Sunday, November 2, 2008

The Audacity of Hope: Life as a Sports Fan

On Friday a friend asked me when the parade started so that she could avoid it. She then went on to say that she thought sports fans were the dumbest people out there. They get all excited because they have no lives and root for sports they can't play. And then get feel like they have achieved some sort of personal victory because "their team" won. I thought this was an odd thing to say to me, since I'm probably the biggest sports fan she knows, and I spend way too much time watching, reading and writing about sports. But it got me thinking about why do people invest so much time and energy and emotion into their sports teams.

Sports allow people to invest in something bigger than themselves. When you are a sports fan, you are part of something. There is a large group of people who bond over the triumphs and failures of a group of athletes playing a sport at any level. You watch a game that you love and forget about everything else. They are an escape where you can focus on two teams or athletes fighting it out. They are an alternate reality where everything can be broken down to x's and o's or simple mechanics.

Sports are a reason to get together with your friends. They are a reason to party and celebrate. Be it the Superbowl, the World Series, March Madness or just a Sunday afternoon. There is always a reason to meet up with people and hang out and talk.

Fandom can be a family tradition. Even if you don't support the same team as your parents, many times they are the ones that instilled the love of the game in you. I may complain about how long the baseball season is and how terrible the Orioles are, but I get a little teary eyed every time I drive past the spot where Memorial Stadium used to stand. I'm not the worlds biggest baseball fan, but the sight of that stadium's old spot are enough to flood me with memories. And I have my parents to thank for that, for instilling a love of sports in me.

Sports also give people something to talk about. During a lull in the conversation, sports are an easy topic. While people harbor strong feelings about their teams, they are usually willing to talk about sports in a mostly civilized manner, unlike religion or politics. They are a common ground among most people. Everyone has at least one sport that they at least half way care about even if it's rhythmic gymnastics.

If you're like me, they are also a way to pick up guys. Yeah, I use sports to pick up guys. It's easy to butt into a conversation about sports, rattle off a few facts, and then apologize for butting in. Usually guys are then confused by a girl with even a cursory knowledge of sports, so they forget you rudely interrupted and happily accept you as part of the conversation. And it's an easy way for them to talk to a girl. So everyone wins.

But I think most importantly sports give people a sense of hope. I sense of anything can happen. And a sense that if you keep trying long enough and work hard enough, you will persevere. There's always next year. It could happen. America is still a country that loves an underdog or Cinderella story. Don't believe me, look at every sports movie in recent history, see any stories about how great a dynasty team is? People believe that you can rise above your place. Sports are a reason to hope. A reason to cheer. A venue for heroes to arise and villains to be defeated. Dramatic story lines are created. No one stays on top forever. And for that reason, your team could be next.

Sports often lead to heartbreak instead of championships. But there enough victories during a season that its worth watching. And the little victories of beating a rival or making the playoffs are usually enough to tide a fan over. Besides, there's always next year. Sports give people a reason to hope and if for no other reason, it's great to be a sports fan.