At wedding receptions, the plan is usually to seat guests who know each other at the same tables. My sister did this at her wedding, but instead of numbered tables, she gave each table a name based on the common element shared by each of the guests at the table. There were school-themed names, work-themed names, and names based on other bits and pieces from her life. There was a table called “Rooney,” named after her dog. I was placed at a table with my siblings and a few other family members. The name of that table was “Chargers,” the football team in the city we all came from. It was the perfect name.
I have six brothers and sisters, and as a group, we’ve never been especially close. We all love each other, but we don’t talk very often. It’s not that we want it that way, it’s just sort of how things worked out. With seven kids, there’s a pretty significant age difference; by the time the youngest of us arrived, the oldest had already moved out. Being spread across the country now, from Portland to Houston to Myrtle Beach, doesn’t help the situation. My parents were divorced when I was very young, so we don’t even have a common upbringing that we can all relate to. It’s just hard to come up with stuff to talk about when we don’t share much more than a last name, and two of us don’t even share that.
One thing we did share was a love of San Diego sports. We could always fall back on the Padres and Chargers, usually discussing how bad they were. That is the power of sports, what they can do at their best even when the teams are the worst. And make no mistake, the Chargers were at their worst more often than not, making the playoffs in only 17 of their 56 seasons in America’s Finest City. The Padres certainly haven’t been any better, but it didn’t matter. Even shared misery can bring a city together. Sports can create friends out of people who would otherwise never associate; like my family, they give people something to have in common with each other. They don’t just sell the product on the field; they sell civic pride.
And it’s all fake.
We all know this. At least, we should. Professional sports franchises don’t care about their cities beyond how they can use them to make a buck. Which, by the way, is fine. They’re businesses like any other, and making money is what business is for. If the Chargers can’t dupe the taxpayers of San Diego into financing a billion-dollar playhouse, then they have every right to pack up and move. The problem isn’t that they shouldn’t be able to leave if they want to; the problem is the false advertising. No, they don’t really fight for you.
As an adult, that’s obvious. But professional sports aren’t just for adults. They’re everything that the tobacco industry is accused of; gotta get ’em while they’re young. And boy, did they have me. Growing up, the Chargers were always part of my own personal identity. I was born in San Diego, but I moved to Virginia when I was only eight. Being a Chargers fan on the East Coast was how I carved my own little niche. When everyone else wore burgundy, I wore blue. They had Art Monk, I had Dan Fouts. It helped me to feel unique, which is an important thing for a child. It helped me to feel connected to my hometown. It was one little bit of consistency in a life that was spent moving every two or three years.
I shouldn’t care about this team, and maybe I don’t. When Dean Spanos hired former Los Angeles deputy mayor Mark Fabiani as his counsel back in 2002, everybody knew that the eventual endgame would be the Chargers leaving town. It started the erosion of my fandom, and I haven’t been an avid follower of the team for years. It’s not the team I care about losing as much as it is the connections– to my family, to my city, and to my past. Now I’m just a bitter old man writing a letter to nobody in particular as if expressing all of this matters one bit. It doesn’t, just like it didn’t matter when countless other fans wrote similar pieces when their cities lost a team. I am a cliche, and I feel stupid for ever caring at all.
Back when the CBS Sports Network was known as CSTV, they had an ad campaign that showed a father and son playing catch in their backyard. The kid showed some talent in his arm, and the father walked up to him and said (paraphrasing), “son, you’ve got a gift. So we’re going to sign with a great agent and get you the biggest contract we can!” The tagline at the end was, “Don’t let pro sports happen to you.”
How right they were.