COMMENTARY | I’m not sure if my emotions will stay connected.
Oh, sure, my brain will still continue to root for my professional sports teams, all from the Atlanta area. I’ve grown up with them, was a happy 6-year-old kid when the Braves won Atlanta’s only professional championship in 1995, and my fandom for the Falcons has only grown once I hit high school and started paying attention to the National Football League.
I read about the Hawks much more than I watch, mainly because pro basketball is only fun for me when surrounded by some of my basketball-loving friends, and I’d say I have a case for someone in the Atlanta camp.
But, again, I may not be in a position to take any joys in the coming years if my teams do well.
The Braves took a small step forward in 2013, putting themselves in a position to win more than just a game in the National League Division Series with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Heck, I kind of enjoyed the swagger the team displayed throughout the season while enforcing baseball’s unwritten rules, though admittedly that’s ticked off more than a few other baseball fans. But not me, the kid who fondly remembers getting mad when the Cleveland Indians crowd serenaded “Hit the Road, Jack, don’t ever come back, no more, no more, no more, no more…” to idol John Smoltz in the ’95 World Series after his rocky outing and going nuts when Brian McCann earned the 2011 All-Star game Most Valuable Player award with a bases-loaded double.
Then this story came out telling of the players boycotting legend Chipper Jones’ first pitch in game one of the NLDS. They didn’t like his prediction of Dodgers in four – which turned out to be right, of course.
But one of my childhood heroes and someone I put in my all-time top 5 Braves (seriously, I felt strongly enough to write about it) getting rejected by the team he helped make relevant?
Why should I want to root for a team like that?
The Falcons have a terrible 2013 season going, with an embarrassing Monday Night Football loss to the New York Jets at home that left all Atlanta fans crushed the same night the Braves were knocked out. Practically everyone, from Bad Quarterback League-mates to reporters felt it, including Grantland.com’s Rembert Browne, who chronicled his heartbreak well enough to strike a chord in this writer’s experience.
They’ve had a four-year run near the top of their conference, and the future isn’t so bleak – it’s just that a high-risk, high-reward strategy didn’t play out this season. So with the Falcons, I’m just waiting for the draft and next year to begin hoping again.
Then again, this is the same team that blew home-field advantage to Green Bay in 2010, managed one safety vs. the New York Giants in the 2011 playoffs, and let a 17-point lead fall against San Francisco in 2013, a record.
Then we come to the Hawks, stuck on the dreaded treadmill of mediocrity in the National Basketball Assocation for the last decade. Bad ownership and a bad front office certainly didn’t help, but the in-your-face alienation of fans in one the 10 largest cities in America has had the team slipping in NBA attendance rankings since 2009, rating 26th out of 32 teams in 2013.
A new general manager and new coach, both with credibility from the well-respected San Antonio Spurs, offer hope — as does the magic trick known as trading Joe Johnson’s mammoth contract to the Brooklyn Nets, and getting rid of Josh Smith’s terrible shot selection. There’s hope for the future with cap room and draft picks, though it’s nothing that will transpire in the next season or two.
What do I make of this? Are we becoming the Cleveland 2.0? Are we already there?
Regardless, it’s tough for me to stay emotionally connected with the teams I grew up rooting for. Constant disappointment — whether on the field or off it — makes it very easy to shrug one’s shoulders and ask “Why bother?” Will I ever root for another team? Of course not. And it’s not like I’ve had the worst sports teams of the last 20 years to root for — on the contrary, Atlanta’s been quite good as a whole in my sporting lifetime. So I’m not going to complain about a lack of championships, because at least we’ve had some hope of one from time to time.
But my favorite team has disrespected one of its’ own greats and could be taking on an air of arrogance. The football squad isn’t a sure thing in the playoffs and constantly sets us up for failure, while the basketball team hasn’t really been relevant since Dominique Wilkins went head-to-head with Michael Jordan in a dunk contest.
So I have to ask myself: Do I really care to keep my emotions invested … or by writing this column, have I already begun following from a more cerebral point of view?