Do we choose a college at age 6? Decide on a career at 7? Pick our life partner at 8? Doing so would be ridiculous, right? Then why are children allowed to choose their favorite sports teams? These are decisions that often last a lifetime and have serious consequences, and yet we put these choices in the tiny hands of kids who can’t spell “heartbreak,” yet alone know its meaning.
I’m thinking about this because, on Sunday, the New York Giants will go for their second Super Bowl title in five years against the New England Patriots. Friends and coworkers are basking in Big Blue’s success, watching David Tyree’s Helmet Catch on YouTube over and over.
Meanwhile, New York Jets fans under the age of 50 haven’t watched a Super Bowl where they’ve cared about the result more than their box pool. With no outside influences, any kid in New York would surely choose the Giants over the Jets, just as they’d take the Yankees over the Mets. A portion of my life would have been a lot more satisfying had I rooted for the other New York teams. But my dad was a Mets/Jets fan, and I, too young to know any better, followed suit.
I know that many sports fans are like me: they root for the same team their mom/dad rooted for. You could argue, then, that this monumentally important decision is in the hands of parents. But what parent is going to encourage their own child to root for a different team?
It would make a lot more sense if kids just sort of surveyed the league for a few years, taking in all teams from all cities. Then, at age 13 or so, they could make an informed decision. But by then, some of their prime sports-watching years would be behind them, making this a poor solution.
My friend who gave me the idea for this story, Seth, is a Mets/Jets fan. His dad is simply a New York fan, rooting for the Mets and Yankees, Jets and Giants. Seth wishes he had done the same, or at least picked the two that have been far more successful in his lifetime. A friend of his lives in Buffalo and roots for the lowly Cleveland Indians because they had a minor league team there when he was growing up. He would have been better served going out of market for his NFL team, but chose to stick with the Bills.
I’m jealous of Giants fans, part of a select group that doesn’t feel oversaturated by the two weeks of media coverage leading up to the Super Bowl. I’ll be rooting for the G-Men on Sunday, but a win won’t stir up any real emotions, which can only come from years of following a team through the good and the bad. That is why trying to switch to a new team is fruitless.
My girlfriend’s dad gave her permission to go from a Vikings fan to a Packer backer after experiencing a game at Lambeau. Given his phrasing, tone, and delivery, he may as well said: If things have gotten too tough for you and you’d rather turn your back on your family than stick it out, feel free to do so. She stuck with Minnesota.
Kids can only hope to be born into a “stable” sports rooting family. Here in New York, the Yankees are always a good start. Cheering for Miami’s professional teams right now looks like a good idea. Cleveland’s youth are in trouble.
As for my future children? I’d like to think I’ll give them the freedom to make their own choices. But I’m sure I’ll have them wearing Mets bibs and Jets pajamas. They have the right to suffer just like I have.