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On Sports

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It’s a Sunday night, and I’m plowing through the latest AP Literature response paper. Sentence by sentence, I’m feeling good; the most brilliant nugget of analysis begins to flower in my mind…

And then the serenity shatters. A sonic boom.

It sounds like the boiler exploded, but the culprits are actually a cluster of rabid-eyed fifty-year-old men screaming fanatically at the family room flatscreen as the New York Giants score their umpteenth touchdown. This same scenario will play out several more times over the course of the evening, and I won’t finish my essay. Standard protocol.

I can’t say I’m a fan of these earsplitting football parties, because as my dad’s wild friends grow louder and louder and my Facebook mini-feed is gradually inundated with caps-lock statuses about the same game that everyone – save myself – has just watched, I feel like a 17-year-old curmudgeon. What am I not seeing? Tears flow, beers blast open, and somehow I’m still confused: what in the name of God is so affecting about sports?

Before you turn the page, rolling your eyes at my unwarranted skepticism, know that I’m not dissing them. Sports are engaging, sure. They’ve also brought about an astonishing cultural unity, and I think that’s a beautiful thing. But I’ve read stories about soccer stabbings in Great Britain; watched self-possessed fathers point infuriated fingers at the opponents of their twelve-year-old children; witnessed legitimate fights between Yankee and Red Sox fans (Babe Ruth, Schmabe Ruth – who gives a crap?); looked on with bent-browed amusement as customers of Irish pubs, illuminated in the glow of wall-mounted televisions, completely and utterly lose their marbles; and I can’t relate. The emotional connection eludes me.

I’ve noticed that some sports elicit a far greater psychological response than others. For example, there’s golf – a truly polite activity. Since the noise level of the game has been significantly toned down, the in-home reactions to each stroke are tamer. A pleasant round of applause and a subtle whoop are just about the most you’ll hear from an onlooker; and I can’t say I’ve heard of any golf-related knife attacks, either.

So what is it with these arena sports – football, soccer, even baseball to an extent – and the absurd, borderline psychotic behavior of their spectators and participants? In regards to the professional leagues, I think that the answer speaks to one of our deepest human desires: a sense of belonging. With great fandom comes great loyalty, and surrounding oneself with followers of one’s favorite team must give way to an extraordinary sense of community. So, too, does a general interest in sports; I myself have observed a number of enthusiastic athletics-based conversations over the years, though I’ve never actually been a part of one.

When you’re an involved member of this type of community, it can be hard to emotionally separate yourself from all the hyped-up proceedings. I know plenty of Jet fans, for instance, whose feelings have been legitimately hurt by mean-spirited jabs concerning the quality of their team. It’s not remotely their fault; fans can’t do anything to change the outcome of the games they observe. But the pride that they’ve invested in these green-clad players circumvents all counter-logic, and the jabs continue to sting. And if a touchdown happens to be scored… break out the champagne, streamers and mini-wieners, because such a victory is cause for celebration.

Then, on the flip side, you’ve got those crazy Little League parents, whose frenzied sideline antics cannot so easily be justified. Yes, I understand that their kids are involved – but for Pete’s sake, it amounts to nothing. While I’m all for team spirit, these grown men and women seem to ascribe monumental importance to bragging rights; any notion of sportsmanship is left to the crows. In light of such ridiculousness, the reasons behind this sort of conduct remain unclear to me.

I suppose, though, that sports of any variety give us something to root for – civility be damned. In a world so full of ambiguity and personal responsibility, these pursuits provide the American populace with a clear-cut, guilt-free cause to which our hearts (and souls) can be devoted. That isn’t always a bad thing. But if you’re a sports fan – which I, to be candid, am not – I beg that you never forget: it’s just a game. Save your tears for something tragic.



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