Fans (Even Rich Ones) Should Know Their Place

I write about politics more often than sports. That’s not because I know more than most about politics, but because I know there are people who know more than me about sports. This one is really about both.

I had a quick conversation with a retired UO administrator and he told me twice that sports fans don’t make good administrators, because their instincts are all wrong. A good administrator (and probably a good coach) has to think straight at just the time that a fan is screaming himself silly. Administering sports requires a dispassionate attention to detail and ruthless execution that could seem cold or scheming or manipulative to the fan, but only when it doesn’t work.

The coach or the administrator needs the support of the fan and the fan relies on their expertise in return. It’s a symbiotic relationship, but that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily respectful. Maybe coaches are turning down Kilkenny because they see him as a fan, a groupie, a supporter who doesn’t really understand what it takes to succeed as a coach. They appreciate him when he’s in the role of fan, but not as somebody who would make promises and keep them to a potential hire. Maybe they think he wouldn’t know how. For that matter, good coaches may feel the same about Phil Knight — a rich man with a good heart who loves his team, but is out of his depth.

Not so very different from politicians and their financial supporters. The politician knows he needs the support, but he or she is ever mindful that legislating is more complex than the supporter understands. As they say, “Never try to teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time and it annoys the pig.” When politicians claim that no contributor has ever swayed a vote on legislation, that’s what they are trying to say. “We not only don’t expect our contributors to understand what it is they are paying us to do, we rely on that ignorance to keep us untainted. We appreciate but do not respect our supporters when they propose legislation. That’s how you know we’re good at what we do.”

Mizzou coach Mike Anderson gave a quote this weekend that likewise sheds light far beyond the circle of sports. He told local media, “when I was approached by Oregon, I decided to listen, but it was simply with my family in mind.” What exactly does that mean? The man makes $1.55 million a year. Does his family need more than that? It’s clear he “decided to listen” to find out how much money was on the table.

That cracks the code for me. When a politician or celebrity wants to talk about money, they simply substitute “family” in the sentence where “money” would tell the unseemly truth. When leaving the limelight, what’s offered as the most common motivation? They want to be left alone to spend more time with their money.