When I was young, I hated football. Not just, oh, that game sucks, but a burning, passionate hatred, even extending to not liking anyone who liked football.

Now, I find myself quite enjoying the rhythm and pageantry of the NFL season (especially since the NHL lockout precluded hockey as a distraction last year).

As a youngster, I didn’t know the rules of the game, or how the season played out. The only time I was interested enough to ask was during games when no one would pay any attention to anything but the screen.

My distaste for sports growing up wasn’t really about sports at all. It was about being a fan, and how being a fan made me a target. As a pre-schooler, I loved the cartoon My Little Ponies, fairly standard stuff to love at that age. My uncle would always tease me by calling them “My Little Bonies” and refusing to say it correctly (at the time I didn’t get how that could be considered quite an inappropriate joke). Being a fan of the show resulted in never-ending attacks of teasing, which felt hostile and hurtful to me, though I doubt they were intended that way by my uncle.

I never liked to buy clothes that had brands on them, because I was afraid of being called out for what I wore. Oh, you’re wearing Gap, what right do you have wearing that clothing? Even now, I have an aversion to buying clothes that have name brands emblazoned upon them. At this point, it is more practical, those brands are expensive, but I find I have also cultivated a taste for clothing that is bare of words. I don’t want to define myself by a brand.

In high school, I went to see Save Ferris in concert, and one of the opening bands was Stroke 9, which I had heard on the local college radio, though I didn’t know their name. I enjoyed most of their set and ended up buying their CD and getting a poster. After I put the poster on my mostly-barren wall in my bedroom, my brother teased me about liking a boy-band. I was embarrassed and pulled the poster down (not that Stroke 9 was a boy-band, but I was ashamed that they looked that way to him).

I went to a Catholic grade school, and in it, spent 9 years with some of the worst specimens of children I can imagine. No, I can imagine much worse than my experience, but these children had no interest in practicing Christian virtues, at least not with those of us unlucky enough to be at the bottom of the social pile (even some of the teachers took sides with the popular kids). I sometimes wonder what was so bad in some of their lives that they had to take it out on me, and I also sometimes hope that their lives have turned out as bad as their own worst nightmares.

We wore uniforms at that school, but that didn’t stop the girls from being cliquey and determining who was fashionable and who was not. And of course, unfashionable didn’t matter if you were popular. One girl got a perm in seventh or eighth grade, and she had heard that not washing your hair made the perm last longer. I swear, she didn’t wash her hair for months. It went from a dark blond to a literally dirty blond that stank up a six foot radius around her, but not one person gave her a speck of shit for it.

In contrast, another girl only washed her hair once a month, though she showered every day, and she was teased a lot for having smelly hair and dandruff. I didn’t fit in with the popular crowd, so I did my best to make myself disappear. I didn’t express myself, my preferences, my tastes. I suppressed myself.

I could not imagine wearing a sports team jersey. What ridicule I would face! “Oh, you like that team,” or “you’re not a real fan.”

Instead, as of I’ve grown more comfortable in liking and proclaiming my like of sports, I find that wearing a team logo brings me into a kind of family. There’s a the family of fans of the sport- they may or may not like my team, but they respect them as opponents (worthy or not). Then there’s the family of fans of the team- they welcome me as a fellow fan of the BEST team in the world.

Sure, there are some fanatics who might say that I’m not a real fan, because I haven’t followed the sport since birth and memorized all the players and stats since the team’s inception. There are some guys who still think that a girl can’t really like sports and are just in it to look at muscular, athletic men (what, I can’t be a fan of muscular, athletic men and the team?). There are some people who will be assholes, but it’s just because they’re assholes – it’s not because of anything I do or don’t do.

In the end, I’ve found that there are sports that I like to watch, and I think that rooting for a team makes watching sports more fun. I might be a fan of recent vintage, but I’m no fair weather fan.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Unless you’re an asshole.

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