I love sports.
They’re exciting, they’re competitive, they’re suspenseful. I love playing sports, I love watching sports, I love the little cereal boxes with sports on the back. I love them in the morning and in the afternoon. I love them in the evening and underneath the moon. Okay, enough.
A few days ago I came across a cartoon that really got me thinking. Standing inches from his television, a man agonized over a particularly heartbreaking defeat of his favorite sports team. His wife entered the room to this scene and attempted (ineffectively) to console him, proclaiming, “But that’s the beauty of the game. At this very moment, your absurd vicarious defeat is being perfectly counterbalanced by some opposing fan’s absurd vicarious triumph.”
I began to wonder: Is she right? Does this view accurately capture the essence of sports?
Undoubtedly, at some point, every true sports fan embarks on an emotional rollercoaster with his or her chosen team. We immerse ourselves in the trials and triumphs of people thousands of miles away whom we will likely never meet. We sit in our lucky chairs, wear our lucky underwear and spin around three times during every commercial break — because, God knows, if we did anything different this time, our favorite superstar would miss the game-winning shot and it would be all our fault.
People pay thousands of dollars for tickets at the Final Four, and I don’t know about you, but there have been more than a few times when I would have gladly exchanged my healthy ankle for that star player’s recently sprained one, so that he could win us the big game.
And it’s not just me. We see such extreme interest and intense allegiances in the real world all the time. I can only imagine the tears spilled in Boston after the Patriots’ perfection-dispelling Super Bowl loss to the Giants last week “perfectly counterbalanced” by the screams of joy and satisfaction some 200 miles to the west. Traces of this excitement permeated (half) our campus the next day, as signs were posted throughout Bass Library mocking Tom Brady and advertising New York’s impressive upset. Just a hunch, but those signs probably weren’t put up by anyone who actually played for, coached or owned the Giants.
And this effect is by no means limited to America. Last week, when Yao Ming and Yi Jianlian — China’s two biggest basketball exports — squared off in the “Meeting of Two Dragons,” an estimated 200 million Chinese viewers tuned in. Two hundred million? That’s two-thirds the population of the United States. That’s more than the entire cumulative population of the United Kingdom, Spain, Greece, Poland, the Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland and Denmark — all to watch two very tall men throw a ball around with several other very tall men more than 6,000 miles away, at about 8:00 in the morning, no less.
But it really is so much more than that. On the grand scale of the “Meeting of Two Dragons” or the modern Olympic games, athletics bring people together, facilitate understanding between cultures and provide the common ground upon which nations might build relationships. You may not understand what they say and you may not like their food, but everyone can appreciate a display of sportsmanship, the rightful fruits of hard work and that never-give-up spirit. Everyone knows what it’s like to be an underdog, and everyone can appreciate what it means to overcome great odds and trying adversity on the way to ultimate success.
But sports have meaning on a local level, as well. Watching sports has become an increasingly social activity, a time to bond with friends and acquaintances over a communal goal. For example, the Super Bowl has become something of a national holiday. It is the most-watched television broadcast of the year and, after Thanksgiving is the day when the Americans consume the most food.
Lastly, sports build character and teach us important life lessons. We come to understand the importance of loyalty and faith, determination and teamwork. Following a favorite team allows one to experience the emotional ups and downs of life without the tangible consequences that these emotions would bring along in the real world. When your team does well, on some level it raises your self-esteem, as you bask in the reflected glory of its triumph. You proudly wear your jersey and hat the next day, as if to say, “Look, something that I was a part of succeeded.”
After all, what would sports be without the fans? No young child sitting on his father’s shoulders trying to get a peek of the court, no stadiums packed with people enjoying nachos and cheering the home team to victory and no broken television sets in the living room to emphasize the pain of your vicarious defeat.
Dhruv Khullar is a junior in Davenport College.