What’s All Up in The Sports?
Why do people get so passionate over the sports?
Given last week’s cascade of fiery Facebook-status-update insults disparaging Ohio State (Chuck’s were easily the best: “GO BLUE!! BUCK THE FUCKEYES!!!!!!”; “GREEN doesn’t even matter……EVER!!!!!!”; and my personal favorite: “Only in that piece of $hit state known as Ohio could a poisonous nut be a good thing. GO BLUE!!!!!”) and witnessing an HBO special on the eccentricities of OSU coach Woody Hayes (the guy hired stalkers to ensure that Michigan couldn’t spy on Ohio State’s practices and was convinced that U of M footballers had developed some fancy new footwear to give them an advantage on slippery fields), I thought it apt to broach this thorny interrogative.
Now this is coming from the emperor of the sports ignoramuses – I have no interest in watching the sports on television or listening to them on radio, and I’ve only ever been to one the sports event — a hockey match between Detroit and Anaheim. I forget who won. Or what the teams were.
Nevertheless both my father and my sister are avid hockey fans, Dad is also a fan of baseball and football, and most of my friends are enthusiasts of at least one the sport — I’ve been around and close to fans of the sports all my life, but I’m at a total loss to explain the source of their enthusiasm, much less how it excites their passions enough to make them scream at and assault inanimate objects or, in a friend of mine’s case, sever long friendships (she lives in Baltimore and, some years ago, recapped a devastating riot instigated by antsy Ravens fans).
I asked my Dad why he enjoys watching the sports once, and his response (and seeing as how he’s partaken in every sport from tennis to boxing to skeet and every ball foot to base) was that he revels in the athletes’ skills. The same goes for friends Kyle and Pat, two avid golfers who watch golf. But I’m still not convinced. As a demonstration of athletic skill, I can appreciate some of the sports’ appeal, but appreciation of the sublime, in whatever form, should not instill boiling torrents of rage among its connoisseurs.
Appreciation of the sports can’t solely be aesthetic or else it’d have far fewer riots and far more public endowments. Likewise, I have yet to see an art critic paint “Seurat” across his belly, jabber like a baboon at La Grande Jatte, and brandish a plush figure of Renoir impaled on a pitchfork.*
Whatever the reason for their devotion, the idea of championing a fluky gang of yokels regardless of whether they win or lose is bizarre; the fan seems less an aesthete and more an ideologue.
What’s more, the criteria for selecting a favorite team seems pretty arbitrary; in most cases it’s based on proximity – everybody roots for the home team. But that’s a pretty flimsy excuse for violent fanaticism — to that end the sports appear to be little more than crypto-Nationalism.
And so it’s no coincidence every article I’ve read on Nationalism cites the Olympics: Both exhibit unyielding loyalty to vaguely defined notions of a collective identity; both share a sense of pride independent of individual accomplishment; and both display antagonistic, if not outright violent, attitudes toward “foreigners.” A lot like voting.
All three (and voting) are pretty repulsive – and while the sports should be commended for not often slipping into mass genocide, my Baltimore friend’s description of drunken Ravens fans “beat[ing] up, [stealing] from, and sexually harass[ing] Colts fans on the streets of Baltimore,” is pretty damning; “We even found out that our neighbors were involved in a barroom brawl after the game Saturday night,” is just scary.
*As I saw a certain Red Sox fan do to a plush Tiger a few years ago when Boston played Detroit.