Something remarkable happened in North Carolina sports this fall. No, I'm not talking about Duke becoming bowl-eligible by beating UNC and Coach Hat. It's not the guarantee that the Hurricanes will get out of October without having once again dug themselves an insurmountable hole. And it's not the latest wacky rules change in NASCAR that makes no sense to anyone not part of the France family.
No, I'm talking about Charlotte suddenly deciding that it was a Big Time Sports City. The first signs came a few weeks ago, when the Charlotte media piled on Panthers star quarterback Cam Newton for his sideline behavior during a prime-time pounding by the Giants. This, of course, follows the long-standing tradition of big-time sports cities beating the crap out of their best players, from New York (A-Rod) to Philly (Mike Schmidt, Donovan McNabb) to Los Angeles (Matt Kemp). And yes, the Carolina sports media was inordinately proud of that fact. I heard sports-talk djs bragging on-air about how this made Charlotte "a real sports city".
As someone who was born in NY, grew up in Philly and went school in Boston, let me humbly suggest that this sort of idiotic behavior is the last sort of thing you want to emulate, and the last sort of thing that makes you "real" as sports fans. Newton's a convenient lightning rod, sure, but hey, he's a second year player at the most difficult position in the league, on a team that doesn't have a lot of weapons and no defense to speak of. He already expects he has to win every game by himself because his linebackers sure as hell aren't going to help him; getting mad because he doesn't always pull it off, because he's still learning, because he's the only recognizable name on a roster whose second-most famous player has a bad habit of putting his teammates on the disabled list, well, that's kind of counterproductive.
And so, as a resident of too many cities where the sports media eats its own, I listen to the callers on "The Fan" and "The Buzz" talk about how it's time to give up on Newton, and how he's a bust, and how it's time to tear down a team that never got built in the first place, and I shake my head. That crap sort of works in Boston and Philly and NY because there's money there, and there's legacy, and there's a sort of "we've-been-married-so-long-that-we've-forgotten-how-to-say-nice-things-about-each-other-but-God-help-you-if-you-come-between-us" vibe. Charlotte doesn't have that. Charlotte's got one basketball team that packed up and left and another one that's literally the worst of all time, and a football team that can't figure out who it is or whether it belongs to Charlotte or both Carolinas. Picking up the worst habits of the old guys is not the best way to build fandom, or to make your town a desirable place to play.
Being a "real" sports town is overrated - ask anyone who endured the Bobby Valentine shenanigans this year. It's a lot more fun being a town that loves sports, even when there's a hiccup or two. And it's definitely a lot more fun living there.