It is easier than it has ever been in human history to believe whatever you want to believe.
With the rise of social media, anybody can present themselves as an expert. When there are countless numbers of experts and faux-experts, we can always find someone, somewhere, who can agree with any monstrous take we have about anything. Because people are better than ever at self-isolating or creating scenarios to avoid people they don’t care for, there’s even fewer reasons to believe anything besides what we want. When money flows towards presenting one interpretation, that interpretation can gain widespread appeal. Sometimes this is called public relations, sometimes it is called conspiracy theories. In finding takes we agree with, we develop our own little communities. Us against them. The tribe mentality becomes strong. There are very few repercussions to being wrong if you wield power or have privilege.
This matters a lot in many, many areas of life. Politics, gender relations, how much you want to care for the impoverished, etc.
An area where it shouldn’t really matter is sports.
I’m not surprised that titles like this have begun to hit YouTube, because I hear from these fans often. They often wind up calling you “not a real fan,” if you catch them on a bad day, and they’ll ask you to stop talking about their team. Sometimes they’ll dog your mentions for weeks if they think you are being too negative about their team. The way the world works now is that if you have enough time, you can spend all of it yelling at someone online who doesn’t have beliefs that mirror yours.
Part of being a fan is to attach some of your own self-worth to the team, so … I get it. Here’s how one good recent explanation I read said it:
A hardcore Seahawks fan identifies with the “Seahawks” social category and this forms part of his identity. (Yes, his social category is actually “Seahawks fans,” but really hardcore fans often don’t see it this way; they see themselves as part of the teams they root for.)
He applies favorable attributes to the Seahawks in order to enhance his own self-esteem. Because his identification with the Seahawks is a key part of his self-concept, positively evaluating the team allows him to evaluate himself more positively.
If someone says something negative about the Seahawks — true or not — he perceives it as a personal attack and a threat to his own sense of self worth.
In order to preserve his sense of self worth, the fan defends the Seahawks when he believes that others are attacking the team by a) fighting back and/or b) discrediting the attacker. Even if he knows that the other person is right in his criticism of the Seahawks, he’ll defend the team anyway because accepting that the other person is right would require him to accept that the Seahawks aren’t as great as he believes they are (and, consequently, neither is he since the Seahawks are a key part of his identity).
So it is natural for some fans to see Bill O’Brien trades get pissed on — because they’re objectively bad — and jump to the conclusion that their self-worth is being attacked. It’s not rational, but it’s natural. When you combine this with the public relations the Texans do — which, it should be said, I have no issues with. (It is in their best interests!) What happens is you create a group of “true fans” that have accumulated a ton of grievances and slights. It’s the driving force behind this post doing well when I put it up on Twitter:
A certain subgroup of fans likes to believe the Texans are overlooked, ignored, diminished. Especially by a national media that has regarded them as mostly irrelevant. (The national media in this case has never seen the Texans make even a conference title game, but I again want to note that this is not about rationality. These people want recognition in their own lives for something and it bleeds over into how they talk about their team.)
Let me give you some inside baseball here: If Bill O’Brien were actually good at scheming an offense, the Texans would be media darlings.
O’Brien’s rough-around-the-edges schtick is completely in right now. (Stares at White House.) There isn’t a writer alive who wouldn’t want to cover a football team on the rise lead by a general manager/head coach that plays by his own rules and wins. I mean, we could lose the grandma glasses, maybe make him 20% more handsome or so, but otherwise it’s a dream come true. Readers right now gobble up anybody who is perceived to be a self-made genius because it fits into this bootstrap ethos that permeates a lot of our country.
Even right now, despite O’Brien’s failings, he’s compelling subject matter. Sports is an entertainment industry and I would argue that very few people in his sphere have created more entertainment than O’Brien has over the past nine months. How many coaches can you think of who have lead a f-bomb-laden tirade on a fan at a game — it comes out during the playoffs — and it doesn’t even crack the public consciousness of what they’ve done?
That’s the magic of being as unconventional at some aspects of your job as O’Brien is. There’s literally too much to talk about, so some areas of attack simply don’t stick to him because we only have so much we can collectively as a society pin on one person. (Suggestively nods head towards White House again.)
Nobody wants Bill O’Brien to fail. What we want is for the Texans to change. When I say that, what I’m saying is that as an entertainment industry, we want things to change one way or another because stagnant stories don’t sell. The Texans have been this semi-interesting team with All-Pro level talent for years, unable to become a real contender or do much beyond advance beyond the first round of the playoffs when they face a gimme opponent. It’s boring as hell!
One of my biggest gripes with O’Brien is something I brought up when I talked about how he is Shredder: He actually is a pretty damn good play caller when he tries! He is a tease. Between what happened with the offense he created in Watson’s rookie season, the Chiefs games last season, the Falcons game last season, the Titans game in 2018 … the Texans have proven that they can explode on anybody given the right coaching.
That coaching is inconsistent, and that inconsistency keeps the Texans mired in their old cycles, which is why the national media appears almost bored by them. If O’Brien comes out with a brand new bag in 2020, kills it, and the Texans put up a top-five offensive DVOA, media will be lining out the door to shake poms poms for them. People love winners. That’s why the Texans promote the hell out of every division championship as if they were game-changing triumphs instead of beating up on three teams that have mostly been desolate since Peyton Manning retired.
BOB probably won’t improve, because we have six years of evidence that says he’s incapable of recognizing that his way of offense doesn’t work. But if he did, there would be no shortage of praise.
In the sense that we all have agreed as a society to believe in whatever we want to believe, I have selected my audience already. I am here to provide for the people who are interested in rational Texans analysis and thought. I put in my work, do my process, set my expectations, and am happy to talk about being wrong if it comes to that. I don’t brag about hitting my shots, because I think you should act like you’ve been there before. I am happy to talk about wanting the Texans to draft Robert Quinn over J.J. Watt and Cordarrelle Patterson over DeAndre Hopkins. I don’t come at this from a place of ego where I need to be right to sustain something. In fact, the way I write about the Texans most of the time: I don’t actually want to be right. I would be thrilled if proven wrong on many things I write.
Here’s the thing, and I realize I’m appealing to logic instead of emotion so nothing will change: None of this shit matters. In 100 years, when Houston is a lake and every player this team has ever employed through 2020 is in the dirt, none of these takes will matter. Why the national media has slighted the Texans by not talking about them won’t matter, why the national media has slighted the Texans by talking about them not positively enough won’t matter. It’s all entertainment. When I was younger, I actually resisted writing about sports because I didn’t think it would have an impact on the world, just thinking about how irrelevant this all mostly is.
I have self-selected my audience, and if you are not part of it I am okay with that. I’m not going to be Pat. I’m not going to be Aaron (Wilson or Reiss). I’m not going to be Steph Stradley. I’m not going to be John McClain. I respect all those people, and I think it’s cool that fanbases have many different options on how they want to be informed. I’m not going to write about the Texans from a PR-friendly point of view at all times. I’m not going to write about them like they’re the scum of the earth either. I’m going to write about what I want. If you don’t enjoy that ride, nobody has made you get on. We’ll both be happier without you. You need to learn to be okay with that, too.
Listen, you can come at me all you want. I had to bury both my parents before I turned 26. I’ve been freelance in what is essentially a dying profession for nearly six years. I am a diehard New York Mets fan who could barely suck a pacifier when they last won a title. You think your ninth exclamation point or extremely creative variation of telling me to go fuck myself is going to be the breaking point for me? You think nobody has ever tried to make me sound like a fraud before? Go for it, man. You can’t do anything to me the world hasn’t already done.
But given that none of this really matters, if you come at me aggrieved, I am putting you right into the same sort of bin you put me into. I’ve muted funnier people than you.
And we will continue to exist as well as anything can when there is no shared knowledge: we will be two different groups of fans who each think our feelings matter more. A gaping void of wasted emotion.
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