Rooting for a San Diego Chargers Loss, Part 1: "Fans"

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODA

Part 1 in a 3 part series making the case that it's okay for Chargers fans to root against the San Diego Chargers, sometimes.

If or when the Miami Dolphins defeat the E.J. Manuel-less Buffalo Bills early Sunday morning, the San Diego Chargers will be eliminated from playoff (and, therefore, Super Bowl) contention before their own game kicks off. It's sad to see the season reach its conclusion without even a chance of achieving the ultimate goal, a Super Bowl title, but that may be reality before the clock strikes one this Sunday.

Rather than look back (again) and point out the reasons the Chargers are where they are - hoping and praying for four games outside their control to all break their way - I want to instead focus on an often-broached, never thoroughly analyzed, heated topic: rooting for your team to lose.

I bring this up because should the Miami Dolphins defeat the Buffalo Bills in the morning, and the Chargers Super Bowl odds reduce to exactly 0% in the 2013/14 season, I will be rooting for the Chargers to lose.

I imagine there are many of you reading this who will follow suit and also many of you disgusted that a self-described die-hard would consider rooting against his favorite football team. If you're a member of the latter, I'm not aiming to get you to join the former; I just hope this article allows you to appreciate the merits of the former.

A subject this perverse and complex requires a lengthy article in order to properly develop the thought that goes into rooting against your favorite team. So I've got three of them for you: the first is an examination of the term "fan" and a rebuttal of several anti-tanking arguments; the second examines what the Chargers have to gain in the NFL Draft through losing; and the third examines how the Chargers can tastefully lose (ie. "protect Philip").

"Fans"

Different people watch sports and root for teams for different reasons. This is a given, and is a pretty central axiom for the rest of the article. Aside from simply watching to see their team win, people watch sports and root in order to be entertained; to enjoy the athletic spectacle; to be inspired to achieve excellence and/or their own dreams; to serve as a healthy alternative to other damaging or counterproductive behaviors; and, for some, to serve as a welcome distraction from life's problems.

But instead of recognizing this reality, and examining each individual's motives before heaping sweeping, damning conclusions, I constantly see certain segments of fans telling other segments they're a bad fan if they root for their team to lose in an individual game.

This leads me to the main difference between fans who are rooting for a loss versus those rooting for a victory...

Individual games versus Super Bowl aspirations

Those who believe someone is an awful Chargers fan for rooting against the Chargers in an individual game with no direct Super Bowl implications are missing the entire point: some fans define success not through the winning or losing of one individual game, but through the improved chance at winning the Super Bowl.

If you define your fandom, as I do, to be entirely consumed with rooting for the Chargers to win the Super Bowl, then it is a lapse in logic to assume that it would require you to root for the team to win each individual game. That's because winning individual games is not always congruous with what is best for the long-term Super Bowl odds of the team.

While it appears counter-intuitive (and false for at least 75% of a team's games), there are certainly times in which winning an individual game means forfeiting some non-negligible portion of future Super Bowl aspirations, through lost future draft value, among other reasons.

Therefore, if you define your fandom as I do - rooting for your favorite team to win the Super Bowl - then you should root for your favorite team to lose a small percentage of individual games: these "meaningless" ones.

This is the critical difference between the two camps: one side weighs Super Bowl odds over all else, while the other simply roots for wins. I'm sure this is a spectrum - some fans who couldn't root for a rival, for instance, to beat the Chargers, but otherwise agree - but the issue is only really between the fans on either extreme.

My definition of "fan"

All this begs the question: how do you define "good Chargers fan" in general?

My working definition of "good Chargers fan" is as follows: a person consistently rooting for some particular positive outcome out of and for the Chargers football team.

If you're rooting for the Chargers to win this week because that particular positive outcome is "positively representing the city of San Diego" or "winning against the rival", then great: you are a good fan. If you're rooting for the Chargers to lose this Sunday (should Miami win at 10) because that particular positive outcome is "the Chargers increase their odds of winning in future seasons", then great: you are a good fan.

We shouldn't have to scream at one another over semantics when we're all on the same proverbial team, albeit with slightly different views. Likewise, we'd do well to give the term "Chargers fan" the broad definition above and promote unity of the fan base.

A response to the naysayers

For whatever reason, this topic tends to bring out the worst in fans, and it isn't irregular to see fans of the same team hurling profanity at one another while questioning one another's fandom, as I eluded to above. At the risk of opening this can of worms upon myself, I'm going to provide a response to the most common arguments against rooting for constructive losing.

Dismissing the morality argument

With the rare exception of those using sports solely as a resource to teach lessons - camaraderie, teamwork, resilience, etc. - to youth, the moral argument is entirely out-of-place when it comes to the NFL.

Let me make sure I get the argument straight: it's not morally acceptable to root against a team that was assigned to me in an arbitrary fashion (through geographic proximity or historical familial geographic proximity or "cool" team logo), but it is moral to blindly root for a collection of players that may include a murderer, rapist, burglar, drug dealer, and so on? Something's amiss there.

Want more examples of immoral acts by players that you've rooted for? Just check out the UT's arrest database for NFL players. DUIs, possession of narcotics, false imprisonment, battery, public urination, spousal abuse, distributing narcotics, kidnapping and burglary, obstruction, and assault all grace the archive for just the Chargers. Hell, the Chargers currently have a guy on their roster who (probably) falsified having a deceased girlfriend to bolster his image as an altruist, and lied about it on at least sixteen public occasions.

All this in a game constructed on organized soft violence - violence which results in debilitating injuries, like brain damage, that have directly contributed to ex-players taking their own lives or living through pain:
"I’m 40 years old going on 65. God knows what I’ll feel like when I’m actually 65 years old." - former Chargers offensive tackle, Roman Oben
Turning the choice to root against your favorite team in one individual game into a question of morality - ie. that you're a bad fan or a traitor for doing so - in a sport so deeply entrenched in other objectively immoral acts and people is not unlike a politician telling you to reduce your carbon footprint by walking more as he drives off in one of his two Audis, his two Jaguars, his Range Rover, or his Aston Martin.

In other words: get real. This isn't a moral issue, nor will it ever be. And even if it was, the proper course of action would be closer to "stop watching" than anything else.

Dismissing the 'Defeatists'

The second loudest group of people beseeching fans rooting against their own team are what I collectively call the "Defeatists". This group consists of people who consider the championship to be an unreasonable goal from the onset, and that reality would suggest you simply accept that your team will lose a lot. Knowing this, you should just be grateful they win from time-to-time. From a recent Deadspin article on 'Fantanking':
The Super Bowl cannot be the only goal of a fan. You will drive yourself out of your mind if that's all you care about because most teams don't win the thing.
The problem with this argument is that it's simply untrue. Yes, by definition, in each individual season only one team wins the Super Bowl. But to insinuate that most teams don't win the thing in general is implying something that is untrue.

In the history of the NFL, 18 of the current 32 franchises have indeed won a Super Bowl title. Of the teams with Super Bowl appearances but no victories, the Bills, Titans, Panthers, Seahawks, and Cardinals were all one play away from a title. Only four teams have no Super Bowl appearances whatsoever, while two of those are new franchises: Houston and Jacksonville.

In other words: most teams do win the thing and all of them have a non-zero chance of doing so anyway.

Mainly, though, the "Defeatist" argument suffers from a lack of viewing the other side of the coin. From the same article as above:
We are trained, as Americans, to only want first place or a title, and to think that everything else is shit. But keeping to that makes the fan experience even more miserable than it already is. There has to be some pleasure in week-to-week victories, even if they don't propel you to the ultimate goal.
This of course conveniently leaves out the reality that the other crowd - those rooting for the loss - are finding pleasure in some week-to-week losses. In other words, it isn't the case that these fans are reducing the number of times they are pleased by their team; it just switches the pleasure flag from "win" to "loss" for some late season games. And if your team is eliminated from the playoffs, isn't it more likely they're going to lose anyway? It may actually be true that rooting for the loss adds pleasure in comparison to the other alternative.

I also don't happen to have a problem with anyone wanting or demanding nothing but the best. Complacency doesn't really accomplish anything except an artificial piece-of-mind. This is kinda like telling me I should be happy with last night's Mega Millions draw because, even though I didn't match a single number, at least I can still use the ticket to wrap up my used chewing gum...except the Mega Millions draw that is the Super Bowl has a 1/32 chance of success. Now how do you enjoy that glorified gum wrapper?

And finally, by being Donald/Debbie Downer from the get-go (for reasons unrelated to the quality of the team), you may convince some fans to give up their Super Bowl aspirations altogether...which could damper their enthusiasm when in fact they do win it.

Just let us have our fun without titling an article "*Expletive* your method of fandom" and manufacturing reasons for us to be depressed about the realities of rooting for sports teams.

Part 1: Conclusion

Look, I don't like the fact that the Chargers failing to win would mean the Chargers lose to the Raiders. From a rivalry standpoint, that sucks. And it especially sucks since it would mean the Raiders swept the Chargers in 2013.

That said, I don't root against the Raiders because I have to root against the Raiders; I don't root against the Raiders because they've played against the Chargers many times in the past; I don't root against the Raiders because I have a personal vendetta against the city of Oakland or its people; and I don't root against the Raiders because their image isn't necessarily one I'd want to teach my (hopefully future) children. I root against the Raiders because where they're located within the NFL - the AFC West - makes them an obstacle in the way of my favorite football team, the San Diego Chargers, winning a Super Bowl.

But, should the Dolphins win Sunday morning, the Raiders no longer don't stand in the way of the Chargers' Super Bowl aspirations this season. For some of us, that's the only green light we need before beginning to root for the Chargers to reach the next Super Bowl.
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