Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Dating and the mysterious allure of sports fandom

a.m.k. has a few things to say about a popular waste of time.

A subculture in action.
I've met people from a lot of different subcultures. Some people are into counter-cultural or expressive types of entertainment: the underground music guru, the theatre enthusiast, the drug dealer. There are academics who attend conferences, briefcase-in-hand, perhaps looking down their noses at people disinterested in intellectual pursuits. There are nerds who get into weird online gaming communities like WoW (sorry I'll never understand it). And of course, there are people who don't seem to be into anything; maybe they have big families or live alone and stare into space smoking all night, who knows.

And then there are sports fanatics.

I've spent time inside and outside the sports world, and it's easy to forget what it's like in there -- just like it's easy to forget what it's like to be single or to be addicted to Pacman.

The odd thing is that many of these sports fanatics didn't even play sports in high school. This fact is similar to how Brendan listens to music for teenage girls now when he was all into the fuck-you-teenage-girls music during his teenage years. At least I assume he was. Here's a question: can you tell what kind of music people liked in high school based on how popular they were, or maybe even how popular they wanted to be? I'd say no today, but I would have said yes when I was that age. I liked grunge and post-hardcore and emo but had many a pop princess guilty pleasure.

Most people are aware that professional sports happen, and sure, when the teams from your city win, everyone can go drinking and get excited about something if they need an excuse for something to get excited about. But most people don't realize how intensely you can get attached to sports. And when they meet a sports fan, they cannot for the life of them figure out what this passion is and why people care about who puts a puck in a net or their Relative Corsi score.

On some level, it's easy to understand the appeal -- what a lot of these professional athletes do is pretty impressive, and we all need ways to waste time. But it's hard to actually care too much about the outcome of a game unless you're a real fan -- unless you've crossed the invisible line between sports-as-hobby and sports-as-everything.

Who are these people? Why do they latch on to watching other people play sports they were never that good at? And why do they take it so seriously?

I don't know, and I don't know how I became one of them.

Like many emotional sports fans, I only really care about one sport. I'm the guy who has one team in one sport that he likes so much, that, like the parents who don't want to have more than one kid because they don't want to split up their love (there's only so much to give!), they remain transfixed on one team and one team only. I will take a swing at you if you call my team a joke or insult one of the players. Jordan Eberle is a sissy? I'll slice off your baby toe. Those players are family.

Who are these people?
In some ways, I'm a bit of an exceptional sports fan. Most guys who love sports aren't into the arts or nerdy things as much as I am (see Bowl, Quiz), and I'd also say that most people who are sports fans didn't flip-flop on it as much as I have. I've gone through years of apathy to land at my current obsessive attachment.

As a wee lad I started out as a sports fan, from what I can remember. I picked all my favourite teams when I was five, and when for the sports where I picked one team and one team only, those teams have stuck with me as my favourite in that sport to this day, and those sports are the ones I care most about now, though to varying degrees. The sports where I now have a couple of teams I root for were just watered-down casual passions growing up, which is probably a much healthier way to be.

Of course, hockey is the most exciting sport to watch. We never watched hockey much in my house growing up -- maybe that stoked my curiosity. It was even my favourite sport to play, though it was one of the only popular sports that I've never played competitively. Actually, depending on your definition of popular, it was the only sport popular sport I never played competitively. I've played sports I've never seen televised (badminton, anyone?) and I ran cross-country and track for some bizarre reason I still can't discern. Maybe my love of hockey is a sub-conscious way to separate myself from my childhood, pursuing the sport I was missing all that time, just to piss off my parents. But though hockey used to be front and centre for me, it gradually faded away from my preoccupation in high school and early in university before reintroducing itself in my adulthood.

I always sort of followed hockey as a kid -- more than other sports, but not enough to actually care. I think I got so wrapped up in playing sports that either I was sick of them when I came home or I just didn't have the time to keep up with anything. I also fell into and out of my passion for music pretty intensely. I guess you just can't obsess over everything all the time -- it comes and goes in waves, at least for me.

Sports, like other hobbies, serve a purpose, but when other things take up time in your life (like school or a career), it can be hard to step back over to your obsession. Even though you know that it's not logical and it doesn't mean anything, spending so much time with a sport brings an emotional connection. You grow to love your sport. Fandom is bizarre, it really is, and there are more and more psychological studies coming out about it. Die-hard fans suffer a reduced quality of life when their team loses and feel elation when they win, no joke. It's dangerous to have something that you have no control over tied so inexplicably to your general mood and happiness.

I started re-closely following my team a few years ago now. I think I was driven to it because I already knew I liked watching sports; it was something relaxing to get my mind off of the stress I had then, something familiar, like your high school ex. Am I old enough yet that I can claim to have stress and people take me seriously? I tried to once when I was 18 and my coworker at the time told me that I don't worry about money so I'm still a kid. I told her I'd been financially independent for a year already and paying my own way thru school. She then modified her statement to say that I had nothing to complain about until I had a mortgage. I hope never to have a mortgage, since apparently that's a sure-fire way to ensure I never grow up.

Since I finished school, the amount I follow my team has increased exponentially. I remember not knowing a lot about Jordan Eberle two years ago. Now I could show you his dental records, if I weren't preserving them in a plastic bag. I'm kidding here, but only a little.

As I've re-introduced structure into my post-university life, why have I not cut the ties completely? Why do I care how many times Jordan toe-drags his way to the slot or that, somehow, former Taco Bell employee Ryan Jones (from Chatham) got a hat trick? (Though, to be fair, one of them was an empty-netter.)

It's hard to give up the activities you're attached to. As much as smoking is something that has physical chemicals inside of it that your body craves, it has a psychological component that most people don't take seriously enough. Sports fandom and smoking are also two pleasures that many people enjoy alone. To some, sports and smoking offer company during lonely moments. Not necessarily lonely as in a shut-in in Northern Quebec, but lonely as in "I'm used to being around people and right now I'm not so I need something to cope with it or take my mind off it and hey this cigarette/intense sports game on TV will keep me occupied while I pass the time."
For all you shut-ins.

We remember it when someone is there for us. We want to keep them in our lives, even when we shouldn't any more. Maybe there's also some comfort in some things never changing -- I hear this is why some people still to go to church. I wonder if bachelors are more likely to become sports fanatics than married men, and thinking of a typical drunk sports fan, I'm not sure that's true. I bet you married men need a mindless escape even more, though. The more life we have, the more we need to get away from it.

Changing teams in hockey is like cheating on your partner. When you get on a bandwagon for some team that's already succeeding, it makes you disloyal -- a scoundrel, even. It means you were never really serious about your team in the first place. Even if you were following a favourite player who was traded or left as a free agent.

You have to love the team unconditionally, not because they have a star 1st overall selection or nice breasts. Those are both things that are just a part of the whole, and it is the whole person you love. At least, you should, unless you're a scoundrel. Chasing players from team to team = chasing the next pair of boobs from woman to woman.

If you love your team, you won't leave them. Ever. And you won't take any other teams as your lover.


We're in the midst of another lockout right now hockey fans, and it's kind of like going thru a break-up that you don't honestly believe will last. It hurts like a bitch. Not being together is killing you -- you don't think you're actually going to break up, but you're kind of worried that you might. You wake up in a cold sweat, heart instantly sinking when you realize that your dearest love is no longer beside you to clutch.

Having no NHL hockey to watch on TV is like not having that security blanket beside you to warm up you up in the winter. You begin to call old friends you've lost touch with and begin to realize that they want nothing to do with you now because you stopped making time in your life for them long, long ago, back when you first started cheering for what's-their-faces. Now you have no friends and no team. It really sucks.

Hold tight, hockey fans. It'll come back to us. Let's take this time to do all the things we did when we were single, like stay out late and not give a shit if we were hung over for work. Let's spend some "us" time alone, maybe remember how to read. Let's see some friends who we haven't lost touch with yet. Break-ups suck, but there's nothing like being single on the prowl for one last time. We may as well make the most of it.

a.m.k. is a writer living in Centretown. He recently adopted a bunny to fill the void of not having a hockey season.

1 comment:

  1. You made me laugh, Mr. a.m.k.!!! Lots of snorters in there! Thanks! Hope your drug hits the streets again soon!! :DD