Am I allowed to root for Michigan?

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Am I an actual Michigan Fan or simply a Walmart Wolverine?

Not sure when or how the term “Walmart Wolverine” was started, but I assume it was from a fan of Michigan State University and I assume that person was from South Eastern Michigan (Metro Detroit). I make these assumptions because SE Michigan is populated largely by fans of The University of Michigan. MSU fans in this geographic area can be very sensitive about this fact. I have spent time in the Lansing area over my lifetime (clients, friends, shopping, college visits, kids camps) and I think it is very safe to say that the vast majority of sports fans in that area of our state root for MSU. This is how it should be, in my opinion. MSU grads root for MSU. UM grads root for UM. Sports fans that did not attend either university will generally pull for the school that your family roots for or which school is closer to where you live. Of course there are exceptions.

For some reason, fans of UM that did not attend the school are an irritant to MSU fans/grads. Hence the term Walmart Wolverine is used to dismiss any UM fan other than graduates or students. In fact, many grads/students have been called that also, only to have to “defend” themselves. I think the term is supposed to mean a person that simply goes to a store a buys his or her allegiance. I think that’s what it means..

I have heard some people make the point that the term only applies to UM fans that did not attend the university and that says anything negative about any other school. Or goes ‘too far’ in rooting for Michigan. Or says they are a fan of ‘UM football only’, not basketball.

Anyway. I see this term can be and is used as a way for MSU fans to pivot an argument away from your own team’s issues and towards the UM fan and to whether they are even qualified to present an argument. Discussions on the radio and in person sometimes sound like this:

Person #1: Michigan is going to beat MSU 24-0 because MSU cannot throw the ball and their defense is overrated.
Person #2: Did you go to Michigan?
Person #1: No, I…..
Person #2: Oh, so you are a WalMarter. Who cares what you think?

The “argument” basically ends there and the MSU fan has successfully avoided addressing whether their team can, in fact, throw the ball and whether their defense is overrated or not. They simply dismissed the entire argument, not because of its merits but because of the person’s educational background. This comes off as a WIN for the MSU fan; but to me it is a LOSE because they seemed scared to discuss the important points. And because the UM fans history is irrelevant to the football arguments.

A couple of points from the MSU perspective that I completely understand. Firstly, some UM fans are incredibly loud, obnoxious and arrogant. And there are many more of these types that are UM fans than MSU (at least in this area). My feeling is that this is due to UM being so far superior to MSU in football for the last 4 decades. Success breeds fans. Young people growing up in the 1970’s, 80’s and 90’s with no general history are more likely to root for UM based on success. I wonder how the attitudes were in the 1950’s and 1960’s when MSU had the better program (of course there was no sports talk radio then). Success coupled with a very intense rivalry coupled with close proximity of the two schools and a lot of cross over in recruiting and the players themselves….and you get loud, arrogant, rude, incredibly obnoxious fans.

Secondly, when the trash talking between the fan basis crosses over from good natured bashing of each others teams and into the quality of the universities themselves it can get dicey. If a UM fan (not a grad) insults the quality of an MSU education while holding a degree from Central Michigan, this is perhaps not great footing to be on. I understand that 100%. I do not make fun of MSU as an institution and would be happy if any of my kids attended MSU. I would prefer they attended UM, but this is due to its reputation as a college, its proximity to home and that it is located in my home town – not much to do about sports.

Anyway, the question I want to get into…is what makes a WMW? Is it anybody that roots for UM without having attended the university? And is there such a thing as a WMS (WalMart Spartan)?  I want to give three specific cases – one for UM fan without being an alum and one for MSU and a third for either.

Here is my personal story and somebody please tell me if I am a WMW:

I grew up in Ann Arbor about 1 mile from Michigan Stadium. My father is an alum of UM as are 2 of my aunts. I was a fan of UM from the time I could walk and remember games in the early 1970’s, when I was very young. I attended games throughout the 1970’s (I was at the famous 1979 game against Indiana that Michigan won on the last play of the game). I continued to be a huge fan in the 1980’s. I graduated from High School in 1985 and did not have the grades to attend the University of Michigan. I attended Eastern Michigan University (side note – I enjoyed EMU and carved out a successful career based on my EMU degree and I follow/attend EMU sports). So, the MSU talking points would seem to imply that at age 18 in 1985, I was supposed to stop rooting for UM and root exclusively for EMU….I was supposed to stop caring about any Big Ten football and was supposed to rescind any allegiances that I had attained over the past 18 years. Does this make sense? Not to me, it doesn’t. I am still a fan of UM all these many years later. THAT makes sense to me. Does this make me a WMW? If so, so be it; but again…does this make any sense at all?

Here is the story of my step daughter and somebody please tell me if she is a WMS:

My step-daughter lives in Chelsea with her family. Her family is almost entirely UM fans. She plays Field Hockey for a Washtenaw County team and had the opportunity to attend summer field hockey camp at Michigan State University, more than once. She went and she loved it. She met the varsity coaches and some of the players. She loved everybody and loved the facilities and loved everything about the experience. So she now roots for MSU; at least in field hockey. I completely supported her rooting for the people that she met and liked and respected. I told her that was a great reason to root for a university. So, at 15 years old, she is an MSU fan. What happens if, in 3 years, she decides to NOT attend MSU for whatever reason, but still likes and roots for MSU based on her experiences at camp? Would this make her a WMS? When she is finishing high school at age 18, is she supposed to rescind her rooting interest in MSU and forget her positive experience at age 15? Is she only allowed to keep this if she attends MSU? What if she attends UM? Does any of this makes sense? Would this make her a WMS?

UPDATE: She has been accepted to both MSU and UM. She will be attending UM beginning in 2014. I guess she cannot like the MSU field hockey players and coaches anymore. Bummer.

Last case is simple and generic:

A football fan that roots for either UM or MSU as a kid. He or she attends a trade school or community college or does not go to college. Then what? WMW? WMS? What if he/she is obnoxious and over-the-top fan?

Obviously, none of this stuff makes sense to me. Honestly. It seems like this whole deal is about MSU fans feeling left out in the Metro Detroit area and being surrounded by UM fans that did not necessarily attend UM. MSU fans get sick of loud, obnoxious UM fans and I understand that, but it does not explain all this. Basically, I would say…get over it.

Are people allowed to root for anybody they want without being denigrated?  I guess the answer is NO – follow the rules and shut-up. If there are no rules, consult an MSU fan for your next step.

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