Earlier in the Stanley Cup Finals, Justin Bieber -- a Stratford, Ontario native, who has proclaimed his love of the Maple Leafs in the past -- posted a photo of himself in a Pittsburgh Penguins jersey. After receiving plenty of flack, he then took to Twitter on Monday before Game 4 between the Penguins and Predators to explain himself.
I support all sports I'll put ANY jersey from ANY pro team if I'm whack for wearing jerseys they give me out of love then I'm Whack- Justin Bieber (@justinbieber) June 5, 2017
Leafs above all but other than that u give me ANY JERSEY THAT LOOKS COOL ILL THROW IT ON- Justin Bieber (@justinbieber) June 5, 2017
I also don't know enough about sports to Really have valid opinion but I do enjoy sports!! And enjoy any high level sports game. Any team- Justin Bieber (@justinbieber) June 5, 2017
Bieber is not the first famous person to be accused of being a fairweather fan. From Drake to Snoop Dogg, we've seen plenty of celebrities represent different teams and different jerseys. The circle of friends between sports and entertainment is so small that the intersections often result in bandwagon jumping.
But Bieber speaks to a larger point: Does what you wear define your sports loyalty? Are casual fans, or even diehard fans for that matter, restricted to only wearing the colors of their team? For me, the answer is a resounding no. Growing up in Toronto, I fully understand the rabid nature of the hockey fan base here. The Leafs haven't won a Stanley Cup in 50 years and fans carry the decades of pain like a badge of honor.
I found that out up close several years ago when I purchased a throwback Wayne Gretzky Los Angeles Kings jersey and made the mistake of parading it out on a beautiful summer day at a local sports bar in Toronto. Turns out, plenty of fans still have not forgotten the 1993 Clarence Campbell Conference Final when the Kings beat the Leafs in seven games to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals, with Gretzky not being called for a high-stick penalty in Game 6 and then scoring the game winner, followed by a hat trick in Game 7.
After being heckled and even receiving a few physical threats, I re-evaluated the entire concept of sports loyalty through the jerseys you choose. First of all: Wear the colors that you like. The black and silver of the Kings is one of the most beautiful in all of sports. I feel like that should be enough to justify the hats and jerseys and other apparel you wear. Second: Gretzky is from Brantford, Ontario. But, still, wearing that particular jersey in Toronto is basically declaring war on all the years of pain Leafs fans have suffered through.
Which brings us to Bieber's second point of throwing on any jersey that looks cool, which, to be honest, is pretty reasonable. Bieber probably didn't mean for his tweets to be more than just a defense against fans coming after him. But he touched upon the point that sports can often be too serious and self-important. People taking the jerseys that other people wear as a signifier of their fandom and sports knowledge falls into that category.
There are certain unwritten rules about sports jerseys that I think everyone should follow, however.
Don't wear a rival jersey to a game if you actually don't represent them.
Don't show up to the arena wearing the jersey of a former player of your team who has been traded, especially if that player wronged your team by demanding a trade or left via free agency. That's the opposite of showing support for your team.
Don't show up to a sporting event wearing the jersey of a different sport. I've never been more baffled than seeing fans at a baseball game in a football jersey.
Also: none of these rules apply to kids, who can do whatever they want and wear whatever they want at a sporting event. Bless their little hearts.
Because I own a variety of hats and jerseys of plenty of teams, I've had plenty of one-off encounters with other sports fans in public. Just a few weeks ago, I bought an Ottawa Senators hat ("I love the logo!") and engaged plenty of Sens fans on the streets in Toronto while they were in the Eastern Conference Finals. On a streetcar a few weeks ago, an older man approached me and asked if I was a San Francisco Giants fan because of the hat I was wearing. "No, sorry, I just love the colors," I replied. He was initially disappointed, confused, but after getting past my very basic approach to sports apparel, he started telling me stories about watching Willie Mays play when he used to live in the Bay Area. It was a wonderful 20-minute chat.
It wouldn't have happened if I only owned the hats and jerseys of one team. Wear your favorite colors, enjoy sports the way you want and, I guess in the year 2017, listen to Justin Bieber when he talks about being a casual sports fan.