True or false question: The fan is the most important component in sports.
Answer: It depends.
A fan of professional sports is essential for professional sports to exist. However, a fan of high school sports is not essential for high school sports to exist.
Professional sports are purely entertainment, and the industry is just that: a business. Without fans—or consumers willing to pay big bucks—pro sports is nothing. Pro sports provide sufficient entertainment value, for which consumers are willing to pay billions of dollars each year.
High school sports, on the other hand, are anything but a business. The goal of high school athletics is for the athlete to play the sport and to develop values, such as teamwork, dedication, and respect.
Fans do have a big place in high school sports, and have much more of an impact than fans of professional sports. High school sports can go a long way in boosting the collective morale of the school’s students. Additionally, a packed, cheering high school gym uplifts a player’s spirits far more than a professional's when he sees a sold-out arena.
Coaching legend Vince Lombardi once famously said, “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.” While Lombardi may have been talking about the attitude needed to win championships, the economic reality is that teams that win thrive financially. While fans enjoy watching winning teams, oftentimes they must suffer with the illegal and immoral behavior by team members. One example: the St. Louis Rams won Super Bowl XXXIV with the help of defensive end Leonard Little, despite the fact he had once killed a woman in a drunk driving accident.
Winning in high school sports is desirable and important, but it is not “the only thing.” Though a big loss to a rival may demoralize a school, the defeat will not cost the school millions of dollars in revenue. Fans generally attend high school games to have an enjoyable time at little or no cost, to support the student-athletes, and to be intimately involved in the crowd while being close to the action.
I frequently attend freshman, junior varsity, and varsity basketball games—both home and away—because I want to support my fellow students, and attending games is an enjoyable experience. The players genuinely appreciate my support and interest in the team.
I believe that students have an obligation to support their school’s athletic teams. Student-athletes typically work very hard at their sport—sacrificing a lot of time in the process—and the rest of the student body should appreciate their time and effort. Sporting events can build camaraderie among the student body. Similarly, other school events such as school plays, concerts, and exhibits should also be supported.
The relationship between the fans and the players is very different in professional sports as compared to high school sports. In professional venues, both booing and cheering is accepted. Fans pay handsomely for the right to attend games, and believe that a wide range of behavior is acceptable. The players are, after all, richly paid to help the team win. Poorly performing players can be booed.
Conversely, fans of high school teams consider booing unacceptable behavior. Student-athletes typically play sports because they enjoy the activity. Playing sports is not the student-athlete’s job. The immense effort that most high school players give should be appreciated, not frowned upon, even if they are not seeing positive results in the game.
The relationship of fans to players changes significantly depending on the venue. Fans of professional teams generally expect something in return for their money, time, and passion. Fans of high school teams support the efforts of the players, and do not consider winning to be “the only thing.”