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Why I’m a fan of Northwestern

It ain’t always easy.

Stanford v Northwestern Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Welcome to the refreshed Inside Northwestern! To celebrate the new look and feel of our sports communities, we’re sharing stories of how and why we became fans of our favorite teams. If you’d like to share your story, head over to the FanPosts to write your own post. Each FanPost will be entered into a drawing to win a $500 Fanatics gift card. We’re collecting all of the stories here and featuring the best ones across our network as well. Come Fan With Us!

In the beginning, there were a few boring hours in central New Jersey. My introduction to the turbulent, strange and occasionally uplifting world of Northwestern sports fandom came on my iPhone screen. I was at a family gathering. After stuffing myself with bottomless amounts of homemade Korean food, I was bored. I saw that Northwestern was playing Stanford in the first week of the 2015 college football season, so I turned on the game. Hey, I’m going to be attending this school in a week, right? I might as well become a fan.

Unlike some people I know, I didn’t intently follow Northwestern sports before attending the university. To be honest, prior to the Northwestern-Stanford game, I’d watched about 20 minutes of Northwestern sports in my life. Growing up in New York’s Hudson Valley, about as far from college sports country as you can get, the foci of my sports fandom were the NFL, the Mets, the Knicks and Formula 1 racing. College football was not that important to me.

It’s a testament to Northwestern, and the addictive nature of college sports in general, that I became a fan within five minutes of watching the football team. I would have stuck with the team regardless of outcome, but then Northwestern went and upset Stanford. I jumped for joy when Kyle Quiero had the game-winning interception. Then the team went 10-2, I started writing for Inside NU, and that was that.

What’s interesting is that writing for a sports blog has intensified my fandom. Other SB Nation College blogs are run by alumni and fans, but Inside NU is entirely student-driven. This means that my experiences on a day-to-day level actually affect what I’m writing about. Thus, I went from being a regular fan to a “super-fan”, to say the least, mostly due to keeping up with the more obscure sports for the blog. Writing non-revenue sport recaps every week created an affinity, for me at least. It’s even easier when I see cross-country runners, tennis players and soccer players in my classes. I feel compelled to care more, because their success is, in a tangential way, my success as well.

For example, my everlasting fandom for Northwestern women’s basketball was entirely driven by covering the team myself. Part of this is the novelty of college sports — if this were a normal sportswriting gig at a newspaper, there’s no way I’d convince myself to be a fan of the team. However, writing for Inside NU feels different, in a way. It’s all a labor of fandom, and I enjoy it. Now, I actively follow Northwestern women’s lacrosse, cross-country, tennis, and women’s soccer. It’s awesome.

Unless you’re a parent of a child under the age of seven, it’s almost impossible to force fandom onto someone. You can suggest a team and hope it sticks, but you can’t mandate fandom. Allegiances have to be developed organically, and every single person has a different story. I think running a sports blog for the fans has supercharged that development in me. College sports, like some strange parasite, has taken hold of my brain.

But honestly, there are worse ways to spend your free time.

I suppose, as a coda, I must say that I fully acknowledge the structural problems within college athletics, despite how much fun being a fan is on a regular basis. I do think college athletes should receive more benefits, especially the ones at Northwestern who really are true “student-athletes”. They deserve it. I think the NCAA is a flawed organization based on a model from the 1950s that is no longer applicable. I think that college sports as we know them are limited, as the professionalization of American sports culture reaches a point at which the “amateur” nature of college sports will die. Nothing about being a fan of college sports is supposed to excuse anything. One’s fandom should not give a pass to inane and doomed systems.

But, of course, I can’t help but root for those fightin’ Wildcats. I can’t help but love college sports, a fact which makes everything else easy to brush aside. Wednesday’s NCAA Women’s Golf Championship Semifinal between USC and Northwestern was riveting television, an emotional tour de force that would get anyone fired up about the athletes, the sport of golf and the schools involved. That’s exactly what everyone wants to preserve, right? Because of its archaic structure, the NCAA can’t help but get in the way of this goal.

I want to keep the part of being a fan I love: being moved by sports. Everything else can head directly into the dustbin of history. Not because I don’t like college sports, but because I want to make sure they survive.

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