Suzanne Tobias

February 26, 2014

Suzanne Perez Tobias: New fans vs. ‘true fans’: Shockers can use both

Everybody loves a winner.

Everybody loves a winner.

What they don’t love so much, judging from some recent comments about Wichita State’s successful basketball season and the horde of new fans it has spawned, is low-down rotten bandwagon jumpers who cheer for teams only when they’re winning.

There’s a fine but well-established line, I’m told, between “true fans” and posers, between those who have “paid their dues” and those who wear 2013 Final Four T-shirts but couldn’t name three players on this year’s team.

(Quick side note: Is there really anyone left in Wichita who can’t name three Shocker basketball players? Seems unlikely. They’re everywhere.)

So I posed the question on Twitter recently not to pick a fight but because I really wanted to understand: Why do some fans loathe bandwagon jumpers so much? Exactly how and when should fandom begin?

First, a bit of history: The phrase “jump on the bandwagon” has its roots in the South. In the late 18th century, traveling bands would play in front of political rallies, often attracting a crowd. While the musicians had the crowd’s attention, politicians or religious leaders would sometimes jump on top of the band’s wagon, interrupting the music, and deliver a speech to the attentive crowd.

Now the phrase refers to people who hitch themselves to any successful venture, usually uninvited. In the sports world, it’s a person who doesn’t support or cheer for a team until that team is well on its way to championship glory.

Which brings us to the Shockers and their fans, old and new, for whom this season has become a powerful source of community pride. Folks are buying shirts, waving flags and jumping on the black-and-yellow bandwagon left and right, and who can blame them?

“Every team will have bandwagon fans when they win,” said my colleague Josh. “That’s the deal.”

He jumped on the Detroit Tigers bandwagon on April 7, 1984, he recalls, the day Jack Morris pitched a no-hitter against the Chicago White Sox and launched a season that culminated with a World Series title. He remains a Tigers fan. (So don’t talk to him about last year’s loss to Boston.)

I jumped on the North Carolina State bandwagon in 1983. My two older brothers went to college there, but I only started following basketball during the team’s astounding national championship run. I eventually earned my degree from the school and have remained a fan despite many more depressing seasons, so I guess you could say I paid tuition and dues.

My son, Jack, is a Patriots fan. Why? Because he likes Tom Brady and teams that win, and for most of his childhood, they have. (My daughter doesn’t follow sports but appreciates Super Bowls for the tasty appetizers.)

Most of us jump on bandwagons. Do you recall watching Michael Phelps compete anywhere other than the Olympics? Do you often tune in for competitive skiing, speed skating, bobsled or curling? And do you follow those medal winners after the Olympic flame is extinguished? Likely not.

“I don’t have a problem with jumping on in good times,” said my friend Dan on Twitter. “It’s when they then jump off in bad times that gets me.”

That could be the case. Perhaps the true measure of a fan is sticking around for losing seasons as well as perfect ones. Maybe you’re not a true fan unless you can name third-string players, recite the schedule or properly pronounce Tekele Cotton. (It’s tuh-KALE.)

But why begrudge new Shocker fans – in Kansas or elsewhere – from embracing the magic and joining the party, however long it lasts? There’s plenty of room on the bandwagon. Hop aboard.

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