I am a pink hat fan. I wasn’t aware of the term before 2004 (when the Red Sox won the World Series), but since then I have heard it used derisively to describe people who aren’t “real” fans of a sports team – bandwagon fans, if you will. The term, as I remember it, was originally used in reference to women who bought pink Red Sox hats during the run up to and following the World Series win (these fans helped to form something called “Red Sox Nation”). The sight of so many pink hats at Fenway Park angers the old guard of New England sports fans – either because these bandwagon fans treat the live sporting events as social occasions (the horror!), or because these fans didn’t suffer through the lean years with their “new” sports teams. In this vein, I noticed several of my normally intelligent, reasonable friends publicly grinding their teeth about bandwagon fans during the recent Bruins playoff run.

One of these friends posted the following on Facebook: “It must [anger] the real Bruins fans who watch all season long when all the people who admit they only watch playoff hockey jump on the bandwagon. How can you admit you don’t watch a team all season then pretend to be a huge fan for 2 weeks because it’s playoff hockey. That is the definition of a fair weather [fan]. I admit I don’t watch hockey so I can’t pretend to be a fan now. I hope [the Bruins] do well but I just can’t do it. Had to get that off my chest.”

Another friend posted: “Is anybody else praying for hockey season to be over quickly so that we can stop hearing about it from people we know aren’t hockey fans (i.e. most people)?”
It seems to me that some sports fans must have difficulty enjoying themselves unless they have something to complain about. A winning team provides little avenue for the required misery, so these people create an artificial pecking order and bemoan “fake” fans. This attitude brings to mind the famous quote by H.L. Mencken, who defined puritanism as “the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.”

When I try to think about this logically, the only negative factors I can see that stems from an influx of new fans for a team might a scarcity of tickets and the accompanying rise in prices. For me, this is not an issue, since I generally prefer to watch games on TV, but I can see how it might annoy diehard fans (although, if these true fans have season tickets they get first crack at playoff tickets). Beyond that, it is simply ridiculous.

Imagine hearing a song on the radio and enjoying it, only to be maligned because you hadn’t listened to the artist’s early work. If you didn’t start watching “The Simpsons” in 1989, then don’t you dare start watching it now – that enjoyment is reserved for true fans.

I got labeled as a poseur when I told someone (the first commenter above) how much I was enjoying the Bruins playoff run.

I do have excuses for my lack of attention during the regular season, even if the name-callers don’t want to hear them. The biggest one is that professional sports aren’t as important in my life now that I have a family. By the time we get the kids to bed, I generally watch TV with my wife, and she doesn’t want to watch every Bruins, Celtics, and Red Sox game (she DOES want to watch every Patriots game, unless I’m willing to go apple picking). I have to pick my spots if I don’t want to be sitting in front of a TV by myself.

But, I understand that none of that matters. I didn’t watch more than a handful of regular season games and as a result that pink hat is firmly set on my balding head. Luckily, I’m at a point in my life where I recognize this as meaningless banter, but that wasn’t always the case.

In the mid-1980’s, between the ages of 12 and 13, I actively disliked the Mets. My dislike was possibly rooted in the fact that one of my friends was a Mets fan (as well as a Red Sox fan), but probably went along with a general distaste for New York sports. When I started rooting for the St. Louis Cardinals to defeat the Mets in 1985 (they did), this friend began to taunt me as a frontrunner. His “proof” was that I had rooted for the Cubs to beat the Mets in 1984 (they also did). This boy would repeatedly call me on the phone, call me names, and yell at me for being a frontrunner. At that point in my life I didn’t know how to handle it, so I got upset. I just remember the anger in his voice, and he was tormenting me in the way teenagers can torment one another. I left the phone off the hook for long periods of time and then when I finally replaced it, it would ring with an angry message on the other end.

Despite all of it, I still rooted for the Cardinals, and have fond memories of watching them defeat the Dodgers (my brother’s favorite team). When the Cardinals lost to the Royals in the World Series, I felt sadness (not as much as I would the next year when the Sox blew the Series, but it was real enough at the time).

The point is, if I had it to do over again, I wouldn’t have taken a single word of it to heart and would have told the kid to get lost. Now that I’m an adult, and understand where in the grand spectrum sports drama belongs, I’m willing to take gentle kidding about it, and to poke fun at Yankee fans. But when I hear adults – people with all of the worries that come along with normal lives – complain about what teams other people root for it strikes me as a bit surreal. To these people, I say: Life is short; try not to be a bucket of misery.