Keith Strudler: NY Sports Futility

Dec 4, 2013

Congratulations New York sports fans. You now know what the rest of the world feels like.  Both your basketball teams are awful and retreating towards the NBA lottery. The Jets and the Giants have less offensive production than the Swiss military. And even New York baseball teams, where the Yankees and sometimes the Mets can buy themselves a playoff spot, watched the postseason on their home televisions. In fact, there’s not a single pro team in the New York area with a winning record, even if you include hockey. And the college scene is even worse, to the extent that anyone in New York even cares.

That’s not a normal state of affairs for Gotham, who’ve grown accustomed to winning, or at least contending for titles every year. The Yankees make the post season with more regularity than a sunrise. The Giants have a couple of recent Super Bowls, and even the Jets knocked on the door. Even with the debacle that is the New York Knicks, New York sports fans expect to be relevant, more than just because you’re team bans its cheerleaders or loses its fortune in pyramid scheme.

But that’s where we are right now, with the city experiencing the worst sporting famine of a generation. That will continue through this football and basketball postseason for sure, leading NY sports fans, already an unlikable lot, to complain like a 5 year old at the dentist.

Having come from environs outside the NY metro area, Tampa and Houston to be precise, I’m quite familiar with this notion of sporting futility and angst.  My first sports team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, set winless records that were only equaled recently by the Detroit Lions. And Houston as a city didn’t win their first professional sports championship until the Rockets in 1994. There are lots of other American cities like that, say Cleveland and Kansas City and Milwaukee, places where just making the playoffs amounts to a championship of sorts. It’s the cities of David’s, where players go by mandate, not by choice. And now, New York fans know, at least ever so briefly, what that feels like.

Of course, that sentiment won’t last long. Just yesterday the Bronx Bombers signed Jacob Ellsbury to a seven year, $153 million dollar deal, bettering the high rolling Red Sox to the north. I’m sure that won’t be the end of their fortitude, even in this self-proclaimed era of self-control, where the Yankees might limit themselves to a payroll only three times that their peers. And while it won’t be as simple in basketball and football, where salary caps dictate some policy, you can rest assured the Knicks, Giants, and Jets, and Nets have immediate plans to manage upward, like Brooklyn did in buying pretty much all of the Celtics roster. I imagine the Yankees won’t miss the playoffs next year, and we’ll have at least one New York City football team playing far into January 2015.

But this isn’t about what will happen. It’s more about what should happen. There’s a whole lot of sports fans around the country, myself included, that are truly enjoying New York fans suffer. They’ve been smug, privileged, and unaware that losing, not winning, is most cities’ default mode. And when New York teams don’t win, their fans have no problem dreaming about, and usually watching their franchises raid the cupboards of their small town brethren. It’s why A-Rod ended up on New York in the first place, which makes his current flame out that much more delicious to us outsiders. It’s this hubris that led pretty much every Knicks fan to believe that LeBron James could only end up on New York, because why would anyone go anywhere else. So watching this current state feels a bit like watching Paris Hilton go broke. Just a wonderful guilty pleasure.

Of course, I know I need to enjoy it while I can. It certainly won’t last, not with the money and power that exists within the myth of parity in today’s professional sports leagues. And to make it even worse, the older of my two kids, both who were born and are being raised in the New York metro area, is already asking to go to Jets and Knicks games, because those are his favorite teams. It’s truly the enemy within. Right now, he’s not too happy, since all his favorite teams are losing. If nothing else, at least he knows how the rest of the world feels.

Keith Strudler is chair of the communication department at Marist College and director for the Marist College Center for Sports Communication.

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