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Fandom isn’t personal—unless maybe it is

Do our personalities preclude us toward favorite players?

Bruce Bisping/Star Tribune. Minneapolis, MN., Wednesday, 6/29/2005. Minnesota Twins vs. KC Royals. (left to right) Twins catcher Joe Mauer and pitcher Brad Radke talked on the mound during the 4th inning. Radke gave up two runs in the 1st inning and o Photo by BRUCE BISPING/Star Tribune via Getty Images

Two years ago, while finishing an English graduate school program, I wrote a capstone thesis on the potential effects of personality traits on student composition styles. As someone who has always identified as an introvert in a world seemingly full of extraverts, internal personalities are fascinating to me.

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about that as it applies to sports fandom. Though we are often “cheering for laundry”, it is all but impossible not to form attachments to certain players. But why does one person like a player more than another—could it have something to do with personality trait match?

Truth be told, my Minnesota Vikings fandom has primarily led me down this intellectual musing. I’m a bigger fan than most of starting quarterback Kirk Cousins, and I think some part of this has to do with traits inherent to Captain Kirk that I also see in myself—a desire to perform for an authority figure who appreciates my efforts, a preclusion towards thought or caution in the face of decisions, and the fact that in his shoes I would 100% be shilling for Pizza Ranch over brews, bitcoin, or insurance.

Oddly enough, Cousins’ seeming arch enemy—Head Coach Mike Zimmer—was also one of my favorites (before he ran the team into the ground the last two years—but I’ll save that for the Daily Norseman). Why? His extreme candor and all-business nature—both ways in which my work associates could describe me on the clock.

Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer left and quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) went over a play during Minnesota Vikings training camp at TCO Performance center Saturday July 28, 2018 in Eagan, MN. ] JERRY HOLT • jerry.holt@startribune.com
I somehow liked both these dudes
Photo By Jerry Holt/Star Tribune via Getty Images

Historically, some of Minnesota’s greatest sporting icons have achieved their elevated status based on proximity to this state’s social/cultural norms & stereotypes. Bud Grant was the stoic, no-nonsense disciplinarian who represented so many Greatest Generation fathers here in Norse country, while Harmon Killebrew was the humble, soft-spoken country boy who preferred to let his bat do the talking.

Looking back on some of my favorite Twins figures over the years, I see a similar pattern—that is, them sharing characteristics with yours truly:

  • Brad Radke: Utterly reliable, unassuming, and not a spotlight hog.
  • Joe Mauer: Almost painfully shy and preferring to lead by example—putting in the daily work—as opposed to rah rah declarations or speeches.
  • Paul Molitor: Highly organized and analytical, but often lacking the soft-pedal people-handling skills to get that info out of his brain and into the hearts/minds of others.
Cincinnati Reds v Minnesota Twins
Probably the best approximation of me as a MLB skipper
Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images

Of course, personality-adjacent reasons are certainly not the only ones for deciding favorites. I’ve always loved Twins closers (Aguilera, Nathan, Perkins, etc.) simply because they were the last guys on the mound when victory was secured. Michael Cuddyer’s ability to throw a strike to third base from the RF warning track certainly has no bearing on my internal skill set. My current favorite—Jorge Polanco—I like because he’s been a solid-to-spectacular hitter from Day One of his MLB career—no more, no less.

From time to time, I’ve even noticed a sort of reverse-personality effect: enjoying specific individuals who represent the person I sometimes want to be as opposed to who I am. This explains my affinity for the recently-departed Josh Donaldson—he of the brash, outspoken nature—or Stefon Diggs (not afraid to speak his mind when he felt mistreated/underutilized by the Vikings organization).

Minnesota Twins v Toronto Blue Jays
The anti-me, for the most part—yet I still liked him
Photo by Cole Burston/Getty Images

But I do think that a part of sports fandom—any fandom, really—is driven by its relation to our distinct characteristics as human beings.

Have you seen any examples of this in your own experiences? I’d love to hear them! Who knows—maybe I’ll go for a PhD someday.