Don’t let pro sports happen to you

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.

9 thoughts on “Don’t let pro sports happen to you

  1. Anonymous

    Poignant post. Totally get it. My nephew was raised in Hawaii, huge charger fan, now lives in Hong Kong. I’m sure he’s in mourning but it’s obviously crazy!

    1. Anonymous

      I’ve followed you to mids report–was assuming birddog dead–should I stay on
      Love your write ups on Navy and happy to pay!
      Charlie ’74 (Wauchula all star)

  2. Anonymous

    Thanks, Mike Memory lane: I was a displaced Cowboys fan in San Diego for a 3 year tour on USS LONG BEACH when we were deployed for 2 x 7 + months to WestPac and a 6 month yard period up in PSNS in Bremerton. Made me a life-long Padres fan (Randy Johnson & Tony Gwynn – O Doctor!) & a Chargers fan (BIG Louie Kelcher- my brother’s roommate @ SMU just before their death penalty.
    So Very Sad that these things change. Sunday will “don” my “#17” Star jersey hoping that things will change now.

  3. I grew up in San Diego, too, attending Charger and Padre games at “The Murph.” And now I live in LA, home again of the Rams, which I considered good news. But, I’m sorry, the Chargers belong in San Diego, not LA! Your post really hit home and put it all in perspective. The Chargers have scorned an entire city and generations of fans.

  4. FNB

    Sorry, Mike. I was excited to see a BD post again…until I read it. Thanks for the heartfelt post. So many Navy fans connect to the Chargers (Even if it is a “second” team) because the Navy/Marine Corps sends so many there. Those of us who do/did claim the Chargers are sympathetic ears.

    I’ve lost touch with your posts this year because I couldn’t pay (network issue) for Mid Report on the ship. Looking forward to re-connecting with your wisdom next year.

  5. bethel95

    After graduation, SWOS, and MPA School, I landed in San Diego. Coming from SC, I was supposed to be a Braves and Falcons fan, but it wasn’t that way. My Mom was an NC State grad, and I’d been raised to cheer for the Rams (because of Roman Gabriel) and the Cardinals (because of Stan Musial, because Mom loved him). Those ties got me through the 60s and early 70s, but San Diego was the first time I’d lived right in the midst of pro sports. I was finally out on my own, and looking for my own identity, and I got to town just in time for Tony Gwynn and Dan Fouts.

    I stayed in San Diego until 1996, and kept following the Padres until Trevor Hoffman was traded. The Chargers connection lasted longer, because of Phillip Rivers, but I haven’t really followed either team closely since about 2005. Now I root for the Panthers (though not at all passionately), while pro baseball has faded from my consciousness except for the occasional World Series game 7 (I cut the cable cord 15 years ago, and MLB has mostly disappeared from broadcast TV).

    When I look back, my San Diego years were the peak of my interest. I couldn’t afford Chargers game tickets, but managed to catch almost every game on TV (sellouts cured blackouts, as I recall), while the Padres had a policy of opening the gates in the 7th inning (so I’d drop by the Murph for 3 innings after getting off of work). I will probably never have those golden days again. It’s not so much that I’ve left pro sports as that they’ve gradually left me (especially MLB).

    C’est la vie.

  6. navy41soccer

    Super writing as always Mike Hemingway James, and the title is great advice–but which is as about as easy to follow as losing that last 10 pounds. It is just so sad. Sort of how I felt when Paul Johnson left for Ga Tech but I’m afraid this won’t have as happy an ending. We moved to Coronado in 1966, so Navy dad took me and my brothers to Charger games in Balboa Park with Hadl and Alworth. I still have a Tony Gwynn bat (and my Navy sword) for home defense since my wife doesn’t like guns. We moved to DC in ’70 where I got to watch the Redskins lose their first Super Bowl. Dad (with Mom and youngest two brothers) retired in ’78 (while I was at USNA) back to Coronado for the glory years. All my sea tours were out of San Diego for my first 25 years. Air Coryell, Fouts, a Super Bowl with class act Boss Bobby Ross (whose son in law in an AD admiral!), Marty and LT. Love Rivers and forgave him for making me watch personally him put up 70 points against Navy when he was at NCSU. We will join my Dad in retirement in Coronado very soon and just remember the good. 0-2 in the World Series, 0-1 in our only Super Bowl, but I love being from sunny San Diego. Beat Army.

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