Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Sports and Life, Life and Sports

I'm a pretty big sports fan, and I've always found it interesting the degree that our society has grappled over it's place in our collective soul. In many ways, we send mixed messages around the importance of sports. Every time there's a tragedy such as 9/11, Hurricane Katrina or the Sandy Hook shootings, we'll often hear sports pundits wax about "In the midst of all of the buzz around (insert sporting event or sports rivalry here); (insert tragedy or global event here) really puts things in perspective..."

And of course, you have a segment of the population that takes things way too far. Such as the case when San Francisco Giants fan Brian Stow was beaten within inches of his life in the parking lot of Dodgers Stadium and when Dodgers fan Jonathan Denver was stabbed to death a few blocks from San Francisco's AT&T Park. Most recently here in Houston, Texans quarterback Matt Schaub has had to deal with fans publicly burning his jersey and fans encroaching on his personal space at his family's home. These, of course, are prime examples of people taking sports way too seriously. They've lost perspective on the place of sports in their life and have reacted accordingly.

Why does this happen? I think this goes into the heart of why we like sports in the first place. People like the competitive aspect of sports, and it's likely that there's a more insidious Roman gladiator bloodlust which pervades some of our fandom. We like seeing people compete and exert their physical excellence against each other and to witness the crowning of a champion. But there's also a misdirected component of "vicarious communal conquest" which largely leads to irrational fan er... fanaticism.

Sports fandom often fills a void because life for many (or at least in their own estimation) lacks sufficient personal victories to one's satisfaction. The thirst to chalk up more "wins" - even riding on the back of something that one has contributed absolutely nothing to - pulls people towards sports team affiliation. It's a form of emotional wagering, which dictates, "I'm willing to emotionally place my bets on a certain team in the hopes that they win." Of course, the reality is that there is nothing truly personally materially won or lost if a fan's team wins or loses.

I'm wondering if it would be helpful if all sports fans occasionally reminded themselves of the very basics that our best youth coaches always told us, something that our 6-year old daughter's coach make clear to the team. When he was asked for the score during the middle of the game he said, "Score? I'm not sure but the most important thing is that we try our best, play a great game and have fun out there." And as a parent, it's pretty enjoyable to watch that, too.

I hope Matt Schaub can do just that, eat his orange slices at halftime and not have to worry about his family's safety.