Column: Cheering in real life

Social media might be connecting us, but it also takes something away from sports fandom, says Sports Editor Mike Smith.

Social media might be connecting us, but it also takes something away from sports fandom, says Sports Editor Mike Smith.

At its core, professional sports have always been a communal experience for spectators. For generations, the act of going to the ballpark and cheering on the home team with thousands of like-minded rooters was an integral part of sports fandom.

Sharing the joy of victory–or the agony of defeat, if you’re a Cubs fan–with fellow fans is pretty much the point of watching, right?

Even those who can’t make it to the game can still partake in the experience. Viewing parties and sports bars showing the big game provide an approximation of the stadium experience to some degree, or at least a place where friends and fans can gather together to hoist a few cold ones and complain about the obvious call the referees missed. But as Bob Dylan once said–assuredly with the Raptors-Nets series in mind–“The times, they are a-changing.”

With the rise of social media; Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and the like, fans are more connected to each other than ever, but that’s not necessarily a good thing.

I don’t need to watch games with my buddies or sports-obsessed bar patrons anymore, at least not as long as I’ve got my phone. Did that 2-2 curveball Delin Betances just threw past Chone Figgins paint the black? All I’ve got to do is click on my Facebook and see what my friends are saying.

“Nasty pitch!!!! LOL,” writes Joe.

Just click “Like” to agree.

It’s the new world of sports discourse; short, to the point, and devoid of pesky things like human interaction.

As I’m writing this, the New York Rangers are preparing for Game 1 of the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. I know if I want to voice my displeasure with Penguins star Sydney Crosby, I don’t have to do it at my local watering hole or pay exorbitant ticket prices to get into Madison Square Garden. I can just sit in my living room, watch the game unfold on the big screen TV and fire off a deluge of tweets with the hashtag CrosbyFLOP, something I totally expect to trend over the next week or so in the tri-state area.

And what about the holy grail of sports fandom, the wild celebrations? That moment of release when the final pitch is thrown or the final whistle sounds in which fans cut loose to announce their season is still alive–or, better yet, just culminated with a world championship?

Who needs the sticky beer-showers, the hugs from random strangers and the chance to scream at the top of your lungs without any thoughts of disturbing the neighbors? You can always take the time to craft a carefully composed status to reflect your elation and just relive the celebration you missed with the countless crowd montages that will pop-up like weeds on YouTube just a few minutes after the game ends.

I love Facebook and I certainly can’t live without my phone. But as much as these help us to connect to the outside world, they can also insulate us from the good stuff, the hugs, the high-fives, the general sports-related madness to which we’re all guilty of succumbing once an a while.

So tonight, I’m going to put down my phone, turn off the laptop, throw on my Beukeboom jersey and hit the town, looking for a legion of Blueshirt faithful with whom I can cheer on the Rags.

Who knows, maybe someone will be filming us when we finally beat the Penguins and post it online. Maybe the unfettered enthusiasm and primal screams of our celebration will go viral.

I think I’m gonna go change my privacy settings now.


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About Mike Smith

Mike Smith has been with Hometown Media Group since 2007, serving as the company’s Sports Editor. Mike has been commended for his work by the New York Press Association, winning awards in 2008 for “Best Sports Feature” and again in 2009 as part of a team that put together “The Game,” a breakdown of the Harrison-Rye football rivalry, which won for “Best Special Section.” His weekly column, “Live Mike,” offers his unique insights into a broad range of topics in the sports world. He resides in Eastchester, N.Y. and spends most of his free time serving as the player-manager for a competitive men’s baseball team in New York City. Reach Mike at 914-653-1000 x22 or; follow him on Twitter @LiveMike_Sports.