On sports

At some point or another, every real sports’ fan has used some variation of “we” when talking about the defeat or success of their team.  Then someone else will say, with full snark, “oh, ‘we’?  How many home runs did you hit?  All you did was sit on the couch and drink beer.”    That is often followed with “Get out of my apartment”, at least if you happen to be  me (and, I have to emphasize this, the conversation takes place in my apartment, because otherwise that’s an empty retort).

It is my least-favorite argument, and you can hear it from both fans and non-fans.   It is true that never once did I play a down for the Bears or hit a seeing-eye single for the Sox or pass the puck on the tape to set up a Kane one-timer, but really, that doesn’t matter.  And it doesn’t matter because of the very nature of fandom itself.

Sports as exercise, as camaraderie, as a thing to do makes perfect sense.  But fandom doesn’t.  You have no relation to the players, you are cheering on millionaires making money for billionaires (or, in the college game, supporting the NCAA, which is arguably worse).   You have no control over whether the coach is a moron who doesn’t take the ball first in overtime, or if the team signs good players, or if they want to move to another city.   On a more immediate level, nothing you do can change the outcome of any game or any pitch or any pass.   It doesn’t make any sense.

And that’s the point: rooting for a team in an inherently irrational thing to do.   In terms of investment-to-reward, it is one of the dumbest things you can do.  And, because of that, it is so important and fundamentally human.  You don’t get anything out of it other than the thrill that comes from seeing something beautiful.

I estimated last night that I have spent 5% of my waking life watching sports, and I am guessing that is a low estimate.  And there are so many times when I wonder why I bother.  Why do we do this to ourselves?  Why have I suffered through so many awful Bears teams and Sox teams that are almost, but not quite, good enough (and now look to be entering a long stretch of bad baseball)?   What do we get out of this?

And then last night happens.   The deafening roar as the victory was ripped away from defeat.  The wordless white-noise thrill as my table of friends and a bar full of strangers and a city rose up as one voice, high-fiving and hugging and acting as if we had been friends forever and were making vows never to part.   All the pain and misplaced suffering and outsized sadness melted away, and you realize, this is worth it.

But the pain is part of it, too.  If there are any Boston fans reading, I don’t know this exact pain, because it is yours, but know that the Bruins played like vikings.   We’ve all had losses, and those are important, and not just because they make the wins better.  Because they are something you share.   And that’s the whole goddamn point.

I don’t have time to look it up, but someone once said that it is good that art has no inherent value, that poetry doesn’t bring food to the table.  In that philosophical sense, neither does being a fan.  And that’s why it is great.  And unlike art, it rips screams from your throat and elicits a group feeling that is alien in anything else we do.

So, being a fan is inherently irrational, and it only makes sense if it is something to do as a group.  On a basic economic level pro teams wouldn’t exist without fans, but it is more than that.   They exist because we want them to, and maybe need them to.  They exist so that I could be with my dad and brothers when the White Sox finally made that last out in the World Series.  So that I can talk to a friend about watching Michael Jordan in his prime.  So that we can lose ourselves in a flurry of improbable goals.   So no, I’ll never contribute to a team winning anything, other than at softball, but that doesn’t diminish my role.  I know they players won.   But I’ll continue to say “we won the Cup”, because: why let an ugly truth render nil this beautiful absurdity?

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