Sports and Geek Fandom: The Bizarre Double Standard

Here at Tosche Station, we mean it when we say we’ll talk about anything and everything that has to do with geek culture.

I’m a sports fan. Gridiron football, soccer, basketball (though we’re not on speaking terms until the Sonics come back to Seattle). My first love, though, was baseball. I grew up watching the Seattle Mariners and listening to Dave Niehaus* weave together a daily narrative of America’s grand pass time. Even as my enjoyment of gridiron and basketball waned and my passion for soccer rose, baseball always stayed at the top of my list. But why? Why a game that’s admittedly slow-paced, is crammed full of breaks in the action, whose popularity always seems to be waning? A simple answer, really. Baseball lends itself beautifully to geek culture.

*And to give this a bit more of a science fiction feel, one of the greatest Niehaus calls ever occurred when outfielder Ichiro Suzuki threw a ball on a line from right field to third to gun down Terrance Long. In his words, “Ichiro threw something out of Star Wars.” 

If you’re part of a fandom, there’s a good chance you (like me) enjoy overanalyzing things. Perhaps you’re a war buff and can launch into great detail about the numerous fictional battles in the Galaxy Far, Far Away. Maybe you’ve had long conversations about how Katniss Everdeen is one of literature’s best examples of a well-crafted female lead character. Let’s not forget about the numerous talking points regarding the merits of leadership: Kirk versus Picard. Much of fandom is driven by the desire to delve deeper into these franchises we love. Enjoyment for many of us is derived from studying, analyzing, and developing a strong understanding of the movies, books, shows, and comics that allow us to escape from our own realities for a little while.

Baseball has a fandom that’s remarkably similar to the ones we often talk about here on the blog. Passionate fans who study the game on their own time as a hobby. Fans who write about their feelings and insights and share them with other likeminded individuals. Flamewars between warring factions with different beliefs. Appeals to the higher authorities to try something new or to pay attention to the rumbling undercurrent of fan ideas and sentiments. MLB.com recently profiled one prolific baseball fan that helped to infuse geek culture into the game itself in such a way that over the last ten years, general managers have changed the ways that players and the game are evaluated and understood.

Despite the fact there’s so much in common between these camps, there’s one thing that separates sports fans and geek culture fans: what society regards as being acceptable. You do have to acknowledge that more traditional geeks have an uphill battle. Society tends to be far more accepting of sports fanatics, whereas you’ll still get sideways glances if word slips that you attend conventions. Or, worse, have the audacity to dress up for said conventions.

That’s something that has always confused Ashley Eckstein, voice actor on the incredibly popular The Clone Wars television series. Oh, and she’s married to former LA Angels player David Eckstein. In her words to CNN’s Geekout Blog

Almost every time I tell someone outside of my geeky world about the fact that I go to sci-fi conventions, I am usually met with a rude comment similar to, “Do you see a lot of freaks dressed up in costumes?”

Excuse me!? Why is this freaky? Why is it weird? I cannot even begin to tell you all of the creative ways I’ve seen sports fans dress up at games. I’ve seen guys who body paint their bare chests with their favorite team’s colors, people dressed up as their team’s mascot, lots of face paint, temporary tattoos, crazy hats, wild color-coordinating outfits. Some fans practically look like clowns the way they are decked out head to toe in support of their favorite team.

So I ask – Please tell me how this is any different than a sci-fi fan showing up at a convention in costume.

Is it really that different? Eighty dollars for some tickets to a three day event with fanatics, dressing up in costume, sitting beside my friends and talking about the finer details of the fandom and analyzing every little component that goes into it while the entertainment takes place on the stage in front of us. No, it’s not a trip to the Atlanta Marriott for Dragon*Con I’m talking about, it’s a three-day series watching the Seattle Mariners play at Safeco Field.

What’s the difference when I go to a convention in a Rebel pilot jumpsuit and when I go to a Seattle Mariners game in a Dustin Ackley jersey? What’s the difference when I sit down to write a 2,500 word review of a series of Star Wars novels and when I read a 2,500 word article about why Miguel Olivo is the worst starting catcher in Major League Baseball?* Nothing, apart from what is deemed normal by society at large. If that kind of behavior is freakish, so is going to a gridiron game decked out in a jersey, helmet, and facepaint.

*Entering today’s game, Miguel Olivo has a .353 OPS, an .048 isolated power score, a .157 weighted on-base average, and -5 weighted runs created. He’s awful! And look at those geeky statistics. This is the stuff I argue about at a game. See? Geeky behavior.  

It’s a bizarre double standard. Why geeking out over fictional characters and stories is considered juvenile while doing the same thing over a game where the goal is to bludgeon a small white ball to death with a wooden bat is considered acceptable will always confuse me. It’s all escapism. It resonates with us on some sort of emotional, indescribable level. It’s fun, it’s exciting, and it’s all worth celebrating.

Isn’t that right, Boba Fett?

Image via the Seattle PI 

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7 Responses to Sports and Geek Fandom: The Bizarre Double Standard

  1. Ryorin says:

    Very well said. This goes to show how incredibly arbitrary the social preference of sports mania over "geeky" things is. Why are you allowed to be super enthusiastic about sports, but nothing else?

    Oh, hey, it just hit me: could Fantasy Football and the like be considered sports fan fiction?

  2. Nanci says:

    When it comes back, everyone needs to listen to the FSL Tonight podcast.

  3. Emily says:

    The Reds are still the best.

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