I saw three people wearing Tom Brady jerseys in the supermarket today. I don’t watch football and I am bad with faces, but I would venture a guess that not one of the three was the Tom Brady who will be playing in the Super Bowl today. For one, none of them looked the part. If forced to provide a description of Tom Brady, I would go with somewhere north of 6 feet, fit, athletic and most importantly, somewhere else. I don’t know where the Super Bowl is being played today, but I’m pretty sure it isn’t in Long Beach, CA. (Breaking: I pulled out teh Google, which tells me the Super Bowl is being played in Houston.)
But I was wondering – what possesses grown men to wear a jersey with Tom Brady’s name and number on it? Of course, the question generalizes to any other athlete. You don’t see people wearing a jersey proclaiming themselves to be anything other than athlete. I get why nobody wears a jersey with, say, Andrew Wiles name on it, and he was last year’s Abel Prize Laureate. Few people would recognize what the Abel Prize is about, who Andrew Wiles is, or what Andrew Wiles did to deserve the Abel Prize. But we also don’t see people wearing a faux-Marine corps uniform with James Mattis’ name tag on it, and Mattis was pretty damn popular among military personnel long before The Donald put him up for Secretary of Defense. Ditto now dead Stormin’ Norman, and he was widely known in his day. To go back a war or two, I doubt anyone was wearing William Westmoreland get-ups either. In fact, I cannot think of any field other than sports that results in people dressing up as other people when neither Halloween nor fraud is involved.
So what is it about sports that generates that sort of behavior? And what is that behavior representing? It is very unlikely that anyone is actually fooled into believing some middle-aged out-of-shape guy wearing a Tom Brady or a Stephen Curry jersey is the person whose name is on the jersey so it’s gotta be something else. I also don’t see how wearing one of those jerseys confers any sort of simpatico or affinity. I say this as someone who has on occasion worn jerseys from one or another soccer team (though none with a player’s name and/or number on it). In each case, however, the jersey was a gift, and I made a point of wearing it when it the gifter was likely to see it. So what am I missing?