There are people who think I’m crazy.
I doubt those people are reading this right now, but that’s probably why I spend so much time around these parts. This may not come as a surprise to you, but there are a lot of people out there that don’t understand why sports mean so much to me. They don’t get why they are a metaphor for life, a metaphor for anything if you try hard enough, really. For a kid like me, sports can mean everything and nothing, and often something in between.
Over the last three years, we have written about sports here. I have tried hard not to talk about my real life, but it is an inevitable part of what we do. A season, a team becomes a part of you, the sports pour out of your veins and into everything that you do if you’re not careful. In a way, writing here for me is an attempt to rationalize the obsession I’ve developed with sports over the first 21 years of my life.
We have a tag here called “Why Sports Matter” that I’m pretty proud of. So far we have 42 posts with that tag, and every single one is an attempt at explaining just that: why sports matter to so many people like us. It’s not an easy question to answer, but three-plus years of trying have gotten us to an interesting place. I love going back and reading things like this, just to feel those emotions again, to remember why we keep doing this again and again.
When it comes down to it, sports is communication. Well, maybe sports is community, or perhaps in a larger picture, society. What it all boils down to is shared meaning, the ties that bind us autonomous beings into groups. We are drawn to common interests and goals and feelings, and sports often fit the bill more than anything else. They create culture, they create discussion and they evoke a passion most people reserve for the most sacred of things. But perhaps most interestingly, and maybe the most important characteristic sports have, is that they are meaningless.
We pour countless hours and dollars and words into something that ultimately means very little in the “real world.” However, what we get out of that time and effort and money is something altogether different. It is that, the utility we gain from our love, that matters most of all. It’s the delicate equilibrium that so often seems to come up around here, a subject we breach but never really seem to make a decision on. Is it worth it? Is doing this, all of this, really getting you what you want. To quote a mediocre movie only memorable for this line and excellent use of The Who, is the juice worth the squeeze?
Yes, yes it is. However, I think that answer comes from a place that’s a bit unexpected. Let’s try, 500 words later, to bring this whole “sports as a metaphor for life” thing back around. One of the things I find so interesting about sports fans is that they willingly submit themselves to something they have absolutely no control over. If you’re a good sports fan you pick your team and are done, you settle for a team that matters to you and never let go. But once you do that, you’re completely and utterly lost. You don’t coach the team, you don’t pick players and you will have absolutely no impact on what happens on the field. Once you go in, all you can do is hope.
What you have to do in order to remain sane is rationalize the things you can control and the things you can’t. You can’t pick up the phone and make a trade, but you can understand exactly what your role as a sports fan is. To not become a crazy person, you try to understand as much as possible about the things you can control, and try realizing what you simply can’t change. You can’t worry about what you can’t change, at least that’s the plan.
When you think about it, isn’t that what life is all about? There are so many things in the “real world” we can’t do anything about, but we should absolutely focus on the things we can change for ourselves. We can’t fix everything, but putting our efforts towards the things we can seems to be the best use of time and energy, right? We search for utility as fans, but shouldn’t we apply the same logic to our real lives?
More than that, how we cope with the things we can’t control goes a long way towards figuring out what really matters to you. Where you turn to when things go bad is probably the best way of discovering what matters to you most. From all of the terrible things that happen in real life to losing your favorite hockey player, where we turn for comfort is the place we truly belong. Be it the arms of a loved one or a stuffed animal, or maybe a bit of space on an unnamed server somewhere; the place we go for comfort may surprise you but it is valuable information.
The differences here are numerous, but our response to unpreventable trauma is remarkably similar. We always, always reach out for something. With sports it might be a stranger at a bar, or maybe just something lucky, but in life we are always reaching. We want to be near people, to relate to them, to ask them to make it better. It’s in our nature, isn’t it?
What I can’t get out of my head is that we are never alone, no matter how much we truly feel it. We, the autonomous islands that are homo sapiens, thrust ourselves into these groups out of necessity; not because we want sympathy or want to be heard: we want to feel better. We want to make sense of the senseless, both in our lives and in the other things we unconsciously compare our lives to. We do it so when the unthinkable happens, when our lives are crashing down all around us, we have something there to fall back on.
I know I’ve been there before and will be there again. It was nowhere near what some people are forced to deal with, but I still didn’t have the words to truly do it justice. I think I’m ready now: no matter how alone we feel, there is always someone or something out there to change that. If you look around you, what is absolutely necessary will stand out pretty quickly.
Question is, what do you see?