Bandwagon fan or booster with conscience? Study breaks down two differing approaches to sports

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BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — Why is it that championship teams in every major sport always seem to have so many fans? Could it be that phenomenon known as the fair-weather fan? Most fans are appalled by that sort of behavior — but could it be that fickle fans sometimes have ethical justification?

That’s the subject of a new academic paper co-authored by a local philosophy professor.

Let’s set the stage. Who among us has not experienced this upon walking into a friend’s Super Bowl potluck? You set your giant bag of Ruffles on the table next to Marsha’s three-bean dip — which nobody ever touches — and lo and behold, there’s Joe — a lifelong fan of the Cleveland Browns — wearing a cherry-red Kansas City Chiefs jersey. You ask, hey . When did you become a Chiefs fan? Just now, he says. They’re in the Super Bowl.

This is what’s known as a fair weather fan, the guy who abandons all loyalty to the team he has always followed, a team perhaps based in the state where he grew up — and jumps ship. To the true fan, this is one of the lowest forms of humanity.

But to Nate Olson, an associate professor of philosophy, this behavior may have some redeeming qualities — if the fair-weather fan has jumped for the right reason. Olson co-authored a paper titled “A Fair Shake for Fair Weather Fans,” with three grad school buddies who are now — like him — college philosophy professors. They’re all also into sports.

And in their paper they identify three types of fans: Partisans, who follow their team and their team only; purists, who follow sports for the excitement, the competition, the spectacle, but not really any single team; and the fair-weather fan, who might root for the Dodgers today and the Giants next week — depending on, well, a couple of different possible factors.

Nate Olson, who hails from Minnesota and is therefore true to the Vikings, Twins, Timberwolves and North Stars, explains.

“The kind of general idea of a fair weather fan is someone who supports the team not only out of loyalty to the team but for other reasons that they might have,” he said. “It might be that they want to support a winner or it might be that they’re supporting a team where they believe in a certain player on the team, or they believe in a certain cause for the team.

“An example we talked about was that you’re really drawn to the U.S. women’s soccer team because of their stances on gender equality. So even if you’ve never watched a game before, you start following the team for that reason. I think that’s just as good a reason to follow them as any other reason you might have.”

Olson is of course differentiating a bandwagon jumper from a fan-ethicist — polar opposites to some sports fans.

“Fair weather fans are the ones who always get criticized — you jump on the bandwagon for whatever’s happening,” Olson said. “But we were thinking as philosophy professors the principle is to question everything. Everyone thinks one way, well, what are the reasons for thinking the other direction?”

So which type of fair weather fan is our friend Joe? A bandwagon jumper or the Nate Olson-approved kind?

If he’s going with the Chiefs because he admires quarterback Patrick Mahomes’ 15 and the Mahomies Foundation, dedicated to the health and wellness of children, he’s the good, admirable kind of fair-weather fan, at least perhaps by Olson’s standards.

If he has never heard of the Mahomies Foundation, shower him with all the good natured abuse you can muster.

Because to some of us, a fair-weather fan is still of dubious integrity — at least in the realm of sports.

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