October 22, 2011


The Thrill of Defeat for Sports Fans (ADAM STERNBERGH, 10/23/11, NY Times Magazine)

There is, however, one demonstrable value to being a sports fan. It allows you to feel real emotional investment in something that has no actual real-world consequences. In any other contest (presidential campaigns, for example), the outcome can be exhilarating or dispiriting to its followers and, by the way, when we wake up the next day, the course of history has been changed. As for fictional stories, you can certainly get swept up in them, but their outcomes don't hinge on the unpredictability of real life. Sports stories, on the other hand, are never guaranteed to end happily. In fact, as we've seen, some end in a highly unsatisfying way. As a fan, you will feel actual joy or actual pain -- this is precisely what non-sports-fans usually ridicule about being a sports fan -- in relation to events that really don't affect your life at all.

In this context, consider the epic collapse. It's crushing, maddening, unfathomable -- and yet it means nothing. Like a shooting-gallery target or bickering sitcom family, your team will spring up again same time next year, essentially unharmed. (Give or take a jettisoned manager or scapegoated G.M.) And so will you.

The epic collapse, then, is an opportunity to confront an event that's bewildering in its unlikelihood and ruinous in its effect, yet to also walk away entirely unscarred. It matters, deeply, and yet it doesn't matter at all. It's heartbreak with training wheels.

And that experience will, ideally, leave you, the fan, with some lingering life lesson or other: about resilience, or the eternal promise of renewal, or simply the absurdity of rooting for someone you've never met to hit a ball with a stick. At a time when much more dire collapses -- financial, emotional, geopolitical, familial -- are a frequent occurrence or at least a consistent threat, the opportunity to experience and survive one, however trivial or nonexistent the repercussions, is something to be valued, not lamented. It's the one time you should really be grateful for deciding to be a fan.

The Yankees were a much worse team, than their fans expected but provided no joy, agony, nor even entertainment in failing predictably this year.  The Sox were pretty easily the best team in baseball until they completely fell apart because of physical frailty and moral shortcomings.  It was every bit as fascinating to watch as the World Series seasons.

Posted by at October 22, 2011 8:37 AM

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