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What it really means to be on TEAM MICHAEL: Part 1

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After much reflection recently, I’ve realized being a MJ fan or on “Team Michael” is a lot like rooting for your favorite sports team or player. I recently saw a segment on TV about how the brain tricks you into getting a ‘payoff’ when YOUR team wins, or in other words you get a dose of dopamine. That’s why people are so hyped up and pumped about their teams. And I notice even when the team loses ALL the time, fans of that team still get pumped up about the next game. There’s something instinctual about it, of being part of a group with one common desire: To see YOUR team WIN.

The other question would be why would we get this rush of happiness when we aren’t even physically ON the team? WE aren’t the ones getting the trophy when they win and yet people are so incredibly happy when they make the winning score.

And even if they lose, there must be a dose of ‘happiness’ or payoff somewhere just through the ACT of rooting for said team, otherwise, why would we enjoy being invested in teams so much?

Only difference is, being on TEAM MICHAEL is much more than a dose of dopamine after the end of a ‘game.’ We are invested in our favorite player – Michael – personally. We love him as an entity that has touched our lives, who has a place IN our lives. We often relate to him on a personal level, he just has that effect on people. His blessing and his curse in a lot of ways. So we fully submit ourselves to his team. MJ egged this on too, especially with his “army of love” talks – boy, did we as a fan base eat that up! MJ recognized us personally as a member of his team, the people on the bench rooting for him out on the basketball court or baseball field. The people filling up the tank of his car out on the race track. The folks giving him a towel and a bottle of water on the sidelines. This was huge!

This team spirit mentality is something that I’ve honestly just discovered about how I relate to being a MJ fan and how I’m truly processing his death – and what I am to get out of his death (and his life), in a way.

Before 2009 of course, being on Team Michael was more fun. Entering the fandom, you already knew you are going to be on a team and there ALWAYS would be an opponent, just because it’s Michael Jackson you’re investing in. It’s simply a fact that MJ is not an easy person to defend because of the media backlash. But as a fan, you of course accept this. You say ‘bring it on!’ You dive into all the media misconceptions, you do your MJ Fan 101 course about all of the things the general public has gotten horribly wrong. You’re ready for game time.

Every time someone says something false about him, you’re put to the test. You loyally defend him with the truth. And finally you say ‘you’ll see, my team is gonna win!’ You’re out on the field all the time, playing the game hoping the Quarterback (MJ) scores that touchdown.

At first the opponent, for me, was the media and those influenced by the media. That was simple enough (at least compared to everything else). And I had no doubt in my mind that Team MJ would totally win that round. Silly lies, gossip and baseless accusations that went nowhere? Pffft. MJ rose above that time and time again. You could look at him and see that he was above it. Nothing would stop team MJ.

The next opponent were other artists, when Invincible came out. This was always the more fun opponent to play against. MJ’s game statistics were strongest here. Pre-album hype got the team pumped up, sporting their “TEAM MJ” colors. It was all in good fun! This was the game we WANTED to play, one we were familiar with. And he was guaranteed to win. Sure the media might say he lost, but the scoreboard can never lie. MJ was a musical genius. No one could take that away from him. But we wanted the trophy. We wanted the number one hits, the awards, #1 on all the music video countdowns, the radio play. We were sure MJ wanted that too of course. Go team!

The next opponent, as we all know, came SONY. That was tougher one. For the fans, Sony and Tommy Matolla was a sorta faceless entity and we didn’t know what to expect. We didn’t know exactly what was going on behind the scenes. But MJ led the way – the rallies, the protests, the ‘SONY SUCKS!’ We’d do whatever it took to show that MJ’s team was the best. Racist record company execs? Trying to take his catalogue? HELL NO WE WON’T GO. No, MJ’s team was the opposite – MJ’s team was about love, freedom, and acceptance. Ideals we all believed in, profusely. It was a different game, however. One that was much more serious. We weren’t at home court.

And we wouldn’t be prepared for the next opponent – the ‘boss’ in any videogame so to speak – Sneddon and his team of liars. We watched in horror as the press covered MJ being led away in handcuffs. Handcuffs! It was unthinkable. We had to gather our bearings. This would be some battle and we had to be at our best to lift up MJ – and we ALL knew he needed it. He NEEDED his team. Put on our loudest voices and brightest team colors. Because this game was happening, we had to get on that field whether we liked it or not. This opponent did every underhanded CHEAT in the book to try win. It was not a fair game. Far from it. This opponent represented, essentially, all that was wrong with the world. Good verses evil. Bad verses good. Its the makings of any good superhero movie. Why do you think we root for Batman or Spiderman to get the bad guys in those movies? Its HOPE. Hope that maybe for us we can get on the field ourselves and we can also win. Because we are on the best team ever. More than that, we are on the RIGHT team.

So we watch biting our fingernails anxiously, getting up out of our seats CHEERING at “The Hurricane” T-Mez knocking people out in every round. Go team go! Hearts racing in fear and ANGER when every ‘out’ ball from the prosecution was called IN. When every fumble they made was missed by the referees. We got frustrated when they pulled every trick in the book. To us, this was the championship game. If we didn’t win this…well, we couldn’t think about NOT winning. It wasn’t an option. It was all or nothing.

And as we all know, he won. Team Michael won!

But did we really?

Because after the game, there was no trophy. No parade. This win was significantly different because there was nothing to show for it. Blood, sweat and tears were shed for 2 years of humiliation, an iconic home that MJ had lived in for over 20 years and couldn’t even go back to, and public perception even more tarnished before. Also unknown to us at the time, financial disintegration. Our MVP looked exhausted. Completely and utterly spent. And if we didn’t know any better, you’d think that we had lost.
That’s okay though. There were more games to play. We’d pick ourselves back up. MJ would pick himself back up. And sure enough, appearance after appearance, MJ looked better and better – rallying up the team once more. From the World Music Awards to fan appreciation day in Japan to the cover of Ebony magazine. WOW, the game was back on!

And it was official when MJ made the This Is It announcement. The team was getting pumped again – once again, back to what was familiar. But unknown to us, there was another game that MJ was playing too and had been playing all his life that was getting harder to win every single time, and that was the circumstance of his life. The vultures that surrounded him. The mental wear and tear of having to keep playing a rigged game. It was hard to keep motivated when you know it wasn’t a fair game, you know you were put at a disadvantage, the rules are unclear and those that are aren’t regulated, and everyone else had a head start. No one was really playing for the love of the game either. It’s also hard to play and enjoy it when you’re still sore from the LAST game. MJ wanted to win, he fought to win, but unexpectedly the game came to an abrupt end for him.

But strangely enough, not for us. Team Michael, I’ve come to realize, is still playing.

(To be continued...)

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