Justin Pierce Baldwin Gerald: I live my life in a state of bemused annoyance. Sometimes, mostly on the weekends, the irritation subsides, and I experience fleeting moments of unadulterated joy. At other times, the humor that keeps me afloat is overrun by pet peeves, and my measured displeasure becomes a pointed resentment. What has boiled my blood for the past several weeks has been this nauseating wave of football-fueled, rah-rah school spirit. My esteemed colleague, on the other hand, seems to have been energized by this shift in energy. I understand that I am perhaps arguing from the position of a small minority, but this issue has become very dear to my heart, and I feel the need to attack it.
Akil Alleyne: Bring it on.
JPBG: Let us begin with the matter of fandom. As a supporter of a couple professional teams, I am quite emotionally connected to their ups and downs because my love for the organizations has grown over the years. Before I came here, I considered generally supporting the Princeton teams (and I am slightly happier when they win than when they lose), and I was, many moons ago, a member of the Jadwin Jungle, the largest fan club on campus. And yet the idea that we should all become passionate about a group of players just because they wear the orange and black has always been fairly silly to me. This rise in enthusiasm that has coincided with the team’s success is the epitome of front running, similar to loving the Bulls for a few years when Jordan was on top of his game.
AK: Ironic, since I’ve never been a follower of any sport and only a supporter of certain teams on very rare special occasions. My colleague is right to denounce fair-weather fans, and not being even a fan of football in general, let alone traditionally a fan of the Princeton Tigers in particular, I freely admit to being one myself. At least up until now. But his objection to students’ supporting a team simply because it plays on behalf of their school is uncompelling. It’s common practice for people to support an athletic team that represents their home piece, be it their school, their city, their state or their country. I’m no hockey fan, but if the Montreal Canadiens ever regain the old magic with which they once dominated the ice, be sure I’ll be out there cheering – the same way I cheered Trinidad and Tobago’s Soca Warriors in last summer’s soccer World Cup.
Justin’s opposition to this strikes me as rather petulant. Why not celebrate and take pride in the accomplishments of people who come from where you come from? I could understand a greater deal of skepticism in the case of pro sports teams, many of whose players don’t actually come from the cities or states on whose behalf they play. Every Princeton Tiger, however, goes to Princeton, and if they can accomplish what they did against those Yale punks earlier this month, I am proud of them, because they are my classmates. They come from one of the groups I identify with as part of my background, and – like at least 99% of the human race – I take pride in the achievements of people with whom I have much in common. That’s why I cheer for my Tigers, and I make no apologies for it.
JPBG: I see and freely acknowledge Akil’s point that most of, say, the Yankees are not from Manhattan, as I am, and that I most certainly have less in common with their players than I do with the Tigers that play for us. As a matter of fact, I do hope that my particular friends on the team do well. But it’s not just Princeton football that goes uncheered in the Gerald household, there are other things as well. I pay zero attention to the fate of the United States in international competitions, be they soccer, basketball, or winter sports, and, no matter how well they do, I never support the Giants or the Jets over another team simply because of the city that raised me. Maybe my particular distaste for this recent enthusiasm is due to the mix of boredom and hatred that I have for the sport of football, or maybe it’s because I’m reluctant to support a school, and a population, that I, for the most part, hate so very deeply. I’m having trouble separating the two, but I know that they both factor into the equation.
AK: Well, it seems I forgot to read the memo. I thought we were here to dispute the validity of cheering the Princeton Tigers’ recent football success, fundamentally. But Justin’s last point simply states that he, as an individual, never supports the teams representing his country or his home city for its own sake, and thus feels no need to support his school’s team in the same vein. My man should give the rest of us a reason to share his approach to the matter. It seems most of us Princetonians are, to varying extents, into school spirit when it comes to sports, while my esteemed colleague has no use for it. Perhaps he could explain just what makes his distaste for athletic school spirit legitimate and our taste for it not so?
JPBG: All right. I’ll focus. You know why I think it’s not legitimate? Because, aside from the certain amount of people who genuinely enjoy the sport of football and have always been excited by the team’s ups and downs, the majority of the people who have recently expressed undying excitement are not authentic in their desires. The reason I mentioned my long-nurtured fandom of a couple professional sports franchises is because I will, barring some unforeseen catastrophe, continue to cheer for them until my mind stops working, whether I have the opportunity to attend the games or not. Since the days in the fall of 2003 when I was first convinced to walk across the campus on several Saturdays, it has seemed to me that people really only congregate around these football games as an excuse to engage in extremely silly behavior, whether it’s chanting simple mantras until the noise fades or tailgating in sundresses. Maybe, after a long miserable week spent in class, we long to detach our brains and emulate the actions of the (literally) colorful youths painted their team colors and screaming at the ESPN cameras. In my head, the way I look at the world, it takes decades of love, success and heartache to foster emotion deep enough to cause me to act the way so many do when cheering for our football team.
AK: “The majority of the people who have recently expressed undying excitement are not authentic in their desires.” Hmmm. To which “desires” is Justin referring exactly? The desire to merely cheer on a particular legion of helmeted jocks? If so, and if this desire is the only thing that drives Princeton’s boorish football fans, then he’s right; given Princetonians’ lackadaisical support of our football team up to this point, it seems most of us are late arrivals at this party. But I don’t think this is the desire our fans are really expressing. I think their cheering for Princeton represents something bigger: the desire to support their school whenever it distinguishes itself in any field of endeavor. The bottom line is that we love our school and are proud and glad to see it do well. I think the fact that the fans haven’t been consistent in their backing of the Tigers over time is in itself proof of this. Such fair-weather fandom does make for poor athleticism—but I think it makes for acceptable school spirit. Who knows, this could actually prove the catalyst for more dedicated support of the Tigers in years to come.
Lastly, Justin admitted earlier that he for the most part deeply hates the school he goes to and the student body he shares it with, and that this may be the root cause of his disdain for cheering the Tigers. This is unfortunate, for it is completely irrelevant to people like me, who, for all the shit we’ve been through in the Orange Bubble, still deeply love this school and what it stands for—and yes, even the douchebags we go to school with.
JPBG: I’ll amend my earlier statement and say that, much as I may detest the vast majority of the people and the activities on this campus, I do value my three-plus years here more than any other period of my life, since they have helped turn me into the bemused, annoyed (yet altogether happier) person I am today. Perhaps my many scars have turned me into a spiritless Scrooge. For everyone who has genuinely enjoyed the success of our team over the past few months, I’m glad for you, and I hope you continue to do so for your own sake. But if tailgating in sundresses or bright pink shorts is your greatest pleasure on a Saturday afternoon or evening, do us all a favor, and go to hell.
I thank Akil for this spirited discussion, and I look forward to another one at some point soon.
AK: Perhaps sooner than you think…I have a bone to pick with certain trendy interpretations of a certain boorish Kazakh we all know and love…