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Apathy and Empathy in College Sports: My Thoughts After the Loss to Florida State

Grappling With My Own Fandom After a Disappointing Loss in Tallahassee

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16 - 2

19 - 2

25 - 0

25 - 6

Each of these are scoring runs allowed by the Yellow Jackets in ACC play. Each of these runs occurred between the last ten minutes of the first half and the first ten minutes of the second half. Just in case those numbers do not look bad enough on their own, I’ll tally them together for you: 85-10. That is inexplicably bad. How do you get outscored 85-10 in such a crucial junction of your conference games?

When watching these unfathomable stretches of ineptitude, I am reminded of the 1996 classic basketball film, Space Jam. There is a montage in that movie where several of the top players in the NBA have their talent stolen from them in the middle of a game. In an instant, they go from being unstoppable forces on the hardwood to looking completely lost on it. Perhaps that’s what keeps happening to the Yellow Jackets. Maybe the Monstars are stealing our talent in crucial moments of ACC play.

Admittedly, you would be hard pressed to find anyone who might call this team an “unstoppable force,” but I’m sure that if you talked to Jim Larrañaga or Mike White, they would tell you that the Yellow Jackets have plenty of talented players. At the very least, I would tell you that. So, if this team has the talent to compete in the ACC, why do these horrible runs keep happening? I wish I knew. I’m sure Josh Pastner wishes he knew, too. Maybe it’s the Princeton offense, or the dearth of talent in the front court. Maybe it’s inexperience, a lack of “toughness,” or some other unquantifiable metric. Or maybe this just is not a good basketball team. I’ve seen all of these theories and more furiously tossed about in message boards, each one sounding more sure of its own veracity than the next. In the world of armchair coaches and athletic directors, sometimes the most helpful thing you can say is simply, “I do not know.” So that’s what I’ll say. I do not know why the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets keep allowing these back-breaking runs this season. I wish they would stop doing it. I bet every single player and coach on this team wishes they would stop doing it.

At the end of the day, you and I are just fans. We have no say in who the coach is, what offense he runs, and what players he brings in. Let me be clear, I am not advocating for apathy, there is enough of that in this fanbase already. In fact, I am advocating for the opposite. I think a little empathy could go a long way. I am willing to bet that, if you read this blog, you probably have some deep-rooted, inseparable connection to Georgia Tech and their athletics department. No matter how terrible these teams are, you will keep watching. No matter how many times you spout a scathing remark about how you are “done” with one of the teams or coaches, you will keep watching. You will keep watching; because this school, these teams, they are a part of who you are. Why, then, would you resign yourself to a defeatist attitude, treating your fandom like some Sisyphean task? Why not enjoy it?

I understand that success in sports is measured in the very black and white metric of wins and losses, and a fan’s happiness is often tied to the success of his team. So, it makes sense that fans would become unhappy when their team does not win. That’s perfectly fine. It is reasonable to get frustrated when your team loses, that just means you are invested in the success of your team. What is not perfectly fine or reasonable, is completely losing sight of reality because you are upset that your team is losing. This is what I am referring to when I say that some empathy could go a long way. This team that we watch and follow so closely is simply a group of people. Each of those people that make up this team have lives outside of their involvement in the team. They do not exist solely to please you or meet your expectations of what they should be.

It’s especially important to remember this when it comes to college sports. These are young men who are sacrificing their time to play a game for your entertainment. Yes, they are receiving a full scholarship because they play this game, and many of them are playing it in hopes that they might further benefit financially. That still does not change the reality that these are college students that have to go to classes and deal with everything that being a college student entails, in addition to their responsibilities as an athlete. They are going to mess up. They are going to disappoint you. The least you can do is support them, respect them, and appreciate them through it all. That is what being a fan is all about.

I think it is important for me to clarify, that when I say “you” I am referring as much to myself as I am to anyone reading this. I struggle with this too. I mean, just go back and read the beginning of this article, I sound like an absolute prick. What do I know about what it takes to win in the ACC? I couldn’t even win when I played in high school. Admittedly, I could edit my verbiage to be a bit less critical, but I think it serves as a good example of what I am talking about. It is easy to lose sight of the bigger picture, to put this team and everyone involved in it in a little box that only exists for a few hours a week. When we do that, we strip the players, coaches, and staff of their individuality. We reduce them to what we see of them, and forget that they exist beyond that.

When I find myself frustrated by this team, I like to watch press conferences and interviews with the players and coaches. It helps to reinforce the idea that these are just people, trying their best, but sometimes coming up short. I often get frustrated when watching Rodney Howard. Maybe it was a rebound he failed to secure, a layup he missed, or a foul he committed, whatever it was, it frustrates me. However, after watching a few of his press conferences, I find it so hard to actually get mad at Rodney Howard, the person. He just seems so earnest and kind, I simply cannot help but root for the guy. The same is true for Head Coach Josh Pastner and really any of the players on this team. It is a group of people that we, as Georgia Tech fans, should be proud of, regardless of how they perform.

Anyways, we lost to Florida Sate. That was disappointing. Here’s to a better showing against Notre Dame on Tuesday. Go Jackets!