Of course, try telling that to fanatics of either.
Every so often, I’ll come across an article from a favored writer asking, essentially, “What’s the point of following sports?” Obviously, it comes from an intelligent person who just, for whatever reason, doesn’t get it. Not only do they not follow sports regularly, or at all, but they don’t understand why ANYONE would.
I don’t take umbrage with these people anymore – even though most of them generally look down upon you for being a sports fan – because it’s an honest question. It’s a valid question. Why DO we follow sports?
It’s an impossible question to answer across the board, I can only speak for myself.
When I first started watching sports, I was around five years old, and the sport I watched was football. Specifically, the Seattle Seahawks. My earliest memory (not until much later) was sitting on the floor in my living room on Sunday, December 10th, 1989, as Steve Largent (my favorite player of all time) caught his 100th career touchdown in the back of the endzone, en route to an eventual 24-17 victory in Cincinnati.
Again, that’s my earliest MEMORY. Truth be told, my memory is fucking terrible, so I have to rely on other things. I remember collecting a vast amount of Topps 1988 football cards, getting a pack or two every week when I got my allergy shots at the hospital. I remember Bo Jackson running over Brian Bosworth (as well as Bo Jackson running clear out of the Kingdome on a breakaway touchdown). I even remember some of those boring late 80s Super Bowls (suck it, Denver Broncos).
I don’t know WHY I started watching football. I guess because it was on. Because my parents both liked watching the Seahawks. I wouldn’t go so far as to call them super-fans or anything. They’ve never really followed the team on a daily basis. But, they enjoyed cheering on the home team just the same.
I know a lot of men will tell you the reason they got into sports was because “it was the only way I could communicate with my dad.” Not the case for me. I’ve always, more or less, been able to communicate with my dad. I think it just helps that I was a kid. A kid watching these athletes doing things normal people couldn’t do. It also helps when all of your friends at school are into the same thing. I don’t want to call it “peer pressure”, but if you want to fit in – and it also happens to be something you enjoy – then it’s a pretty easy way to make friends.
Of course, all the cool kids wore Raiders jackets. I never fit in with them (plus: fuck the Raiders). Also, you know, those were the kids who were burnouts later in life. Some things work out for the best.
Once the game itself hooked me, it became the numbers that stoked the flames of my passion. On one side of it, you had football cards. I would immerse myself with the backs of certain players’ football cards. Pouring over stats, making lists of all the greats. The other side of it was monetary. Every few months I’d buy a new Beckett magazine to see what various football cards were worth. How much money my cards were worth, how much money the coveted Steve Largent Rookie Card was worth, how much money all the cards from 1989 Score were worth. Then, whenever I got a new pack, I’d rip into it greedily hoping I’d get something truly rare.
And, of course, there was also the gambling aspect. I was probably 7 or 8 when I first started participating in my dad’s work’s weekly NFL Pick ‘Em contest. It was $5 per week (so, just about my whole allowance), but I was playing against full grown adults (they called me “The Kid” as in, “How did The Kid do this week?”) and sometimes kicking their asses!
Once I found out I was pretty good at picking games, I was hooked for life. There was just too much to like about everything! Of course, once everyone else got good at picking games too, my success rate foundered. Nothing you can do about that. Your obsession will only take you so far until everyone else’s obsession catches up and surpasses yours.
In the early 90s, with the rise of the Sonics, I started following basketball. Of course, again, it helped that kids at my school were basketball fiends. It also helped that the Sonics were really great and fun to watch, but that’s neither here nor there. My mania never really reached the level it did with the NFL. My card-collecting phase had come and gone, so I never really got into basketball cards the way I did with the NFL. But, on the plus side, their seasons were longer than the NFL’s, and there were more opportunities to enjoy watching some of the greatest basketball in the world.
Basketball fandom kinda came out of left field for me. I didn’t have anyone in my family who liked the sport. My dad won tickets once or twice in a work raffle, so he took me to a couple games (I believe the first one I ever went to was against the Utah Jazz in 1993, but don’t quote me on that), but he was never a big fan. I, on the other hand, couldn’t get enough of a sport so high scoring, so intense, so quick.
With baseball, I wasn’t a fan until late in the 1995 season. I want to say a lot of Seattleites share this history, because that was the big Refuse To Lose run for the Mariners. The last couple months sucked me in. I spent an offseason reading everything I could, from newspapers to magazines to the team’s media guide (from their Fan Club), and when the 1996 season started, I was a raving lunatic. If the numbers were fun to play around with in football and basketball, just WAIT until you get a load of the numbers in baseball!
1995/1996 was a great year to be a Seattle fan. But, that’s a subject for another post.
By the time my teenage years concluded, I was a full blown maniac. Watching (or listening to) nearly every single Sonics, Mariners & Seahawks game. Reading the Tacoma News Tribune’s sports section obsessively. Collecting as much memorabilia as humanly possible. Everything was exciting. Everything so full of hope. The Mariners were good, the Sonics were good and not that far removed from being great, the Seahawks were … well, I liked the Seahawks. Every off-season brought the hope for change and improvement. Every regular season was a series of ups & downs, living and dying by each and every game (each being more important than the last). And if my team made the playoffs? Forget about it! Nothing else could even try to occupy my mind, because all I would think about was the next game. Until there were no more games, and then I would be in a royal funk for about two weeks.
In short, I was a slavering idiot. I have no idea how I graduated high school, let alone got myself accepted to the University of Washington. Blind, piss-ass luck if you ask me.
I don’t know what happened between those late 90s years and today, but my fandom has significantly changed. Most of it has to do with being jaded from the years upon years of losing. I’m not gonna lie to you, that 2001 Mariners team really took a lot out of me. And that 2005 Seahawks team didn’t do me any favors either. Of course, 2008 was the absolute nadir of my entire life … so I guess I DO know what happened between those late 90s years and today.
I gained understanding.
In Major League Baseball, unless your team gets incredibly lucky and plays out of its mind, the wealthy elite rule the day. In the National Basketball Association, if you don’t get incredibly lucky by winning the Draft Lottery (or, at least, drafting a rookie who ends up transcending the game), you’re more likely to spin your wheels than you are to make a significant push for a championship. In the National Football League, if you don’t have an elite quarterback, you don’t have a prayer in Hell of ever doing anything.
In all cases, if you don’t have a competent General Manager, then you might as well give up hope. And, of course, there’s a certain amount of luck involved as well, with the transactions your teams make as well as with the health of the quality players you have on your roster. You could be set up perfectly for a run to a championship, but if one guy gets injured, or if one trade doesn’t pan out, that could be the one piece preventing you from eternal happiness.
Sports start to lose some of the luster they once had when you were a kid. Athletes get in trouble with the law. Athletes get suspended for cheating the game. Coaches bench your favorite player. General managers trade your favorite player. Your favorite player leaves via free agency for an insane pile of money. All that pre-season hope you fostered as a child starts to wane under the burden of years upon years of getting those hopes up, only to be dashed in the end.
So, if you’re an adult and you’ve never had much use for sports, I understand the question. What IS the point?
To that, I would say:
Sports are primarily for children. They’re a way to socialize, a way to learn, and a way to fantasize. They give you something tangible to believe in, to have faith in (they’re not some vengeful God in the sky; they’re real! You’re watching them on TV!). And, if you’re so athletically inclined, they’re something to DO, in your free time, with friends or on sanctioned teams.
Sports are a way to pass the time. They’re escapism. And they’re a release. Having a bad day? Spend three hours yelling at the TV and note how much better you feel afterward (especially if the team you’re yelling for happens to win).
As an adult, sports are pretty much your sole link to your childhood. They give you a reason to argue with your friends in bars. They give bloggers something to write about in their spare time. They let you reminisce about better times, when you had the whole world open to you (and when the Sonics were still in Seattle and contending for NBA championships). Because, in spite of all the agony and heartache we as Seattle fans have suffered over the years, every Seattle fan will look back to their childhoods with fondness for the teams they followed the most. Sure, the 95/96 Sonics lost in 6 games to the Bulls. But, those Bulls were the greatest NBA team ever compiled, and if it weren’t for them, I WOULD have a championship in my lifetime! Those Sonics were better than a TON of other champions in other years. They just got unlucky, that’s all!
And, of course, if I had to relate sports to a complete outsider, I would counter with this: Sports are like Politics. Specifically Political Campaigns.
Essentially, in any given race, from city council to the President of the United States, you’ve got a one-on-one duel. Votes are like points (or runs, or goals) and whoever has the most points wins.
Make a gaffe during a debate? That’s like having a breakaway dunk and clanking it off the rim. On the flipside, make a particularly poignant and stirring campaign speech? That’s like hitting a solo home run. Use the N-word at a private campaign dinner and it gets put up on YouTube? Yeah, you just fumbled a kickoff return. Get the endorsement of a powerful and influential figure? That’s a touchdown, my friend!
And, when you think about it – and I mean REALLY think about it – what’s the point? There IS no point! To sports OR to politics!
If you’re a fan of a world champion, does your life suddenly improve? Aside from having some memories that will last a lifetime, what has that Super Bowl title really gotten you, Giants fans?
Likewise, if your candidate won the election … are you any better off? If you are (or aren’t), was it specifically BECAUSE of him (or her)? Of course not! Think back to your life seven years ago and compare it to now. How different is your life REALLY? Did switching from Bush to Obama REALLY make all that much of a difference? Because, my day-to-day life is essentially the same. I’ve got a little more money in the bank (in that I’ve got a little less debt on credit cards), but that’s not because of anything political. That’s just because I got a real job and stopped spending so wastefully. I’ve also got less hair on my head, but that’s not because we have a new president. I would be just as bald if McCain had won in 2008. In fact, I guarantee that my life would be no different right this very minute had McCain won instead of Obama. That’s how little politics actually affect our lives.
Nothing happens in government because nothing is ALLOWED to happen in government. Everything moves at slower than a snail’s pace because that’s the only pace we as a nation could possibly withstand change. Sure, look back over a hundred years and note all the differences. But, I would argue that it’s Technology and not anything related to Politics or Government that has ultimately changed our lives.
Politicians are just meaningless figureheads. Corrupt, evil, dirty figureheads only out for their own personal gain and absolutely NOT in it for the good of mankind. Politicians don’t care about you. They don’t. They’re robots. They’ve grown up their whole lives overachieving, stepping over their rivals to get ahead, cultivating a personality and an image most palatable for public consumption, with the ultimate goal of seizing as much power as possible. This power ultimately validates their entire reason for existing. And the cash they’re able to generate is a nice little cherry on top. They don’t actually have to WORK, because working is for suckers. The longer you can make it as a politician, the longer you can avoid real world bullshit like work. Like waiting in line at the supermarket. Like driving the kids to soccer practice.
The same can be said for sports teams and individuals. They don’t care about fans! Some are in it for the love of the game and to ultimately win championships, but many more are just in it to make as much money as possible. Being a professional athlete is another way to validate a lifetime of gruelling work and freakish talent. So, clinging to the game is another way to put off the Real World for as long as possible. And, owners aren’t much better than politicians whatsoever! A small percentage are willing to do what it takes to get ahead, but most of them are money-grubbing misers who run their teams like businesses and couldn’t care less about what the product looks like on the field (or the court), just so long as they’re continuing to make a profit year-in and year-out.
There is so much about both Sports and Politics to loathe, it’s easy to question why anyone would closely follow EITHER. But, if you’re interested in politics and not interested in sports, you at least have to see the similarities between the two. The life of a campaign is equal to (if not much, much longer than) a sport’s season. In the end, only one team will win. And, a few weeks later, most everyone will cease to give a shit.
What’s the point of following sports? Well, what’s the point of following politics? What’s the point of following ANYTHING? It’s all just a reason to kill some time until we’re all dead. You just hope, in the meantime, your guy wins more than the other guys.