Understanding Cleveland Sports Fan Anatomy: Conducting a Qualitative Indians Fan Study

Photo Credit: The Cleveland Plain Dealer
I really hate Cleveland sometimes. No, really, I hate it 90 percent of the time. Not the city. The city is a fine place. I go there often and enjoy it. I hate the fans. No, really, I like a lot of people there and the fans, they're swell. Really, there are nice people and good fans. What, I guess, I'm trying to say is simply this. Cleveland fans suck.

Okay, that's not any better. Let me try and flesh this out a little bit more. Stick with me. Or don't and chop my head off. Whatever, just clean up before you leave.

Actually. don't chop my head off, just disagree with me. I like my head.

I will preface what I'm about to do here quite simply by informing you where exactly I stand. I'm actually standing. I have a standing desk. So this is literally a standing stance. If you don't know me, or are not familiar with me beyond my name, you likely do not know that I really only support one Cleveland team, and that is the team that I live and die with as every pitch of the season is thrown. I do not, nor ever, and will ever support any other Cleveland team. That's just me. I'd never have enough self-loathing to be a Browns fan. No offense, Browns fans*¹.

I used to have allegiances to specific teams in other sports, and if I had to pick because you are making me, would, because you are making me. However, I care more about my fantasy football team than anything else in professional football. Basketball for me was ruined the day the big three was formed in Miami, but not for reasons most people associated with Cleveland have. I just couldn't stand how Chris Bosh gave up on Canada's only professional basketball team. Canada has feelings too.

Yeah that's not it, but what if it was? Hope dope would that be if I stuck up for Toronto like that. I just dislike watching professional basketball now. I can't take it seriously since the officiating doesn't and when four teams became the supercharged leveled-up Mon-Stars from Space Jam they set the league back, and I decided to part ways. I know it has changed since, but I can't go back. My hierarchy is baseball, soccer, college football, everything else. Yeah, I'm an American and I like soccer more than any other sport than baseball. No, I'm not from England.

As far as the Cleveland Indians go, I support the team, no matter what. Do I agree with every move they make? No. Do I follow every step they take? No. That sounds like a Puff Daddy song. Or is it P-Diddy? Whatever, Puff is a legend and you got to respect that. You know, when he's not assaulting assistant football coaches*².

I'm not going to shill for the Indians, but I'm probably a little bit more on the pro-side than a lot of fans and some think I do or call me optimistic. I'll actively defend them, and if you are familiar with some of my tendencies to respond to people that reply to the Indians on Twitter just to bash them, you will see I've entered myself into some Twitter arguments with random fans. Twitter arguments are awesome. I like getting into them. Why? I don't know. It's fun for me. Let me have my fun. You go rollerskating or hunting, I'll go fight with people I don't know on Twitter.

Does that mean I don't ever disagree with anything the Indians do? Does that make me a blind follower? You shouldn't insult the visually impaired like that. Really, most (I took a poll) would say that I am a logical fan who uses reason and has an informed opinion. If it sounds like I'm defending myself, I most certainly am. Who cares? This is my perspective. I'm briefing you on me so that maybe you can put into the context of what I'm doing. That's how this works.

Not even heterosexual men can argue that Rob Lowe isn't handsome

Photo Credit: Associated Press

I think there is a misnomer about the Indians. Not the type of misnomer you are thinking of. They have an image problem with a good majority of their own fan base and the sad part in all of it is that there is not a damn thing that they can do about it. They can't implement a plan to fix it or address it, they can't convince people otherwise, they simply are viewed in a certain way by people and there is absolutely no way they can change that perspective, but bless their hearts for trying. Take away Chief Wahoo, people bitch and moan. Keep Chief Wahoo, people bitch and moan. Welcome to No-Win Town, not Cleveland.

It's like if GQ Magazine was the Cleveland Indians and to answer their "image problem," they put Rob Lowe on the cover. Indians fans would still say there's a problem. Like, hey man, he's TOO handsome! First off, how could you say there is a problem with that? Rob Lowe never ages. He's eternally handsome. He solves all image problems! You can't be too handsome to fix a problem, you are just insane.

The second part to this whole thing, aside from my dumb jokes and Cleveland-fan bashing, is that I secretly love the sociology (and perhaps to a lesser extent, the psychology as well) of sports, specifically baseball in Cleveland and Cleveland sports in general. It is incredibly fascinating (and frustrating lots of times) to me. Maybe, part of it has to do with the fact that I only support one team but still intake all of the information and opinion on the other two, but it fascinates me.

You will read a lot of pieces by other fantastic people on this site and others that center on numbers and those are all great and I trust those people in regards to the Indians more than I trust anyone else. If you know me, you know my writing does not center around that type of stuff. If you read my blog, you know I just rant about things that probably didn't need paragraphs of ranting to justify it. You also know I'm a snarkastic (@SnarkyNino, join the #Snarkmy) bastard a lot of the times or just feel like photoshopping a goat face on Carlos Baerga because I think it is the funniest thing in the world.

It is the funniest thing in the world. Laugh at it.

Right, back to the sociology. I'm forever intrigued by the anatomy of a Cleveland sports fan and more specifically, a Cleveland Indians fan. No, not a Cleveland sports fans anatomy, that would be weird and I don't like science. As I said, I think there's an image problem with the Indians. They get treated like a second third rate citizen in a sports-misfortuned city despite having probably put forth not just the best effort to win, but the most sound plan to win, and have actually seen results, albeit not the results Cleveland is looking for. Cleveland is endlessly looking for a result it hasn't had in what will be 52 years in just a few short days. So really, what are we quibbling over?

I want to wrap my mind around all of this. I want to understand because, right now, I don't. I bang my head against the wall on a daily basis reading comments on Facebook status updates, scanning through the #Indians hashtag Twitter timeline, seeing people comment on Jason Kipnis's Instagram (THAT Teddy Bear!) account, and I just don't get it. So, what I want to do is get it. I know I probably won't, because this is akin to descending into madness, but let's give it a shot. Let's descend into madness, together. It could be fun and we'll all just lose our minds anyway, so why not?

While you will come here most of the time and get a well thought-out analytical piece centering around quantitative data, in graduate school most of my reading related to the qualitative. So that's what we're going to do here, because words words words (swords). That's what I know, and really, that's what I love the most. I can read a 30-page research paper that is filled with qualitative data and want to read more*³. The most annoying part of writing my research papers in graduate school was picking enough sources and combing through them to find the information and research I was going to use in my paper. I, of course, liked to mold that information into words more than anything. But I grew to appreciate that stage and probably because I haven't done this in quite some time, I want to do it again*.

What I'd like to do, is open up a discussion, a real conversation about this team and what exactly the problem is. Why do people feel the way they do about this club? In a day and age where everyone has an opinion that matters*, there are several schools of thought about the Indians. The way they operate, the way they present their franchise, the way they run their business (yes, I said it, business, eww dirty), and the overall makeup of the Cleveland Indians. People feel like they know everything and pretend to believe that what they perceive to be as reality is in all actuality, how things are. I mean, I know everything, so why shouldn't everyone else? Answer, because I know more, that's why.

I've jokingly (or seriously) categorized fans into several of these schools of thought and labeled them in the past, as have others. There's Dolan is Cheap fan (before #hashtag came into fad, now #DolanzCheap). There is fan that returns when the team wins but is mainly absent all year, and oh yeah, there's my personal favorite, "I'll support the team when they deserve to be supported" fan. Fan should be the word in quotes there.

One of the newer schools of thought, and perhaps I'm giving that too much credit as it really isn't a thought but a toxic viewpoint, is the fan who just criticizes because that is all they seem to do. Nothing good to say, ever, even when there is a reason to. Always the first to chime in the moment something doesn't go right. I'm skewing my own study before I even begin. Whatever. This isn't scientific*.

It feels as if they are actively rooting for the team to fail and when they do, the cheers get louder and more emphatic. They take pride and joy in the fact that the team has failed and will be the first to shout it from the rooftops. Yet, the label says they would be a fan of the Cleveland Indians? In what realm of the universe does this work? How exactly are they a fan of a team that they don't ever cheer on? And if I'm ever a shill, what does that make these types of "fans" of the Indians? Real fans?*

I've had meaningful discussions about the direction of this team, have heard compelling arguments that have completely criticized and picked apart this franchise, and have seen eloquent points made about their failures and direction. So please, before you read further, these are not the people or the schools of thought that I'm perplexed about, but I do want to hear about them. Do I agree with some thoughts made? And is that blinded by my more positive outlook on the team's direction and their makeup? Yes and no. At least, I don't think it is. Again, I feel I have an outlook on this team that remains very objective, and that I can point out when something is wrong. I don't constantly shill for the team, even if sometimes I defend things most don't. It would make me a reverse person of what this entire effort is trying to do.

Again, those schools of thought are not the target and really, to say that there is a target would be misleading. I just want to know why everyone feels the way they feel, whether you align with some of the principles I've rehashed here or not.

I think looking beyond this image problem and at this idea that is has become trendy to hate on the team for the sake of hating on the team is somewhat fascinating. And, if you support them, or say anything remotely positive, you seem to fall into this category of someone who "drinks the Kool Aid" or is "brainwashed" by the regime. The Dolans are not overlords forcing me to support them*. If I was as fed up with the team as some people are, I'd stop caring. I've given up on TV shows before, so don't think I'm not above dropping my emotional investment in something.

Like everyone, I am my own fan and can choose to follow the team how I'd like. I realize this makes makes me an absolute hypocrite by judging people earlier, but we've already jumped down the rabbit hole. This may return a negative reaction from those people. Those people are going to respond by saying they pay money and they'll boo if they want to. That is one of my personal favorite responses that some people give. But really, why are you paying money? Because you are a fan of the team?

Perhaps this is a discussion best had after I obtain results? As always, getting ahead of myself.

I want people to evaluated or re-evaluate their allegiance to this town in a sports context. Whether or not that is the case, I want to know. I want to know why you are paying money if you just want to boo and be negative. I want to know why you are enthused about a team that hasn't won a championship for over six decades.

Why do we support the Indians? Why do you support the Indians? I think this is a frank discussion to have with this fan base and I'm willing to do the qualitative research to figure out why. Where do you fall on the spectrum? I realize this digs deeper into the psychology of a sports fan in general and could have more of a meaning in regards to why we root for particular teams, but perhaps everyone just needs to ask themselves that question, specifically in regards to the Tribe and see where we end up, even if it is a neighboring country.

Here is my questionnaire. I'd love for you to take it*. I ask some very lengthy questions, ones that perhaps take some time to answer fully. If something has a yes or a no answer, I'm probably looking for more than just a yes or no. If all you want to give is a yes or no, fine, I'm not going to use it though. That's not helpful. Give me some thought, give me some articulation, but most importantly, be honest. Take some time, get to the root of how you really feel and give me everything you think about each question.

This can be rewarding, or it can be very fruitless. Either way, I'm excited to see what you have to say.


*1: Look, I don't want to say I feel sorry for Browns fans, because that would make me seem like a jerk. But it isn't easy being one, so I get it. I'm just saying, you have to really love hating yourself to continue to follow them. Maybe I'd feel different if I was a Browns fan, but it seems like voluntarily torturing yourself for no good reason. It's an outsider's perspective. Yeah the Indians haven't won a championship in my lifetime either, but I at least see direction there. Hate me for saying this, that's fine.

*2: Allegedly. I don't want to infer anything. I liked Puff back in the day. I don't know what he's doing now other than beating up coaches (allegedly). I'm too lazy to Wikipedia him.

*3: Reason that I'm single, number 23. Specifically.

*4: Reason that I'm single, number 6. There's no real order to these reasons. I'm just a nerd.

*5: If you feel like your opinion doesn't matter, get a Twitter account. Seriously, anyone's opinion can matter there with a hashtag and a keyboard.

*6: At least not yet. And remember, I hate science, so let's not get into that territory. I was a communications major to avoid that and math.

*7: Secondary study to be done next into what exactly makes a "real fan". Seriously, what's a real fan now anyway? 

*8: This all sounds like it is part of a science fiction novel. What a shitty "overlord" he is, right? I mean, guy who takes a baseball team and attempts to brainwash the fan base by putting a shitty product on the field? How does that work? Someone needs to get him in touch with a real dastardly overlord-type character so Paul Dolan can become the overlord we all deserve. This would actually be a good science fiction novel now that I think about it. Maybe I should re-think this study and write that novel instead.

*9: I want you to take it, but more importantly I want you to give the link to the worst Indians fan you know. That's where the meat of this will come from.
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