The Difference between Partisans and Fans

Watching March Madness this season has reminded me once again that there is such a difference between a partisan and a fan. A partisan is someone who is a supporter of a particular team, because it is THAT team, ‘my team’. A partisan doesn’t much care about other teams, or watching basketball for the joy of the sport or its athleticism. A partisan simple likes his team, wants them to win, and gets a sort of vicarious high when they do, and an equally vicarious low when they don’t. A partisan won’t even watch the tournament if his or her team has lost and is not in it any more.

A fan by contrast loves the sport of basketball. Loves to watch any good teams play. Enjoys watching amateur or professional basketball, at least when we are talking about teams that play the game the right way or well. A fan, though he or she is partial to one or more teams, can enjoy watching great games even when their team is out of the tournament. A fan tries to evaluate fairly how good or poorly the game has been referee-ed.

A partisan by contrast simply boos when a call goes against his team. No matter whether the call is correct or not, if it’s against his team, then it must be wrong, the referees must be blind or jerks. A partisan is apt to blame the referees for a loss even when his or her team has played poorly.
A partisan is also apt to fail to cheer his own team when it is struggling, indeed is apt to boo his own team if they are not playing up to par, rather than encouraging the team when it most needs it.

A fan is normally a good sport. He or she tries to commend other fans when their teams play well and win, even if at the expense of his or her favorite team. Yes, a fan may sometimes, when deeply disappointed, not be fair in his or her comments, but a partisan is just a partisan. He sees the world through ‘my team’ colored glasses (underline the word ‘my’), and could never admit his or her team did something wrong.

A fan of course wants his team to win, but not at any cost. Not at the cost of illegal recruiting. Not at the cost of unfair advantages. Not at the cost of pay for play– which ruins amateur athletics.

A partisan however, especially when they become boosters at some favored school is prepared to cross various lines so that their team can win. A partisan hardly cares about the academic integrity of the school or its programs. It’s all about win baby win, and win big, and win championships.

While a fan is passionate about the game and about his team, it’s not the end of the world if his or her team loses a game. There will be more games. But a partisan has his own ego, his own bragging rights, his own sense of self importance and pride so bound up with his favored team that he has a hard time swallowing loss at all, and he loves to rub salt in the wounds of others who lose.

The fan realizes that obviously there are more important things in life than just winning a basketball game and if one’s life is so pathetically small and narrow and boring that only having one’s team win can lift one up or give one a sense of purpose and joy and victory in life then one has crossed the line between being a fan and being a partisan. In short the partisan needs to get a life, while the fan has a life outside of ‘my favorite team’.

The fan believes in good sportsmanship, and deep down, though it sometimes hard to admit, would rather not win at all, if it comes at too high a price, for example if it comes by cheating or having an unfair advantage.

Not so the partisan. All’s fair in sport and war as far as they are concerned and sport is just a tamer version of going to war— a living out of some combat video game. But this whole approach just cheapens the game, and makes hollow the victory. If’s you’ve won only by ‘hook or crook’ what have you really accomplished? At the end of the day, the fan knows that that is a victory that comes at too high a price— at the price of one’s own integrity and the integrity of one’s own school. I will close with a personal application.

I am a proud fan and alum of UNC Chapel Hill. I am in no way proud of what our football program degenerated into on the watch of Butch Davis. At the very least he was guilty of turning a blind eye to practices that were illegal, immoral, and inappropriate. It hurt me to see what has happened to our program, and I was glad that the sanctions were applied, because Carolina alums, with rare exception, do care about the academic integrity of their school. Contrast the ‘let’s get good and win championships fast’ approach (at most any cost) of that football program, with Carolina’s basketball program.

In my lifetime Carolina has won five basketball championships, and won them the old fashioned way by earning them. Still today over 90% of Carolina’s basketball players graduate from college. This is in contrast to many other high profile programs that even recruit one and done players who have no intention of or interest in getting a college degree, which is a farce.

There needs to be a two year rule at a minimum when it comes to who can be admitted into a college on a basketball scholarship. Then there is a real chance of someone getting serious about their college education. Players who simply aren’t college material should enter the draft out of high school or play AAU ball or the like unless and until they are NBA ready. Period.

A fan wants the best for his school, not just for its basketball program, and so he or she support rules that promote scholar athletes and academic integrity. Unfortunately, a partisan more often than not, does not. So how do you score on the partisan vs. fan meter? Are you more one than the other? Can you see the difference? If not, you need a reality check.

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