Thursday, March 24, 2005


Recent attendance at a few NCAA basketball tournament games has caused me to think a little about the act of cheering on a team. Cheering, I'm sure you'll agree, is almost totally superfluous. The players could play exactly the same game without thousands of screaming fans yelling in their ear. In fact, they might not miss as many free throws if things worked like that.

In terms of the NCAA and intercollegiate competition there is some rationale for spirited cheering; by cheering on a school's team you are making some noise for the sake of the school as well as for the sake of the players. This type of spirit becomes a competition in and of itself in that schools compete to see who has the most pride in their academic establishment.

For people who have not attended a school and no vested interest in it, or for professional sports with teams that people have no real connection to, we find that people cheer just as loudly. The probability of your yell being the one that rallies the team to victory, though, is so insignificant as to be totally negligible.

Similar to cheering is the act of voting. Like cheering a team, the odds of your vote being the one vote among thousands that decides an otherwise 50-50 election is so slim as to be classified as impossible. I'm not a statistician, and the mathematicians that I've spoken to about this seem conflicted on the actual calculation, but they all agree that the odds are extremely small.

What's the point, then? Sure, if no one voted or cheered then the systems wouldn't work, so we all have to do our part, but if one person decides not to, what's the problem? Why are we so pressured to vote (thank you, Sean "Vote or Die" Combs)?

I posit that people cheer, or vote, simply to join the club. By voicing your support from the stands or in the voting booth you place a label on yourself, you define your view to the world, and you prove, but the ultimate test, that you are faithful to a certain movement. In sports, it is obviously vocal, but with the ballot box it is more subversive. While elections are supposed to be private, do you know many people who won't tell you who they voted for after an election? Furthermore, how many people do you know that tell you you can only complain about something if you voted against it, on the grounds that you didn't do enough to stop it?

The point to all this is that if someone chooses not to vote, or chooses not to cheer on an arbitrary team that they don't care about, they aren't being counter culture or stand-offish, but rather realize the futility in the action itself. Leave the conscientious non-voters alone, and lets start doing things to actually change our government or sport of choice instead of just cheering on the team.


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