How to indoctrinate a sports fan
It can take years, and then happen all at once.
I take my duties as a parent seriously.
Basic needs must be met first, of course; I must do everything in my power to see that my children are clothed, fed, and kept safe and healthy. I want them to be happy, and to know that they are loved.
Beyond those lower levels of Maslow’s hierachy, though, there are certain values I want to make sure that I instill in them. I want them to grow up to be good people, kind people, thoughtful people. Good members of society, good stewards of the Earth. I want to give them the tools to make the world a better place.
Most of all, though, I want them to root for the same sports teams that I do.
I began the process of indoctrination before either of them was born. By the time they came home from the hospital, there were Cincinnati Bearcats onesies in the changing table drawer. A Cleveland Browns blanket draped over the rocking chair. A stuffed LeBron James in the crib. A well-meaning1 brother-in-law sent a set of Purdue Boilermakers onesies for my daughter; those were immediately sent to daycare to be kept in reserve for the days where diaper blowouts necessitated a midday change.
Of course, the kids were as aware of these influence-peddling machinations taking place around them as babies are of anything, but my intent was hardly different than reading to them at that point: it was about building routine. Education experts say that a small child needs to hear at least 21,000 words a day, and I believe that it’s best if at least 168 of those are the University of Cincinnati alma mater.
Eventually, of course, they would grow and get big enough to start watching sports with me. Any time I could, I'd try to get them to sit down and watch a game with me, though the results would often be mixed.
“You like dogs, right? Well, we’re cheering for the Dawg Pound today!”
“I like the purple team.”
“No, no. No you don’t.”
“But I like purple.”
“Listen, this TV timeout is almost over, and I don’t have time to get into the Modell family’s inexcusable crimes against one of football’s most storied and supportive fanbases, but suffice it to say, that team is only wearing purple because of a concerted effort by Cleveland fans to keep our name, colors and history in—wait, where are you going?”
It got better when we could start attending games, of course. The pageantry of sports would win them over. I took them to a Cincinnati Bearcats game at Nippert Stadium two years ago, an outing carefully planned to coincide with a visit by the historically-inept Connecticut Huskies. I predicted to my wife that the home team would be up by 40 after three quarters if the kids got tired and we needed to leave early, and they covered the spread on that prediction en route to a 48-3 victory. The kids learned to pound the railing in front of our front-row endzone seats to make noise, learned to do Cincinnati’s “Down The Drive” cheer, and learned that their father is much more amenable to plying them with overpriced cotton candy and popcorn when he’s trying to secure a legacy fandom. It was a success.
Of course, little memories can be short, and 2020 precipitated backslides in all sorts of things; education for children, physical fitness and mental health for adults, and my well-laid plans for indoctrinating fans with my own specific trans-Ohioan set of rooting interests. Sports were impossible to attend in person, and not terribly fun to watch on television. I succeeded in getting my son to watch a Browns playoff game with me, but it was clear the football didn’t mean a great deal to him. (Kids and their healthy perspectives. So immature.)
Things have improved in 2021, and this Saturday, I was especially excited. The Cincinnati Bearcats were playing a home game on broadcast television, something that’s still a novelty for a fanbase long accustomed to being relegated to third-tier productions on streaming-only channels. The Bearcats would enter as the #3 team in the country and stood a very good chance of victory in front of a national audience.
I’d blocked out the afternoon for it, and of course, I asked the kids if they’d like to watch with me.
“No, thanks. We’re going to watch cartoons downstairs.”
I was disappointed, but that disappointment quickly abated as the Bearcats rushed to a 35-0 first half lead over UCF, a dominating performance that would see them rise to a program-high #2 ranking in this week’s poll with the assistance of Purdue’s upset of previous #2 Iowa later that afternoon. (Payback for putting up with those onesies. Boiler up, after all.) The Bearcats forged ahead with their historic season and viable push toward the College Football Playoff, and the kids watched My Little Pony in the basement as it happened.
Later that same evening, we made a family outing to Lynn Family Stadium, our first trip to the gleaming new soccer-specific stadium in Louisville’s Butchertown neighborhood. The kids had monitored the progress of its construction with fascination for years—it’s visible right off I-71 as you approach downtown—but the pandemic had forced me into some half-hearted and half-true demurrals and deflections whenever they’d ask if the stadium was finally completed. Eighteen months after I’d first told them we’d go “as soon as it’s done”, we finally trekked down to watch Racing Louisville FC play the Orlando Pride of the NWSL.
I have to confess that my understanding of soccer is extremely surface-level. I’ve vowed to get into it in the past, but it’s never stuck for me, not having grown up watching it the way that I did football, baseball and basketball. Though I’m familiar with some of the biggest names in the sport, and have cheered along loudly at the United States’ World Cup victories in 2015 and 2019, I wouldn’t be able to explain what was happening on the pitch on any level much deeper than what they could see for themselves. I felt like Ted Lasso; curious, not judgmental, and also completely ignorant to the particulars of the offsides rule. I struggled to convey the idea of stoppage time, because I don’t have a firm grasp on it myself.
Louisville fell behind almost immediately as Orlando scored in the second minute of play. My son, who’d recently lamented that all of the minor-league baseball games we’ve attended have been losses, frowned when I explained the score—we’d barely settled into our seats, and I had yet to point out which color jerseys we were rooting for. Cotton candy bought some time. I spent far too much money buying scarves for the whole family, and was in a concession line for popcorn when Louisville equalized just before the half.
It wasn’t going great at first.
The energy in the stadium picked up when Louisville jumped to ahead on a Katie McClure goal in the 52nd minute, and even more so when Yūki Nagasato pushed the lead to 3-1 in the 77th minute. The kids clapped and jumped and waved the giveaway flags they’d picked up at the gate, only occasionally poking me in the face with them. When the final whistle blew, my daughter and wife danced along as the stadium speakers blared “Chelsea Dagger”, and my son spoke in awe of finally seeing a team from his hometown win a game2.
I don’t know if they’ll develop a love for soccer any more than they might for football, baseball, basketball or anything else that I might try to foist on them; Saturday’s win might forge a lifelong memory, or fade as quickly as any of the other games we’ve attended. Either way, though, it was a blast for me; weaned on a lifetime of four-hour football games, a two-hour soccer match is a refreshing breeze—easier on their attention spans and mine—and it was an in-person environment far happier, safer and more conducive to family fun than most football stadiums I’ve been in. A place I’d be happy to go again if the kids are willing.
After all, I just want to have a team I can root for together with them.
I think they just indoctrinated a fan.
—Scott Hines (@actioncookbook)
He did not actually mean well. Jeff knew exactly what he was doing.
The AAA Louisville Bats have not had a winning season in my childrens’ lifetimes, and I will not dare risk tainting their young minds with Louisville Cardinal athletics.