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A Few Valentine’s Day Thoughts February 14, 2009

Posted by CapitalSpirit in Uncategorized.

Today is the day when we’re reminded by the calendar–and, I suppose, Hallmark et al–to express our affection for those we love. I could, I suppose, remark that it shouldn’t take a holiday to express your love, but that would just be too snarky to make a decent essay out of.

Rather, I’m going to take a look at unconditional love, by way of discussing my favorite hockey team, the Capitals.

Let me start by saying that it’s been great to be a part of some raucous home crowds at Caps games this year. We may very well sell out the entire rest of the year in short order, and season tickets for next year are in enough demand that there have been whispers of a waiting list in some quarters.

And yet, only a few short years ago, I could walk up to the box office at Verizon Center on game night, and pretty much pick my seat. Those days are long past–more fans are coming out to games, the building is rocking like nobody’s business, and the players are feeding off of us fans and sporting one of the best home records in the NHL.

It’s the old saw about nothing sells a team like winning, and that’s just the nature of the sports business. Spiritually, though, it’s not the highest form of love.

Being a fan of a winning team only because they are winning is like saying, “I love you IF.” As in, “If you guys win, then I love you.” Again, from the standpoint of sports, that’s just the nature of the business, and I doubt that it’s ever going to change. But viewed from the lens of Spirit, it’s not the best way to love someone or something. If you do (blank), then I love you, is as conditional as love gets. It’s a direct condition: the “beloved” must do something specific to receive love. Try telling that lovely stranger in the bar that you love them if, say, they buy you an expensive drink, and see how long that relationship lasts.

“I love you IF” is not love. It is using the idea of love as a bargaining chip. How then can this be love? Love must not be only IF someone does something specific. In sports, there is rightfully a predisposition against “bandwagon fans”–fans who only root for teams when they’re good. Simply loving a team IF it wins, and not loving it when it loses–as all teams eventually do–isn’t love. I know that sounds harsh, but keep reading.

Then there’s “I love you BECAUSE.” “I love the Caps because they’re so exciting to watch.” “I love the Caps because they have one of the best players in the game.” “I love the Caps because it’s so much fun to watch them play live.”

“I love you because” is also conditional love. It qualifies love based on some condition which may not always be true. What, then, happens to that love when that condition no longer is true?

In sports, NOTHING is sacred and unchanging. Fan favorites sometimes leave: even a Washington institution like Olie Kolzig somehow found his way to greener pastures. Styles of play can change; uniforms get redesigned; the game night experience is constantly in flux. No team can or will always be able to keep “I love you <because” fans happy. The only immutable thing in sports is its very mutability. Thus, when fans say, “I love this team because…”, they are making an indirect condition.

What, then, happens when that condition is no longer true? Will fans of the Capitals lose interest in the team when time catches up with Alex Ovechkin? Would fans of the Capitals continue to support the team if the coaching staff decided to play a neutral zone trap? Were there any fans who loved the Caps because they didn’t have a pep squad, who have since abandoned the team? I don’t know, I’m just asking.

“I love you because” is also conditional love. And it may perhaps be the more pernicious kind of conditional love. “I love you if” is easy to see for what it is: a precondition on love that probably won’t be worth much. “I love you because“, on the other hand, starts out by saying that yes, you have my love for now, but you’ll lose it when the “because” is no longer true. Is this really any different from “I love you if“?

The highest love, then, is love without conditions. It’s “I love you, period.” It’s loving your team win or lose. No, you don’t like to see them lose: if anything, the losses hurt you that much more, because you care about your team so much. But win or lose, Stanley Cup or lottery pick, you’re still going to support your team, because you know that this is the team that you love–period, full stop, end of sentence.

So while I welcome the sellout crowds at Verizon Center, while I welcome the active online presence of Caps fans, and while I welcome all the new fans that have discovered our team, my prayer for all our recent “converts” is that they will learn to love this team unconditionally. Don’t love the Caps IF they win; don’t love the Caps BECAUSE they have great players. Just love the Caps, period.

Have a good Valentine’s Day, everyone, and don’t forget to do something special today for that someone special.




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