Sunday, October 11, 2015

The Fandom Question

   In the human experience, being attached to a sports team is quite possibly the most unique hobby or pastime of them all. When one plays video games, they are directly in control of their actions. Watching film, TV or listening to music requires choice and conscious decision making, but doesn't nearly have the catharsis in moments of joy or satisfaction (usually). Playing sports can bring about intense emotions, but so few play sports on high enough of a level for these feelings to come to roost.

  Being a fan of a sports team is different. I've already compared it to religion on posts previous on this blog, but religion shouldn't make anyone feel an intense feeling of regret, sadness, and an overall sense of being drained (unless you agree with Bill Maher). How your teams do is completely out of your control, no matter how wildly superstitious you are. Sports fandom feels like an unbreakable contract, and with the emotional swings so many of us go through, many times the emotional grinder we're put through doesn't feel even remotely worth it.

   But the carrot dangled in front of so many of us is the cathartic joy that can come when your team wins. However far away it might be, that little glimmer of hope, that small ounce of optimism can drive even the most loyal fanatics insane. All of the emotional turmoil that is wrought before us can be absolute torture of the highest order, but with the carrot of future success still dangling tantalizingly in front of us, we stay on way beyond the point of no return.

  As so many of us get older and achieve wisdom, our attachment to our sports teams foments in different forms. No longer are we as maniacally attached as we were before because life is suddenly hitting us square between the eyes. But even then, the most level-headed and worldly among us can become animals and beasts when our teams fail us again and again. The seven stages of grief have been gone through so many times, we're on a first name basis with each. "Rationalization" is our personal favorite, since anything can be done once the human brain rationalizes it, no matter how dumb or thoughtless it may be.

  When a man who proclaims absolute sobriety thinks of downing three or four free Jager shots because of sports, and for once he's not joking, it's time to question and reassess our relationship with sports teams and fandom in general.

  When it feels like God himself is piling on to one person for his amusement because he knows that man is loyal to a fault and will stick with it beyond the point of no return, it's time to ask questions.

   And when a man curses out another man for something done on the field in the heat of the moment, dirty or not, it's time to ask questions.

   In "Psychology Today", Susan Krauss Whitman tries to explain what these feelings are, and codify them in language different than a simple chain of expletives. Sports fans are particularly willing to bask in the glow of success, duck away in the shadow of failure, and are superstitious to the point of being compared to pigeons (not by being a statue and getting dumped on). And sports fandom has also proven to be incredibly beneficial to one's social health as well.

  So how are jilted, tired and and past it sports fans are to deal with their inevitable pains? Most of us don't know the answer. We believe that our fanatical devotion will lead to future successes, and by association future joy, but when it doesn't come, it feels as if every ounce of energy expended was a waste.

  Karl Marx once said the "opiate of the masses is religion". Based on my own comparisons, then the opiate of the modern masses is professional sports. Opium can bring about one helluva high. It also can bring about crashing lows.

  Maybe sports fandom then deserves to come with its own warning label from the surgeon general on jerseys, hats and autographed helmets. "Sports fandom causes mood swings, depression, anxiety, over and under eating, and potentially alcoholism".

  OK... maybe not. But maybe if we sports fans understood the highs and lows better, however irrational they may be, maybe we'll be able to better deal with the ebbs and flows that come with the territory.

  But fear not... we'll probably be back on the emotional rollercoaster tomorrow. The high is too good to pass up.

Psychology Today Article here.

Huffington Post Article here.

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