Young is Better

James Blankenship, Editor-in-Chief

As the adrenaline rush of returning to Oberlin slowly transforms into the sad realization that we are back in Oberlin, one sliver of happiness remains for those of us seeking relief in the form of man-on-man violence: The NFL has returned. Undoubtedly, there are at least a few football players reading this who know where I’m coming from when I say I wasted countless hours of my life following the lockout this past off-season. That, coupled with the biweekly revelation that yet another school was rewarding its players’ on-field production with gold bars, prostitutes and rare Renoir paintings (see: Miami, Auburn and, alas, Ohio State), seemed enough to titillate my interest until September.

After all, no somewhat intelligent member of the Oberlin 20-somethings who watch football on a regular basis (enter snarky jock jokes) honestly expected the NFL to cut games from its schedule this fall. And yet, being the avid listener of sports radio that I am, it seemed like well over half of the callers to local and national shows featured the angry, older, tax-paying fan who takes his kids to the games and owns three Brett Favre jerseys. “There’s no way I’m coming back in the fall,” he said. “It’s like the league doesn’t even care about the fan,” he whined. “It’s millionaires arguing with billionaires!” he protested. Seriously?

The fact is that middle-aged American men have a better chance of finding their true love on eHarmony than of abandoning the NFL solely on principle.

For that reason alone, I am a proud member of this “new” generation of sports fans, probably ranging from 18 to 30ish. Not new just in terms of time spent as active followers of the American sport’s scene, but also in terms of how we understand our professional and collegiate sports. The “old” generation of sports fans (early 40s to late 50s — this isn’t an exact science, people) are kind of like an infant puppy you just bought. That is to say, he will gladly give you his undying love and loyalty if you just throw him a bone. We’re more like kittens. Sure, you give us a nice ball of string and we’ll return the favor with some cute antics and subtle purring. Give us a bath or try to kick us off the couch? We’ll remember that shit. Forever. Before I get too metaphorical here, what I’m trying to say is that it’s difficult for teams to respect fans (who, as far as they’re concerned, are only as important as their wallets) when they continue to buy season tickets, jerseys, etc.

Young fans aren’t completely exempt from this criticism, but ours is also the group less likely to pour disposable income into the NFL’s gullet. It’s pretty much out of our control until we land that sick job as Sport’s Illustrated’s swimsuit photographer and are thus raking in the big bucks. Despite endless ranting from old fogey fans this summer (capped by those who picketed outside stadiums in Seattle and Miami), the NFL lit a Cuban, calmly rested its Berluti Rapieces on the fine oak desk in front of it, and allowed a fiendish smile to creep across its face as a record 107.4 million viewers tuned in to absorb its product. Certainly some of them were young, but I’d be willing to bet that 20-somethings missed a good portion of the live action on opening Sunday (being that we’re so preoccupied with drugs, sex and Facebook). In our generation of Twitter feeds and dot coms, the “new” generation of fans doesn’t depend on live Sunday games for the filling of that football-craving void in their lives. One, two, three clicks and boom. Done.

Moreover, we aren’t as dependent on having players, or rather on having star players, stay on the same teams for most of their career. In fact, I would argue that we prefer having players switch addresses faster than Casey Anthony. We simply want our teams to win, and if they can’t win, we want them to sign T.O. or somebody loud enough to make us forget about the fact that they can’t win. How does that make us different? Look at the Indianapolis Colts right now, following an embarrassing loss to the Houston Texans. They could quite realistically finish this season with the worst record in the league. So, do they draft the sure thing in Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, even though they have Peyton Manning (and if Favre played until he was 40, Manning certainly can)? Of course.

And why? Because Luck is the “sexy” pick, the best player available, and poised to sell tickets. Yet, when the possibility of life without Manning is within shooting distance, local Indianapolis sports shows (if they haven’t been already) will field call after call about how Manning is the franchise, how he’s been loyal for over a decade, how he’s offered to take pay cuts so the team could sign better players. Tsk tsk. Don’t you get it, old fan? This is a cutthroat league for everyone lacking the title “owner.” You’re the same fan who chants for Tim Tebow as your more talented starting quarterback attempts to lead your team to victory. The NFL, along with the general managers and personnel directors its teams employ, could not care less about what decisions you want the team to make. In other words, they don’t care what you want. And why should they? The moment pro football reappeared on television this fall, you old fans began salivating like, well, a dog might for a steak. Us kittens? We’re too busy with our Kanye Wests and iPhones and cases of Keystone to be pushed over.