Confession: I’m a team-switcher. I’ve done it a few times, and I’m not terribly proud of it. And yet, I’m glad I did.
So when do I think it’s okay to switch teams? I don’t think there’s any hard, fast science, but I do believe that there are some principles. First, if you switch teams, I don’t think you can be considered a fan until you’ve invested in some heart-breaking defeats and remained loyal to your new team. Second, try to avoid switching to a team in the same division as your former team. For example, switching from the Giants to the Jets might be acceptable, but switching from the Giants to the Cowboys wouldn’t be looked upon very kindly. You won’t likely be accepted by longtime fans of your new team, and you’ll be spat upon by fans of your former team.
Other than that, I think some sports in the United States are a bit more forgiving of team-switching than others. The NBA and NHL aren’t as religious about loyalties (unless you’re an Original Six fan), while MLB and the NFL are a bit more entrenched. (Then again, I could just be saying that to justify my team-switching. In fact, that’s probably what this whole post boils down to.)
I wonder if, in my case at least, my involvement in the sport itself has something to do with my loyalty to one or more than one team. I’ve never played organized football or baseball, and my loyalties to my NFL and MLB teams have remained constant for as long as I’ve followed each sport. Meanwhile, I played basketball from 1996 to 2005 and coached in 2006, and I currently coach and teach ice hockey skating. My loyalties in NBA and NHL have drifted around a bit.
So, here are my teams and how long I’ve been supported each:
MLB: New York Yankees (1992-present).
NBA: Chicago Bulls (1995-1998), Sacramento Kings (1998-2001), New Jersey Nets (2001-2012), Brooklyn Nets (2012-present)
NFL: New York Jets (1999-present)
NHL: Mighty Ducks of Anaheim (1993-1995), New Jersey Devils (1995-2013), Montréal Canadiens (2013-present)
By now you’re probably wondering what motivated my team switching. When I was little, Michael Jordan was the biggest athlete in any sport. My support of the Bulls was less about the team and more about the legendary player. When I started playing basketball, it wasn’t “cool” to like Michael Jordan anymore, and so I decided to follow Jason Williams, who had just been drafted by the Sacramento Kings. Eventually, however, I began to develop an interest in my local team, which was the New Jersey Nets, and I’ve been a Nets fan ever since, even through their move across two rivers to Brooklyn.
In 1993 I saw the movie The Mighty Ducks, and that got me sucked into hockey. As a third grader, all I knew was that I loved hockey and I loved that movie, so I became a Ducks fan. The Devils won the Stanley Cup for the first time in 1995, and it was hard to not get caught up in the hype everywhere I went. Malls, bagel shops, restaurants, sports stores: they all had posters, murals, framed and autographed portraits plastered everywhere. So I became a Devils fan.
But the deeper I delved into hockey culture, the more intrigued I became with its history and tradition. It was difficult to avoid the draw of Montréal, the mecca of hockey. But why would I switch from the Devils so soon after they had made a deep run at the Stanley Cup? In a nutshell, I don’t want to be counted among Devils fans. I still like the team and the organization, but the fans bother me. They’re nowhere near as bad as Flyers fans or even Bruins fans, but they’re still pretty irreverent and vulgar. Will I still support the Devils? Of course. I love hockey, and it’s a pretty inexpensive ticket. If the team ever made another run at the Cup, I’d support them insofar as that doesn’t interfere with the Canadiens’ run at the Cup.
But why the Habs? Montréal is the birthplace of hockey (sorry, Toronto). The Canadiens organization has a long and storied history, and the more I studied the sport’s history, the more I kept coming across this team. So I joined the ranks of their supporters.
I suppose at the end of the day you could debate the morality of switching to another team. After all, to many, your team loyalty is more binding than marriage.
But I choose to look at it this way: I’m spending time and money investing in supporting a team, and if I don’t like the product that team is putting on the court/field/ice, I reserve the right to find a better product. However, I know that the moment I do that, I’ve lost the right to be called a fan until I’ve earned that through supporting the team in both bright and dark times.
But I don’t really understand the people who can’t allow for team-switching at all under any circumstance.
After all, players switch teams all the time. Why can’t fans?