I am a fan of the New York Yankees. I was not born in New York. I did not grow up in New York. I have only been to New York a couple of times. I don’t like the Yankees because they are famous, because of the championships they won while I was growing up, because I’m afraid of following a losing team. I am a fan of the Yankees because my dad is a fan of the Yankees, because I was born and raised a Yankees fan, even though I grew up in California.
This might seem like pretty weak justification for being a Yankees fan. After all, you can’t just rationalize a belief by saying that you were “raised to believe it”. A belief must be founded on reason to some extent. But being a fan is not a belief – it is a preference, a partiality, an inclination. Just as I do not need to provide rational grounds for preferring vanilla ice cream over chocolate, so do I not need to provide rationale for liking the Yankees.
Yet when I choose my favorite ice cream flavor, I am basing this decision on what tastes better to me. However, we wouldn’t want to accept being a fan based solely on how much enjoyment one gets out of the team – this sounds too much like following the Yankees because they win a lot. No, the act of being a fan (by the way, if you know a word for this, I’d love to hear it) is unique in that not only do we not need to justify it with reasons, but if we justify it with the wrong reasons (or possibly any reasons at all), it becomes illegitimate.
Most fans’ ‘justification’ for being a fan is that they are from, or currently live, near the team’s home city. But I want to argue that this isn’t really a justification, but an explanation or a causal story. You might be a fan of the Vikings because you are from Minnesota, but being from Minnesota isn’t a necessary condition for your being a fan of the Vikings. It explains why you are a Vikings fan, but it is perfectly reasonable to be a Vikings fan without giving any justification. The act of being a fan requires no justification.
I expect that the reason people often question my fanaticism for the Yankees is because the Yankees are so hated by people outside of New York. I frequently find myself trying to justify being a fan of the Yankees, but that shouldn’t be necessary. We should not need to provide reasons for which teams we follow and cheer for. Despite the fact that most people tend to cheer for their local teams, this does not need to be, and should not be, a condition for being a fan. A true fan doesn’t need to give reasons for being a fan. Acting like a fan – following the games, knowing the players, being ecstatic when they win and devastated when they lose – is justification enough.