TIME OUT with Alex Mitchell: 01/13/12

Over the winter break, one ESPN reporter garnered local headlines when he said that the Atlanta Falcons did not deserve to win a playoff game because fans from Atlanta were undeserving of a good team. Throughout his article, Rob Parker called the city of Atlanta the worst sports city in the country and even went as far as to say that Atlanta fans do not know anything about sports.

I actually agree with Parker, in that I know plenty of local fans that inexplicably prefer to watch the game on television rather than go to the arena. However, Parker—either because he is not an Atlanta fan or because he is in an inept researcher—fails to identify any reasons why Atlanta fans might be so fair-weather. For that reason, this column will try to defend Atlanta fans and their decision not to attend more games.

Thousands of Atlanta fans flocked to social media to ridicule Parker and defended themselves by saying that Atlanta fans care more about college sports than they do about the professionals. While that is true, the biggest reason that fans in Atlanta do not care about the pro sports teams is because pro teams have combined to win just one championship in the city’s history. Think about all of the championships that Dallas and Los Angeles have won in just football and basketball respectively. Now consider that in over 150 seasons played by Atlanta’s three major sports teams, that only once has a team won a championship — the Braves in 1995. It is hard to be a devout Falcons or Hawks fan when your team never won the championship in over 50 years of existence.

For Falcons fans, it is easy to see why they may be timid to declare their undying love for the team. The Falcons have never won the Super Bowl and are largely considered one of the least successful franchises in the league. The team did not have back-to-back winning seasons until 2009, though the team has been playing since 1966. In fact, the Falcons have only made the playoffs 12 times, and have only had eight seasons with double-digit wins. The team is certainly getting better, and fans have responded by filling seats even after fan-favorite Michael Vick got cut. However, it is hard for fans to support the Falcons given the team’s infamous history and recent playoff games like the one last Sunday.

When it comes to the Braves, Parker is quick to point out the Braves’ success in the 90s, but he also reprimands fans by saying that the stadium should have been full for all of the team’s 162 plus games. Not only is that suggestion ridiculous considering only about three teams sellout every game, but also it’s crazy when you consider the late season collapses that the team became known for. The Braves won 14 consecutive division titles, but only managed to win one World Series during that time. The script became all too familiar for Braves fans: The team would dominate the regular season and choke in the playoffs. Who wants to see the same disappointing ending 14 straight times?

Parker also rebukes fans for not supporting one of basketball’s youngest and most exciting teams: the Hawks. Charles Barkley said it best when he said that the Hawks are just a bunch of role players. Al Horford and Josh Smith are exciting above-the-rim type players, but it is hard for die-hard fans to not think about what could have been. The Hawks owners, the Spirit Group, decided to bypass players like Chris Paul and Rajon Rondo to draft busts Marvin and Shelden Williams instead. Paul and Rondo could have changed the entire face of the franchise, but Williams and Williams never developed into anything more than benchwarmers. What may be worse than the team’s recent draft woes was the owner’s decision to give Joe Johnson $119 million in the twilight of his career. Johnson’s stats have dropped every season since he was given that contract in 2010 and his presence on the team has prevented the Hawks from making any significant roster moves. It is hard for fans to take the team seriously when any layperson could make wiser roster decisions than the guys in charge.

Coincidentally, the Spirit Group also owned the now-defunct Atlanta Thrashers. Unlike the Hawks, the group actually got some star players in Marian Hossa and Ilya Kovalchuk, but immediately traded them away once the stars refused to play for peanuts. The team made the 2007 playoffs when both stars were still in Atlanta but, once they left, the team left too, relocating to Winnipeg.

In summary, Parker brings up some fair points about how Atlanta fans are strictly fair-weather. However, he fails to address why fans are skeptical to support their hometown teams. When local teams consistently fail and owners don’t seem care, why should they be surprised when the seats are half-empty?