I love seeing people go all-out cheering for their team. Dress up, cheer,
wave your shaker, sing the fight song! These are the aspects of being a fan that I love. Build your team up! And, guess what? You don’t have to tear down another team to do so.
- Be a good sport. When you win, be respectful, and when you lose, accept it and move on. Is it okay to want to win? Of course! But, no one can win every game, and it is important that our children understand that. I love seeing players in post-game press conferences respond to a loss with, “Congratulations to ______. We did not play our best and they were the better team today. They deserved to win.” I think that shows maturity (and perspective). Our kiddos need to know that, win or lose, they should respect their opponent. Sidenote: When you blame a loss on officiating, coaching, or cheating speculations, you are teaching your children to do the same when they lose a game.
- Avoid generalizations (please, please please, I beg you). If I had a nickel for every time I have heard, “I thought you wanted to get an education” when I tell people where I went to college, I would be a very rich woman! I actually chose The University of Alabama purely for academic reasons, so this comment always stings. I have also heard, “Did you go there to be a missionary?” “I didn’t think you were a drinker.” And, the one that really got my blood boiling, “This is what a Bible looks like, in case you didn’t see one while you were there.” Seriously?! If one of my children EVER says something like this to one of their peers, their ears will go numb from the lecture they receive. I will be the first to admit that there are some super obnoxious Alabama fans out there. But I have also encountered equally obnoxious fans from Auburn, Florida, Tennessee, Vanderbilt (yes, Vanderbilt), and — oh wait, I don’t have enough space to list the other 124 schools in the FBS.
- Don’t force your team on your children. Absolutely include your children when you are enjoying a game! But, do not become so invested in your child’s fandom that you become devastated when they do not choose your team. This is especially important if you and your spouse do not pull for the same team (speaking as a survivor of Clemson vs. Alabama for the last three years in a row!). I love musicals, but I have no intention of forcing that love on my children. Likewise, I will not force the Tide upon them.
I have always disliked the negative aspects of sports rivalries, but I am much more aware of my attitude now that I have little people watching my every move. My desire is for sports to be something fun we enjoy as a family, not a point of division or bitterness. So, if your team loses on rivalry weekend, do what I do: enjoy a leftover turkey sandwich and make a list of things to buy on Cyber Monday!