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Speak For Yourself, Chris Jones

Grantland: Chris Jones on fans using the word “we”

Chris Jones published on Grantland today an article regarding something my friends and I have often discussed: whether or not it’s appropriate to use the first person when referring to your favorite sports teams (or, for that matter, the second person when referring to a friend’s).  Jones’s argument seems to be that unless you derive direct economic benefit from a franchise (i.e. player/owner/employee), then you have no business (see what I did there?) using the first person.  He doesn’t really offer a philosophical proof for this definition, but relies instead on two somewhat specious arguments to support his position.

  1.  Because the fans of since-moved franchises (e.g. Seattle Sonics, Montreal Expos, Hartford Whalers) had no say in the move, and the move itself represents that the franchises aren’t an indelible part of their communities, these fans therefore weren’t a part of the franchise and so the use of “we” is inappropriate (I’ll call this the “Sorry, bro” argument)
  2. Because you wouldn’t use “we” when referring to your favorite band, book, cartoon superhero squad or whatever, you therefore shouldn’t use it to refer to a team (I’ll call this “Reductio ad apparent absurdum”)

The “Sorry, bro” argument:  I have a few problems with this one.  First of all, it assumes that people previously defined as being part of the “we”-sphere (e.g. stadium employees, minor executives, even players), must have necessarily been on board with the move.  Jones says “‘we’ would have meant being able to do something about it.”  Since Jones already defined players/employees as being categorically “we” (which we are supposed to accept prima facie, but whatever), it would follow that the players/employees would have been able to do something about it.  Since they didn’t do something about it, either they weren’t “we,” which we’ve already established they were, or they didn’t want to do something about it, which is a powerful assumption.

The second part of this argument, that moved franchises, by virtue of their having been moved, were therefore never an indelible part of the community fabric, is similarly problematic.  In order to apply this reasoning to present cases, we run into the issue of potentiality: because your franchise may move, it will necessarily be proven that the franchise wasn’t an indelible part of your community and therefore your use of “we” is off-base.  The problem I have with this is it’s like saying “because you may die, your usage of the word “alive” to describe yourself is off-base.”  Am I stretching here?  Almost assuredly, but anyway.

Reductio ad apparent absurdum: This one is a bit trickier, because on its face it makes so much sense.  After all, when you go to see a concert, you are very clearly not a part of the band.  You are not on stage, you are not singing, etc.  By using this as an argument against fans claiming the right to first-personhood when referring to their favorite teams, Jones is employing a method of argument called reductio ad absurdum: by taking a proposition (e.g. “the warmer the weather, the better”) to its absurd and logical conclusion (“1 billion degrees fahrenheit would be super awesome beach weather”), you therefore prove the falsity of the proposition.  The problem with using such a line of reasoning here is that I don’t think that bands or books and their fans’ relationship thereto are comparable to the relationship between a fan and a sports franchise.  In other words, Jones cannot rely on reductio ad absurdum to prove his argument because he hasn’t, in fact, taken the proposition of “(sports) fan = we” to its logical conclusion.

The issue here is that Jones assumes that all types of fans are created equal: that a sports fan and a book fan and a band fan and a restaurant fan share much in common, by virtue of all being called “fans.”  I would argue that this is inappropriate.  After all, a fan of Bobby Flay doesn’t wear a chef’s outfit with Flay’s name on it when he eats at Mesa Grill…and when Radiohead puts out a bad album, the Radiohead fan doesn’t spend weeks in a period of abject despondency the way Patriots fans did after Superbowl XII (he just denies that it’s a bad album and claims that detractors just “don’t get it.”  Sports fans are just a different breed: the reductio ad (apparent) absurdum just doesn’t work here.

I’d like to apply a reductio of my own, here, as it relates to Jones’ assertion that only owners/players/employees or others who derive economic benefit from a franchise are justified in using the first person plural when referring to the franchise.  I am a US taxpayer and a net benefactor vis-a-vis taxes and benefits and I am not a government employee (i.e. I derive no economic benefit from the US government).  Therefore, using Jones’ reasoning, I am not justified in using “we” when referring to the United States of America.  This is, of course, ridiculous.

I use “we” when talking about the Yankees, Giants, Rangers and Knicks.  Not because I’m delusional and think I’m literally a part of the team, nor is my command of grammar lacking.  I do it because 1) it’s convenient and 2) it makes sense.  Regarding convenience, compare these two statements (assume you, the reader, are a Cardinals fan):

Do the Giants play the Cardinals this weekend?

Do we play you this weekend?

First of all, the second sentence is more efficient, packing all the same information of the first sentence but with fewer words and syllables.  Second of all, Giants/Cardinals could be a football or a baseball game (to say nothing of whatever high school rivalries might take that form): depending on who you’re talking to, you might therefore need even more information in order to ensure your question is accurately understood.  Who has time for that?

As for it “making sense,” I’m writing this, like everything I write, in a stream-of-consciousness way and without editing/proofreading, and already dread what a circular argument this is bound to be, but think about this: home field advantage.  Tell me that the fans in those stadia don’t have an impact (actually don’t say it, because it’s not true).  Jones used “impact” himself as a measure of “we”-ness vis-a-vis sports franchises.  The absence of impact itself might not be an argument against fan “we”-ness, but its presence has to auger in favor for it.

Ok, back to work.  To my two readers: your thoughts are welcome.

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  1. Monsieur Bobo › NFL = Weekly Mediocrity on Wednesday, November 9, 2011 at 11:30 pm

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