This is Football season. From the NFL to high school sports, the culture of community happenings closely mingles with the spirit of game days. Friends know all too well that Derek and Ashley Jager are huge Michigan State fans who make it up to the Mitten State whenever possible to follow the team in Spartan Stadium. What might seem like an obsession is more of a growing passion encompassing our loyalties to MSU. We belong to a network of fans who come together to share in the experiences of celebrating victories and enduring losses. This is but one fan’s perspective on how becoming a Spartan has re-framed my mindset on the purpose of sports fandom.
I am a late bloomer to the sports world. While I haphazardly dabbled in a season or two in T-Ball, Soccer, and Junior High Track, nothing was more than just a participatory role for a social outlet. For most of my life I studied dance, training for performances at annual recitals. Dance was a major priority that defined my initial desire for health, fitness, creative expression, and technical mastery. I learned these valuable life lessons from my dance family yet neglected any serious pursuit in sports. Retrospectively, I had a sour attitude towards supporting my brothers’ teams and attempting spirit for my high school’s sports seasons. I felt like I had no connection to my Dad’s love of golf or Ohio State with all of his brothers who lavished in the play-by-plays of lengthy football games. For years, I labeled myself as the girl who wasn’t good enough for sports and distanced myself from these experiences that I secretly craved to belong to.
This feeling continued until about a year after college when my future husband convinced me to find a balance in life from my first year of teaching art by running together after work. What started as the accomplishment of completing my first 5K race, lit a spark to rediscover a desire for athletic fitness through running and subsequently, a new sense of team pride through Derek’s love of Michigan State.
I had never been to a football game before Derek took me to a Spartan game. In my beginning years of fandom, it was hard to stay focused on what was happening in the game. Derek patiently taught me the game and what the calls meant so that when it became third or fourth down, I felt the pressure for Michigan State to gain the distance. With each game came greater understanding and continuity as I learned to love the culture of Michigan State football and basketball seasons in the five years we have been together.
I realized that choosing a team or sport to follow is much more than a hobby or interest. It becomes such an important part of your life that it is part of your identity, community, and pride. Whether the team is doing well or desperately behind, we always cheer for them to keep fighting until the last second. There have been a couple of cold games when the crowd started leaving early because it seemed impossible to win and we stuck it out to see them claw their way to the end.
The magnitude of loyalty grows the longer we are connected to the fan base so that we are hopelessly devoted to cheering on the players by name and chanting the MSU Fight Song. The adrenaline of cheering on the game brings out a joyous, wild roar when we finally score a TOUCHDOWN! This primitive nature of pure competition is similar to riding a roller coaster or being swept into the atmospheric bliss of a rock concert. We become giddy with glee when we get to meet the celebrities that fan the flame of Spartan pride.
My entry into the world of Spartan fandom has led to more appreciation of the game day culture in all sports. It’s about standing up for the underdog and sticking it out with the players who will never give up. We cheer together as one for the team to unite and conquer everything they can with what they have. Being a sports fan is also about understanding different sports and supporting teams on all levels from the Michigan State stadium to the local high school gym, respecting the athletes who are all heart in the game.
An athlete goes beyond what they are capable of achieving to continually strive for greatness. Whether the competition is football, basketball, pickleball, swimming, gymnastics, hockey, volleyball, or golf, athletes are held to a higher standard to reach higher than they ever have before and perform their best. There is more character and skin in the game to support each other in these pursuits than simply branding ourselves under the same logo. Now that I’ve experienced a taste of what it is like to train my mind and body for long distance running, I have deep respect and pride as a fan for all athletes who come prepared on game day to win.