It’s really hard to not make knee jerk reactions when it comes to supporting your favorite sports teams — or hating their biggest rivals. I get it. I’m even guilty of it myself. When the Steelers drafted T.J. Watt 30th overall in 2017, I thought — in my obvious infinite wisdom — that drafting the falling Reuben Foster would have been a better value. Clearly I’m not an NFL general manager for a reason as Watt has become one of the best players in the NFL and Foster was cut by the San Fransisco 49ers in 2018 after multiple arrests. Of course, I can say I strongly supported the Steelers giving up a first round pick to acquire Minkah Fitzpatrick last September, too. So, maybe I’m not totally inept.
As is the case with Jamal Adams blockbuster trade, in which the Seattle Seahawks gave up two first round picks, one of the instant reactions — besides the obvious musings on how an Uber-versatile safety like Adams would change the Seahawks’ defense — was one of, “the Seahawks gave up two firsts?! LOL, that’s way too much.”
It’s almost law that when two teams make a trade, one team must be a winner and one must be a loser. This is not always the case as some trades do fulfill both team’s needs and amount to a win for both teams. But in most cases, there’s a furious debate as to which team came out as the “winner”.
While there are some trades that immediately stand out as head scratchers — the first coming to my mind being that with the Pittsburgh Pirates and Tampa Bay Rays in which the Pirates traded Austin Meadows, Tyler Glasnow and Shane Baz for Chris Archer — why do we, as fans, feel so strongly that we need to pronounce the trade as good or bad before any of the players took to the field?
One of the worst examples of knee-jerk reactions comes from the sports media, similar to my anecdote from above, where analysts and journalists grade their respective teams’ draft hauls. Again, I must admit that I scour the internet for draft grades at the end of every draft, but why does it matter when the true grades probably shouldn’t be calculated until a good three to five years following the draft’s conclusion?
We, as sports fans, require instant gratification. If the move made by a front office doesn’t fit the growing consensus among fans on social media, the move is a failure. The era of armchair general managers is as strong as ever. The mob mentality is alive, with fans deciding what defines a win or a loss. Again, I must admit that I fall victim of such a stance. When Ohio State’s J.K. Dobbins fell to the Steelers in the second round during the 2020 NFL Draft, I was ecstatic.
I had been waiting with bated breath, hardly daring to hope Dobbins would fall to the 49th pick. Despite being a fan of the Steelers selecting Notre Dame’s Chase Claypool with the pick, I was crestfallen the Steelers had bypassed my hopeful pick — doubly so when the Baltimore Ravens selected Dobbins six picks later.
I was so caught up in my own desires that I kind of forgot how my opinion, along with the opinions of millions of other fans, doesn’t matter to the front offices of any sports league. Every Steelers fan — every (in)sane Steelers fan, at least (myself included) — feels as though they know what’s best for the Steelers, their knee-jerk reactions to trades, draft picks and free agent signings showing as much.
Maybe it all boils down to one simple fact: People want to win, with sports serving as an escape from everyday life. With the alternative being: People love to play the victim, wallowing in the despair of a perpetually bad sports team. Hello, Pirates fans.
The Steelers haven’t won a Super Bowl since conquering the Arizona Cardinals in 2009, which was the 2008-09 season, and that’s a long time now. It has more than a decade, about half of the time I’ve been on this planet.
In following the escapist winner aspect, any chance to pounce on a trade (declaring it the greatest in modern history), a draft pick (the biggest sleeper in the draft), or a free agent signing (a player that’s finally primed for his breakout season) allows a small win, one that wouldn’t otherwise be there if the move hadn’t been made.
If we follow the perpetual pessimist, the same moves (the worst trade in league history, the biggest bust in league history, etc.) inspire the alternate outcomes from fans. Either way, the fan is happy although the argument for happiness through eternal pessimism is harder to sell than blindly riding one’s team to a win.
Regardless of the reason, knee-jerk reactions will be a huge part of sports. And while they can be insanely annoying, they are one small part of what makes sports so universal: The desire to be happy.
What do you think? Are you more of a blind optimist or an eternal pessimist? Maybe it all depends on the team... Steelers and Pirates fans...?