Before we dig into the heart of this week’s soapbox sesh (rap with me, kids!) I feel obligated to place my sports fan cred on prominent display.
This is to say that come any major event you’d care to name, I will either throw 110 percent of my supportive weight behind whoever I’m least likely to get an overzealous knuckle sammich for backing or make some noise on account of the underdog if I’m feeling especially masochistic.
I could probably name a grand total of five or six teams under pressure, and up to the age of 16 I honestly thought a touchdown was what happened when [insert sexual reference of your choosing].
Toss in a few well-aimed dodgeballs to the delicates back in those junior high gym class golden days and you’ll come to realize I’m being highly sarcastic and really don’t get too invested in sports at all.
It’s not that I’m particularly averse (you’d think the aforementioned physical/psychological trauma would ensure otherwise, but I’ve decided to let sleeping dogs lie).
On a fundamental level, I think I pretty much get the appeal – the healthy competition, the drama, the occasional wardrobe malfunction.
There’s a clearly discernible sense of community arising amongst like-minded fans, and far be it from me to turn up my nose at a phenomenon that brings so many together towards a non-destructive end.
That’s the ideal scenario, anyway. Unfortunately, sports have burgeoned from a modest diversion into a worldwide quasi-religious fixation, and as with religion its followers’ enthusiasm occasionally defies the matrix of public consideration and comes to affect those dwelling outside the fold.
This is by no means universally the case, but a few bad apples can prove instructive in demonstrating the consequences of extreme fandom.
By their nature, of course, professional sports foster a spirit of collectivism. The unfortunate flipside of this is a kind of primal mob mentality, manifesting most notably in the form of booze-fueled post-game rioting.
It’s around here that we veer away from that level-headed competitive spirit and into the realm of unhinged fanaticism.
Now let us be clear: I likes me some quasi-animalistic anti-social hijinks as much as the next guy/guyette. (I’m sure I needn’t recall that much-vaunted incident involving a roomful of kerosene, a match, a gimp-legged polar bear, and a whole lotta intercourse.) Nonetheless, there comes a time when that anarchic Id must be quelled in the name of common decency.
Depending on the nature of the situation, this pivot-point may manifest as a) acceptance that your childhood dream of becoming that guy who stands in the middle of traffic exposing himself isn’t a viable career path, b) realization that a drunken excursion through the McDonald’s drive-thru on foot may not be the best way to win friends and influence people, especially when they’re still open inside, c) awareness that the twitching, gibbering shell of a human being you’ve just introduced to your fist a few dozen times over was yelling “Lions run,” not “Giants won” or d) any amalgamation of the above as it might apply to your experience.
Certainly we’ve all got to indulge our inner chest-thumper every now and then, lest the drudgery of daily life threaten to automatize our souls.
The irony, though, is that overexposure to this kind of state breeds its own form of lobotomization, one tellingly akin to that of religious/political zealotry.
As I’ve mentioned, I don’t mean to castigate sports fans at large, but I think there exist enough instances of regional loyalty turning psychotic to justify suspicion that we might place just a little too much weight on a mere pastime.
Indeed, a glance at most major events drives one to seek out what vestige might remain of the game itself amidst a cavalcade of spectacle. Super Bowl half-time shows make for an effective case in point: it’s tough not to wonder how many starving families, for instance, could have been fed with just a fraction of the funds allocated to such hollow, fleeting extravagance.
And though the ever-popular commercials are admittedly entertaining, it’s a little alarming that they seem to have become as much of a draw as the actual competition.
Call me a killjoy, but it all comes to seem like a great big paean to mindless decadence, a bloated exploitation of what began as pure recreation.
It’s this dynamic of overindulgence, I think, that feeds into the kind of unhealthy fanaticism under discussion.
I doubt the source will be curbed anytime soon, but hopefully awareness of its effects will encourage a little restraint.
Justin Levesque can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org