Research reveals that the original word used in print, by sportswriters to describe spectators attending a sporting event from 1882 to 1910, was the word crank or krank, in some cases. Female spectators were called crankess.
In a book written in 1903 entitled Humorous Stories of the Baseball Field by Ted Sullivan, baseball owner Charles Comiskey claimed he once called an enthusiast, who broke into his clubhouse a “fanatic.” Sullivan clipped the word fanatic to “fan” in his writings.
William Henry Nugent wrote a column in March of 1929 called The Sports Section for a newspaper entitled “The American Mercury” and showed how many common sports terms used in North America are not Americanisms, but rather much older transplants from the British Isles. He claimed the word “fan” can be traced from several sources. The word “fancy” was long used as a class name in England and America for followers of boxing, dog fighting and pigeon racing. One story is that baseball borrowed it and shortened it to fan. Hall-of-Fame Manager Connie Mack claimed the word “fan” was first created to describe spectators who fanned themselves to stay cool during the games. Webster’s Dictionary defines the word “fan” as an enthusiastic follower of the game, a devotee.
Throughout the years, despite all this evidence, either the word fancy or fanatic has been appropriately shortened to the word fan. It was easier to pronounce, easier to remember and didn’t sound quite as harsh. That seems to be the American Way.
It’s safe to say that the fans are the lifeblood of sports; always have been. Without fans, there are no paid athletes or sporting events. Fans from all walks of life have always footed the bill. From ticket prices, seat licenses, parking, stadium costs, ballpark food, and drinks, to merchandise and memorabilia, fans have played their part in making sports franchises great and their owners rich beyond words. The team on the field determines the score, but the number of fans in the seats and their purchasing power creates the value of the franchise itself.
Over the years, the fans’ knowledge and enthusiasm for their teams and their infatuation with greatness on the field of play has not changed as dramatically as the athletes themselves. Fans still live and die with every touchdown, four-foot putt, turnover, or home-run hit. One thing that has changed the most is the fans’ ability to receive instant information and their desire to add their two cents’ worth on the results. With the invention of fantasy leagues and social media, fans are much more in touch and therefore more opinionated. There is no lag time in real information. Most fans my age received our sports scores from the radio and the surrounding stories from the daily newspaper. Television was well into the late 1960’s before games were shown in real time, and even then we were rewarded with only one or two local games a week, depending on the sport.
Another change has been the appetite for (more) sports have increased, especially among the female population with the invention of Title IX.
Even as the price of attending in person continues to soar, they still come. But will they continue? Cable television, sports television packages, Twitter, NFL Red Zone, FaceBook, My Space, satellite radio, iPads, and smart phones now allow fans to visually connect instantly. A fan with tickets in Section D, Row 21, Seats 4 and 5, may now find a much cheaper and more comfortable couch at the house. Another cloud of concern for the fan lies in the integrity of the games themselves. Many athletes continue to cheat by using performance-enhancing drugs. Most fans seem not to care until it is revealed that a cheater from another team affected the outcome of a game which included that fan’s favorite team.
For the most part, fans will continue to find hope in their favorite athletes or teams. They attach themselves to something they consider greater than they are themselves. Most people believe we all need to feel a part of something good every day. If their team wins they feel excitement, and when they lose they feel betrayed. The emotions are real. Hats off to the fans and to the owners; we say, “Be careful what you ask for.” We the fans are footing this bill.
Andy Purvis is a local author. His books "In the Company of Greatness" and "Remembered Greatness" are on the shelves at the local Barnes and Noble, at Beamer's Sports Grill 5922 S Staples, and online at many different sites including Amazon, bn.com, booksamillion, Google Books, etc. They are also available in e-reader format. Contact him at www.purvisbooks.com, or firstname.lastname@example.org.