I am not a star athlete, or even really an athlete at all. I was fortunate enough to have competitively fought in Judo for a long time, but that stopped a while ago. I so badly wish I was one of those people that ran for fun (I will never understand), but honestly, the thought of physical fitness makes me cringe a little. I still do it, to you know, stay fit and healthy, but I do not enjoy it. So, sports? I will politely decline, thank you.
But watching sports… Okay so maybe I do a little. I enjoy a good fight every now and then and I will always support the Toronto Maple Leafs (…I know). I love a good sunny Toronto Blue Jays game and of course I love the Toronto Raptors, but I would still never rush home to make a game or budget to see one live. I’m just not that into it.
You see, what I love about the sports teams I mentioned is that they’re all prefaced with Toronto.
Make Me Proud, Please.
For me, it’s the city I support — my city. Society decided a long time ago that winning sports was a sign of distinction; deserving of respect, and I mean a long time ago — like the Olympics can be traced back to 776 BCE long time ago. Now, winning sports is a source of pride for a nation, a city and even a school. For someone who lives in Toronto and loves Toronto, naturally I want to feel that pride. I want to be able to say that my basketball team beat out the rest (because I doubt I’ll be able to say that about the Leafs for a while). I want to be proud to say I support the Toronto Rock.
I want my city to win.
Everyone Can Play
What I love about sports though is that there’s a place for everyone. From the rich CEO who’s played hockey all her life to the less well-off kids who played soccer-baseball with the neighbours on the street, if you had access to a TV, you could participate in sports entertainment, and no one questioned it.
For the average person who wasn’t born into a family fandom, supporting a sports team is largely based on geolocation. That means that unlike other forms of mainstream entertainment, sports is one of the few things that connects people beyond class, race, age, status and various other descriptors. If you live in Toronto, no one will question your being a Toronto FC fan. They might question you being a Leafs fan, but they’ll understand…(Can you tell I’m upset with the Leafs right now? They’re hurting my pride.)
With other forms of entertainment, there’s a different kind of buy-in. With music for example, you can love country and hate mainstream pop. For that reason, even if you are from Stratford, Canada, it does not mean you like Justin Bieber. If awkward comedy movies aren’t your thing, you don’t feel the need to love Ellen Page because she’s Canadian.
Then there’s the whole accessibility issue with artistic forms of entertainment. I can tell you that my parents, both born and raised in Nova Scotian co-ops and convents, definitely did not have access to “high-brow” entertainment. From my Mom’s own words, they didn’t see operas and classical symphonies, or play instruments they couldn’t afford to buy. Their schools didn’t have them either and at that time and there was no YouTube to delve into on your own. They didn’t go to musicals or plays, but my Dad did collect 25¢ baseball cards. The Blue Jays were his favourite. Even though, as a kid, there was no way he could ever afford to fly and see a game live, the Blue Jays represented more than a baseball team. They actually represented all of Canada in Major League Baseball and that’s why they had the support of a little boy on the other side of the country.
Accessibility may prevent you from sitting court-side with Drake at a Raptors game, but it doesn’t prevent you from saving up $30 and sitting at the top of the Air Canada Centre. Even further, it doesn’t prevent the thousands of people from standing for free in Maple Leaf Square during a Raptors playoff game, or having living room parties of their own.
Speaking from experience, when you’re at a Raptors games, no one cares where you’re from or what you look like — you’re all there supporting the same city, or in the case of the Raptors, the same country. You win together and you lose together. That’s it.
I bring up the Raptors so much because I think they’ve done the best job at creating this connection among people, among a city and honestly, among a nation. And as someone who works in marketing, #WeTheNorth may be one of the best campaigns I’ve ever seen. It still gives me chills. I mean, just watch this commercial again — relive what I’m saying.
When the Raptors made their fan campaign based on that same geolocation that bonds us all, that’s when they really won. By claiming “The North”, they didn’t just ask to to be a fan and support the Raptors, they told you.
I don’t discredit the folks who have a deep love for the game of basketball or have supported the Raptors religiously for years — you probably loved this more than anyone, but for an average fan like me, who for the most part doesn’t play or watch sports, the Raptors used #WeTheNorth to tell us:
Are you from Toronto? Are you from Canada? Well, there’s only one Canadian NBA team. You know what that means? You’re a Raptors fan.
It didn’t hurt that Drake also came on board. You don’t even have to like Drake’s music, but he definitely helped to make being a Raptors fan cool.
#WeTheNorth, Drake and yes of course, the outstanding work of the team, made us proud to be Raptors fans. They made it accessible to a nation. They made it based on where you live and not what you can afford, and they reminded me why I love sports.
So as someone who doesn’t play or watch sports, I love sports because it connects people. That’s it.
Follow me on Twitter @BaileyParnell.