Growing Up

    Supporting the “wrong team” can send one into an identity crisis

    Bridget Kelley

    More stories from Bridget Kelley

    In small towns, football is everything.

    Friday nights in August and September are for tailgating, cheering and spending at high school football games.

    What is essential to any Friday night on the bleachers is some trash talk. Small towners love to trash talk other small towns’ football teams, especially when the other team is better. Middle-schoolers and grandparents alike would say that the other team graduated all their good players, or that they’ll get us in the first half, but we’re a second half game — we’ll make a comeback.

    People from small towns construct a part of their identity around who they spend their Friday nights supporting, and the same can be said on the college and professional levels.

    My family comes from Iowa, so I grew up supporting the Hawkeyes and not the Badgers. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll still root for the Badgers — unless they’re playing the Hawkeyes. In that case, I will talk the most amount of smack that anyone has ever heard.

    Growing up, I was ashamed of who I supported. In Wisconsin, if you don’t support the Packers-Badgers-Brewers trifecta, you get ridiculed on the playground. Being of the Bears-Hawkeyes-Cubs mindset, I just avoided the sports kids at school — which was hard, considering there were only 10 of us in my grade.

    I remember being in second or third grade and feeling like I was doing something wrong because I cheered for the Hawkeyes and I’d never been to a Packer game. Elementary schoolers have a very definitive idea of what is and isn’t acceptable, and not cheering for the Badgers was unacceptable.

    Being ashamed of who I supported created a weird, third-grade, eight-years-into-my-life crisis that made me push away sports almost entirely.

    I stopped paying attention to football or basketball when it was on in my house. I started pulling away from playing the sports that I was previously interested in. I avoided watching the game after Thanksgiving dinner. I even avoided the Super Bowl — I only watched for the commercials and the halftime show.

    Now, after growing up a little, I’m appreciating my teams and, in turn, my identity. I loved supporting my team in high school and I have come to love rooting for teams that might not be the same as the ones my peers support. It’s who I am.

    While I think it’s somewhat trivial to build a part of your personality around liking a certain sports team, it’s a part of the culture in my hometown, which means that only natural to have a part of my identity centered on a specific team at the local level as well as at the collegiate and professional levels.

    For now, I’m going to support both the Hawkeyes and the Badgers and I’m going to be okay with that, and I think that’s what growing up is, really.

    Kelley can be reached at [email protected].