What’s in a hat? Or, in any article of clothing for that matter? Do they really have any meaning beyond their objective purpose to shield our faces from the sun or cover nakedness?
Aside from its function to protect us from the elements, clothing says a lot about us as individuals. It conveys meaning in our social circles, our jobs, and our self-image. It can also be a political or philosophical statement and a means of distinguishing tribes, as well as status within those tribes.
If you’ve ever been accosted on the street, or done some accosting yourself after sighting your team’s logo, then I reckon you understand that a hat is not always just a hat — it’s more. It can be a moment when total strangers strike up a spontaneous conversation over something — sports — because they both wear Fighting Irish paraphernalia (not an endorsement).
The tribal benefits from wearing the right kind of hat at the right time are tangible, as well. Like at Soldier Field when a Bears fan spots you at the back of a long bathroom line and lets you cut ahead of 30 Jets fans.
Within our tribes, we can be at our most altruistic.
But what happens if you’re a poser in the guise of a fan? Should we assume that just because someone wears the colors of the team that they are in fact a member of the tribe? The accoster could be accused of having made a brash assumption about the poser, even if most of the time no one is the wiser.
To be fair, we’re a busy species and there just isn’t enough time to chew the proverbial cud over a mutually loved team. A shout-out will do, a simple acknowledgement as you pass on by. Any poser can eek by with a knowing nod or a holler back. We’re all better for it, our day improved, with both parties happier. Move on, move on.
Can this innocent posing get you in trouble, though? I doubt you’ll ever be dragged into court for posing but you don’t want to be called out, either.
So, I have a confession to make. I am one of those posers. Since my mid twenties, I’ve fibbed my way through these brief interactions, deceiving well-meaning strangers and family members from the various sports tribes. I’ve mostly done this without incident (except for that time I was called out by a relative at a party — very awkward).
Many of us posers don’t pose out of malice or disrespect, however, we do it to belong. We just don’t want to do the actual work real fans do to belong (Can’t we be seasonal fans?). We may also do it out of expedience as it’s easier to sometimes go along when time is short.
I find myself engaging in this little lie almost every time I don a team hat, and I have several different hats from several different teams. They each fit well and are very comfortable, even matching all the clothes I wear, in any combination, so I wear them with abandon.
Yet, when I wear these hats, especially during the relevant season, someone always wants to let me know that they, too, are on my team. Who am I to deny the joy joy feeling we strangers gain from this random interaction of camaraderie? I wouldn’t. I don’t deny it. Far easier to go along for 20 seconds, or less, than to be honest and disavow that stranger’s acknowledgement — on a busy weekday morning, no less!
You can take it too far, though.
Walking out of a doctor’s office a while back, the office manager noticed my Chicago Bears beanie and asked me a simple question, “You must be as disappointed in them this season as I am.”
In hindsight, I know how I should’ve answered this question but instead jumped in headfirst, thinking that a brief repartee wouldn’t last more than a minute. “Yeah,” I said with the heavy nod of someone who’s in the know, “they just can’t seem to get it right this year.” This was true and I was vaguely aware of some of the issues plaguing the team that season.
Then the Cosmos decided to dish out some karma in my general direction..
The office manager continued, “Well, last season facts, figures, analytics, etc…” Each time I tried to redirect the conversation, or change the subject to a different sport — the latter of which wasn’t any better of a strategy than my original attempt to “pose”, he deftly maneuvered with me. The easy flow of sports knowledge threatened to drown me at any moment, and my boat had had a leak before the conversation even started.
It was ironic. Like that time I mentioned how funny it would be if I stuck my head out the car window during a rainstorm and got splashed in the face by puddle. I did stick my head out and subsequently got splashed.
Unlike many of the times before, where there was no time for someone to catch me in posing, there was no escape. It was the end of the day and no one was in any particular hurry. I had to make hasty retreat instead, pulling out my cellphone as an excuse
A few weeks later, another stranger pointed to my hat and said, “Nice hat! I see you’re a Fighting Irish fan.” He then rolled up his sleeve to show me a tattoo on his arm.
“Ah well, this hat was a gift from my dad. He’s a huge fan — sorry,” I said apologetically. I’d learned my lesson.
Sometimes we pose out of expedience; it’s the way of our busy lives. But, if there is no immediate reason why either one of you needs to be on your way, don’t pose be real. You can’t fake it with an actual sports fan.
On the flipside, superfans shouldn’t call out us part-timers for our lack of superfandom. It is just a game and a hat is just a hat.
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