Why We Love Sports

Photo by RambergMediaImages via Flickr

Photo by RambergMediaImages via Flickr

“From the outside looking in, you can’t understand it. From the inside looking out, you can’t explain it.”

If I had a dollar for every time I heard that phrase to explain the Greek Community of fraternities and sororities to those that were not part of them, I’d be a very rich man right now. The same principle applies when explaining to a non-sports fan why we spend hours upon hours of our lives invested in players that we will most likely never meet in our lives and cheering for teams because they have a particular logo on their chests. To the outside observer, sports are a simple game. Put a round ball in a round hoop. Take an oblong ball and run it over a line marked on the field. Kick a ball into a net. What is there to get excited about? But reducing it to this simple of an observation is akin to saying that Van Gogh’s paintings are just some colors on a piece of canvas or Beethoven’s compositions are a series of notes strung together. In the most basic, technical sense, it’s true; obviously, it’s much more than that though. Feel free to use this the next time you’re presented with the “Why do you care so much? It’s just a game,” argument with a friend or significant other.

Because it brings people together. It’s hard enough to get a group of co-workers to agree on where to go to lunch most days. Throw a bunch of people from one city together though, and you’ll almost certainly find that they pull for the same sports team.  There are very, VERY few things that people of different genders, races, religions, political beliefs, sexual orientations, and social classes can agree upon, but sports is one of those unique, uniting factors. Luckily, there is no prerequisite for cheering for your local team. Sure, money plays a part in where your seats may be located, but it certainly doesn’t affect your passion for the game. In fact, often times the upper reaches of the arena are louder than the lower bowl. When the home team knocks down a buzzer beater to win, you don’t care the history of the people around you; you just want to high-five everyone in sight. Maybe one of you goes back to your studio apartment and the other goes back to his $500,000 house, but that game gave you the opportunity to share that moment, albeit briefly, with one another. There is nothing else that provides this type of experience.

Because it’s a distraction. The world economy is suffering. There is war going on all over the globe. People are murdered every day. Flip on any news show, and chances are one of these problems is leading off the telecast. In fact, ask yourself this: when’s the last time you saw a newscast lead off with a positive story that wasn’t sports related? Go ahead; I’ll wait. You’re struggling with it, aren’t you? We are constantly bombarded with negativity and depressing stories all day. Sports serve as welcome distractions to all the evil in today’s society. Whether your team wins or loses on a given day, if you’re reading this post, you mostly likely have a better life than a huge majority of others worldwide. Tiquan Underwood did a great job keeping things in perspective this weekend when he was cut from the Patriots less than 24 hours before the Super Bowl and tweeted, “I Been Thru A LOT…But There Are Ppl In This World w/ More Serious Problems So I Cant Hang The Head.” Sometimes it’s nice to take our minds off of our problems and do something else for a change; sports provide the perfect outlet to do this.

Because it’s an opportunity to learn. In the immortal words of Yogi Berra, “You can observe a lot by watching.” How many times in your life do you get to see the greatest people in the world at what they do perform on a nightly basis? If you’re an auto mechanic and had the chance to watch the best mechanic in the world day in and day out, don’t you think you would take advantage of that with the hopes that you would learn something from him over time? The same goes from sports. The opportunity to watch Hakeem Olajuwon’s footwork, Ray Allen’s sweet shooting stroke, or Steve Nash’s court vision is an absolute privilege for everyone from those learning the game for the first time to those college stars about to go pro. There aren’t a lot of high school players that are going to sit and break down NBA game film on a nightly basis, but I can guarantee that those who watch games closely can pick up on little things that can help them with their game. Not athletic enough to play in the big leagues but love the game? Go to a game and watch where the referees or umpires position themselves during a game. Observe the situations in which a coach uses his timeouts and how he addresses his team during them. You pay good money to watch every person on that court because they are simply the best at what they do; take advantage of it. Sports can be fun, but they present a terrific learning opportunity as well.

Because you may see something unbelievable. I touched on this in a post last week, but it bears repeating. You just never know when you’re going to see something unexpected and witness history. We all knew this week that we were going to see Kobe Bryant pass Shaq on the all-time scoring list and Paul Pierce do the same to Larry Bird. What we don’t see coming are moments like Kobe randomly going off for 81 points against the Raptors on a random Sunday night in January back in 2006 or Michael Jordan’s incredible switching hands layup against the Lakers. It’s why we stay up late, even in the middle of the season in seemingly meaningless games, wondering if maybe, just maybe, this would be the night that something spectacular would occur. The trade off of sleep for witnessing something like this is worth it to say that you were there or saw it live. You can go on to eBay right now and buy tickets of old games that had historical significance to the sport of your choosing; the thought and allure of attending one of those games keeps some people coming back year after year on the off chance that it could be them having one of those tickets some day.

Because it’s real. I’ve often told people that sports is the best reality show on television; yes, even better than Jersey Shore. There is no script. There is no acting. At its core, we are drawn to the unknown of not knowing what is going to happen. Sure, we may think that we can predict some things (the Heat will win, the Bobcats will lose, Javale McGee will do something hilarious, etc.), but ultimately we have no idea how it will play out. Note: this is why sports gambling exists. Unless you DVR a game to watch the next day and come across highlights or a recap of a game prior to watching it, there are no such things as spoilers that will ruin the ending for you. A lot of us like the familiar and routine, but the unpredictability that sports provides is a nice counterbalance in our lives as well.

Because one day it will be worth it. Every single year, 29 out of 30 NBA teams do not win the championship. In fact, 13 out of those 30 teams (Charlotte, Cleveland, Denver, Indiana, Los Angeles Clippers, Memphis, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Orleans, Orlando, Phoenix, Toronto, Utah) have never won a NBA championship in their history. So why invest time, energy, and money into being a fan of teams like this when they continue to break our hearts year after year? It’s because we tell ourselves that one day, the clock will strike zero and our team will be left with more points on the scoreboard than the opposition. At that instance, you will feel more joy than at nearly any other point in your life aside from marriage or the birth of your child. Let’s put it this way, you simply don’t get that feeling from watching a great episode of Community or Grey’s Anatomy. You live in the moment of celebration, consequences be damned. To this day, I remember a friend of mine running outside to make snow angels, while in a t-shirt, immediately following Ohio State’s national championship win over Miami in 2003. Name something else that can cause that kind of reaction in people in life. We live for that moment, that joy, that ecstasy. In the days that follow, you will go out and buy as much championship gear and accessories as you possibly can. DVDs, t-shirts, hats, posters, and more are all in play. Why? Because you never know if or when you will ever get that opportunity again. Rest assured though, when the ball is tipped off next season, you’ll be glued to the TV again ready to start the roller coaster ride all over again.

After all, it’s why we love sports.

Eric Maroun

Eric is a born and bred Cleveland sports fan who is convinced that if given the gift of immortality, he still would not see a Cavs title in his lifetime. He currently resides in Indianapolis where he gets to see the Pacers exist in basketball purgatory.