Sox, Cubs Fans Perhaps Not So Different After All

Anyone whose favorite teams are part of a storied rivalry knows that half the fun of being a sports fan is in demonizing opposing fans (sorry, fans of expansion teams, if you have no idea what we’re talking about here). You know what I mean - Patriots fans are all ‘Tommy from Quinzee,’ Dodgers fans are late-arriving, clueless fair-weather fans, and Packers fans are all fat, drunk, brat-stuffed cheesemongers (OK, so maybe that one’s true*).

Baby Gaines v. Baby Fornelli

(SbB contributors Tom Fornelli and Pete Gaines, c. 2001)

Some of the hardest-core rivalry stereotypes are in Chicago, where White Sox fans and Cubs fans revel in making fun of the opposing fans’ stereotypes. You may have heard them before. Cubs fans are a bunch of fair-weather fratboys, living large on daddy’s credit cards, while Sox fans are older, hardscrabble blue-collar types - a positive or negative depiction, depending on who’s doing the talking. Well, what if everything you knew about your rival’s fans was wrong?

If you’re skeptical, it’s not just me making these things up. The CHICAGO TRIBUNE went out and about, talking to both Cubs and Sox fans about the stereotype that each team’s fans holds about the other. First let’s hear from a Sox fan:

“As a Sox fan, I picture the obnoxious drunk fraternity guy Cubs fan and generalize that to all them, just assume that’s how they all are,” says Joe Santeler of Chicago, a White Sox fan. “I want to think that’s how Cub fans are because it makes it easier to dislike them.”

We’ll get back to that last sentence in a minute, but first let’s hear some more misconceptions, this time from a Cubs fan:

“There are a lot more females who are Cubs fans,” says Robert Daniels, a West Sider who cheers for the Cubs. “Maybe because I’m always with Cubs fans, but I very rarely see female Sox fans. All the Sox fans I see are men. And Cubs fans are … younger. Sox fans, they’ve been Sox fans their whole lives.”

Ignore the irony of someone from the West Side trying to talk trash on the South Side for a moment, and read between the lines here. The implication is that Sox fans spend their whole lives living on the South Side and working down at the plant, while Cubs fans are young professional transplants. So what of it all? Well, the TRIBUNE crunched the demographic numbers and found - surprise! - that the stereotypes are (almost) complete hogwash. The money quotes:

In more ways than these sniping fans would want to admit, they are alike. Or at least they’re in the same ballpark.

White males with good incomes are the rule on both sides of town. Cubs crowds are a little more male than Sox crowds, have a little higher household income and are somewhat whiter. Their percentages of fans who have children, live in the suburbs, and are Hispanic are almost identical. Politically, there’s not a huge variance, either. The Cubs have more Republicans, while the Sox had more Democrats.

That age gap between the teams’ fans? Not there. According to a Scarborough Research survey of Chicago-area adults who had attended a major pro sports event in the last year, the average age of Cubs and Sox fans was virtually identical. All in all, there are more similarities than differences between the Cubs and Sox fans, especially after you factor in the 2.3 percent margin of error.

The fact of the matter is that cities, and the middle classes residing therein, have become much more homogenized over the past half-century. Additionally, education and income levels are up in many areas - north and south side - of Chicago over the past 20 years. That said, anyone who’s spent any time in the neighborhood immediately surrounding Wrigley Field can attest that the fratboy demographic exists in loud and annoying fashion. However, not every Michigan State or Iowa grad who spends his early-to-mid-20s getting his parents to foot the bill for an overpriced Wrigleyville apartment is a Cubs fan, and these numbers bear that out. Perception isn’t reality, which brings us back to that Sox fan’s last sentence. Perception, more than anything, is the driving engine behind sports fandom. It’s the only way for people to rationalize the fact they’re actually rooting for laundry, for multi-billion dollar corporate entities.

The rivalries, as evidenced in the differing opinions the fans have, are “about escape, about family relationships and connections and grandparents who were Sox fans and are now dead. And it’s about place, a sense of place. That’s powerful stuff.”

[Northwestern University professor Irving] Rein doesn’t believe this Us vs. Them gap exists anywhere else in pro sports as it does in Chicago. “This is a very special place. It’s very clear here,” he said. “And it’s based on a kind of fallacy, a huge fallacy. It’s in the interest of everyone to perpetuate it. It’s in the interest of the media to perpetuate it, the professional clubs, obviously, the managers, the agents. Everybody. People who’ve lost their jobs or are worrying about their medical care, they’re able to move their feelings into this rivalry. It’s a great escape.”

At the end of the day, the idea of sports as a “great escape” is while we’re all sports fans in the first place. That’s why you’re reading this, and that’s why I left the comfortable confines corporate America to write this. So hate on, haters. It’s a hell of a lot more fun than facing reality.

*Kidding! Wisconsin has been ranked as one of the nation’s “smartest states.” I’m originally from Wisconsin. Coincidence? Obviously not.