Skip to content

Faux Outrage

Literally the most important blog in the universe since 2010.

Category Archives: Sports!

Today, the fictionary grows one word larger.

This is the thirteenth FWOTD.

fanatischism (fa-nat-i-skiz-uhm)
noun

a remarkable but completely avoidable cocktail of sadness and anger invariably stemming from one’s choosing to base a portion of his/her mood on the success and failures of a particular sports team or professional athlete

For example: “I am the biggest New York Mets fan in the world and can’t stand it when they lose!”

The ‘fanatischism’ explained visually in 10 seconds.

There is a great divide — a “schism” if you will — between the relationship that a fanatical sports fan believes he has with his most favorite team and the objective analysis of the relationship’s actual impact.  While the fan will claim to extract a great deal of happiness and will unquestionably justify the amount of time, energy, and money he puts into his favorite club, the reality is that far (far!) more often than not, his team will end up not winning a championship and he will be filled with pain and sadness.

And anger.

And he will transfer this anger — sometimes quietly and sometimes loudly — to his friends and loved ones.

And then those people will be sad and angry.

It is the circle of strife.

Statistically, if there are are 30 teams in a league and you are a “big fan” for 60 years, you will see your team win a championship twice.  You will see your team not win a championship 58 times.  Statistically.  And even in rare instances (roughly 3% of the time) where the favorite team does end up winning a championship, the joy is fleeting because another season is just around the corner.

It seems appropriate, then, to ask whether we are being fair to ourselves when we invest a huge amount of our emotional energy to root for people who do not care about us to do arbitrary things in order to win an particular set of games influenced by officials prone to human error in an league environment that — in an ideal universe — should lead to a small, fleeting window of euphoria in 3% of the years we spend invested?

Packers fans one short season after a SuperBowl victory

I suppose this analysis isn’t very interesting, except for the fact that we sports fans do this to ourselves for reasons that are not entirely clear.  There are very few rational reasons to root for a particular sports team/athlete, especially in the today’s completely demystified corporate sports environment.

Each season we witness our favorite athletes speak calmly and clearly into microphones around the world: This is a business.  You have to understand this is a business.  College athletes don’t make this point particular because they themselves do not get paid, but they probably should since it’s probably not an enormous coincidence that the NCAA brought in over $840 million in 2010-2011.

We know it is a business.

It is patently obvious that our professed love and unapologetic irrationality is being leveraged against us for economic gain, and we don’t seem to mind.

But maybe we should.

Let’s hash out the two sides of the sports fan relationship:

Fan’s View of Relationship With Team

  1. Chooses team usually based on proximity and/or tradition
  2. Cares deeply about outcome of games/seasons
  3. Spends money to show support for team
  4. Spends time monitoring progress of team
  5. Professes love and adoration for team employees

Team’s View of Relationship With Fan

_
In the end, we are choosing to make enormous emotional, temporal, and financial commitments to people and entities who couldn’t care less about us and are engaging in a behaviors that have no meaningful impact on the real world.  

Unless, of course, your team wins — or loses! — a championship.

Fanatics after their team wins championship!

Fanatics after their team loses championship!

It was the bottom of the fifth inning in what could only be described in those days as “your standard Rochester RedWings game.”  The score was not close, the customers in the Team Store — unlike the mosquitos outside of it — were not biting, and the weather was as unspectacular as our lead-off man’s batting average.  And yet for some reason, among the fans at the stadium, there was no aura of dread or shame.

Those of us who live “Way Upstate” seem uniquely well-equipped to extract whatever happiness that our sports teams provide us while ignoring the obvious and potentially painful downsides.  Like when we smilingly admire the blinding sunlight that is reflecting off a glistening pile of snow that barricades us into our homes three days before Halloween, we are able to hone in on the goodness in any situation — even if no reasonable person would choose to endure the suffering from which it stems.

We are Buffalo Bills fans, after all.  We live in a perpetual state of standing at the threshold of the Promised Land listening the gods tell us — over and over again — that our people don’t really need to be bothered with all of that milk and honey.  And that’s fine, we guess, so long as housing prices stay low and Wegmans stays open 24 hours.  We get our milk and honey there, anyway.

So it’s no surprise that, given the Rochesterian’s propensity for unapologetic optimism, no one at the stadium that day was interested in buying our novelty rose-colored glasses: Most folks were already wearing a pair.

It was my first summer working at the RedWing’s Team Store, so my responsibilities were (understandably) limited to making change, wiping down the glass countertops, and directing frantic mothers and their potty-dancing kin to the nearest restroom.  However, on this particular day, in the bottom of the fifth inning, I was presented with a completely new, exciting task.  (In retrospect, I realize that my excitement was born entirely out the task’s newness and had nothing to do with any objective scale we use to measure excitation.)

I was instructed to go into the stands (!) and estimate how many people were left in the stadium.  If the crowd had sufficiently dissipated, for score-related and/or weather-related reasons, an employee or two would be sent home (!) a few innings early.  Everyone was counting on me, and all I had to do was count everyone.  Since I managed to get through a year of AP Bio with Mr. Hall, I didn’t see any reason why I wouldn’t be able to handle some large-scale eyeballin’.

I left the store, passed through the main concourse.

Veni.

I scanned the stands.

Vidi.

I returned to my post.

“4,000ish.”

Vici.

“That’s it?  Alright, well, I guess I’ll see you tomorrow then.”

Veni, vidi, vici.  

No sweat.

Frontier Field (Rochester, NY)

As planned, I did see my boss the next day.

She told me that there were over 10,000 people in the stadium.

Oops.

I guess I’m pretty bad at estimating.

For awhile, this fact bothered me.  I don’t seem like the kind of person who would be terrible at estimation.  I’m interested in science, I’ve always had a knack for mathematics and critical thinking.  I can take apart a computer and put it back together.  I can even walk and chew gum at the same time.

So why am I horrendous at estimating?

And just like that, as if I were asking a rhetorical question (and since what I lack in estimation abilities I make up for in misplaced arrogance and self-deception) I realized something:  It is not my fault at all.  Not being able to estimate must be the natural progression of human evolution.  In fact, so far as I can tell, the less able a person is to estimate, the more evolved that person is according to me — errr — to Darwin!

What a relief.

It’s all about self-preservation, a fundamental tenant of natural selection.

Back when we (humans) were without language but overtaken by our primordial will to survive, estimation was fundamental to subsistence.  We had to guess which vegetation was safe to eat, we had to eyeball each type of animal to determine whether their potential deliciousness was outweighed by its possible dangerousness (sorry, cows).  We had to guess at which humans were friendly and which were worthy of our skepticism.  On the whole, it was important — some would say “crazy important” — that we were good guessers.

However!

As time went on, as we gained communicative abilities and moved from a society of hunter-gatherers to a more of a collectivist approach, estimation became less important.  Other skills were favored: language skills, cultivation skills, community skills, nunchuck skills (much later).  The ability to hunt prey and determining which leaves are poisonous (sumac) and which merely taste like poison (also sumac, but still) were still utilized but less important for the survival of the species.  Instead, those that practiced the art of estimation — by attempting to kill dangerous animals with pinpoint accuracy and make educated-but-risky choices  — were less likely to survive in the world of natural selection.

Nowadays, the folks who are the most talented estimators find themselves engaged in unnecessarily risky behaviors.  For example, a person who correctly recognize that there is a 0.001% chance of dying from some dangerous-though-not-necessary action are perfectly reasonable when they engage in that particular behavior.  More often than not, people do not die from driving recklessly, taking illegal drugs, or even going to war.

But what about the person who, because of his/her biological desire to “remain alive,” completely miscalculates and overestimates how dangerous that activity is?  That person does not engage in the behavior at all and, in a world where the activity is not actually a requisite for life, has a 100% chance of survival.  In other words, the person who is less able to estimate the danger associated with a particular activity is more likely to survive given our species’ fear instinct.

Ergo, one’s ability to accurately estimate should be seen as a biological weakness.

So the next time you’re trying to figure out whether potential mate has genes worthy of passing on to future generations, just ask them how many fingers you’re holding up.

If you’re lucky, they’ll estimate somewhere in the neighborhood of 4,000.

BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP
BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP huh?
BEEP BEEP what? oh BEEP
BEEP BEEP okay-BEEP-okay BEEP
BEEP okay i’m BEEP up i’m up BEEP
BEE-

breathe in.
breathe out.
breathe in.
etc.

radio on.

a brand new day.

it’s true.

“hope springs eternal” they say
only communicating in cliche
and i buy in, hang on every word
maybe they’re right about today
that the grass smells sweeter
that everyone seems happier
as if we forgot how this story ends
(in heartbreak)
as if we can escape the inevitable
(heartbreak)
and i buying in too
smiling unknowingly

opening day!

it’s true.

i am a motorcycle now! i am a racecar!
let’s drive one hundred miles per hour i say
i want to see the time and scenery fly by
seconds and hours and cornstalks blurred by velocity
like a fastball, a meatball over the plate

i am up!  it’s opening day!  i am ready!
is the world ready?  wake them up!
why aren’t they awake?
wake everyone up, wake them!
tell them anything is possible today!
it’s true!
where are my shoes?  it’s time
anything is possible today

anything.

it’s true.

the first pitch is thrown!
and everyone reacts
as if it weren’t going to happen
“i thought this day would never come!”
you didn’t think that
you couldn’t think that
did you think that?
this day always comes
you remember
ready or not

this day always comes.

it’s true.

RING RING RING RING huh?
RING RING what? oh RING
RING RING okay-RING-okay RING
RING RI- hello?

hello?

(a pause)

hi, zachary.

hi.

are you there?

(a pause)
(a pause)
(a pause)

go to where it’s quiet she says
this is the best i can do i say
i got a call this morning she says
we lost grandma last night she says

(and i want to ask
where did we lose her?
maybe we should start looking
but then i remember
how this call started
the quiet place
she told me to go to a quiet place
just like in the movies
based on a true story
unfolding before me)

as the blood
rushes from my face
like fans for the exits

she’s not lost at all
they found her this morning

anything is possible today.

it’s true.

——————————-

Epilogue: Honestly, I didn’t know whether to submit this to the Faux Outrage universe.  This is literally (yes, literally) the first thing I wrote about my grandmother’s passing after learning of the news from my mother on Thursday afternoon.  It’s personal, not particularly well-edited, and not in line with what is normally posted on fauxoutrage.com.

I couldn’t ignore the fact that I learned of this dreadfully sad news on Opening Day.  I am a huge baseball fan, of course, but I’ve always struggled with the compelling argument that sports are objectively unimportant.  They don’t seem to “matter” in any real sense.  Time spent and thinking about baseball is time that might be better spent focusing on important details of life, like family, like friends, like social justice.  And yet, on the morning my grandmother passed away in her sleep, my mind was laser-focused on baseball.

This bothers me.

Death confuses me more than anything else since it is both the most obvious and most unbelievable part of living.  Death, with great irony, reminds us that we are living.  At the same time, without irony, death reminds us that at some point we will no longer get to hear our alarm clocking beep beep beeping away.

We walk around with this knowledge — we all know that our time is limited — but we rarely feel it.  We push push push this realization deep into the back of our minds because otherwise we would not be able to function in polite society.  Although I wouldn’t be surprised if a society perpetually aware of the temporary nature of life would be much more “polite.”

Rest in peace, Grandma, and say hi to grandpa for me, will ya? 🙂

In 1993, Major League Baseball unleashed upon the universe an ad campaign that rocked me to my very core.  See above.

“Catch the fever now!  Let me show you how!”

I was intrigued.  I wanted to learn more of this fever and exactly how to catch it.

Unfortunately, the reality is that the commercial provided no instructions whatsoever regarding the specifics of catching said “fever.”  Undeterred, I somehow managed to develop an unconditional (some would say irrational) love for the game of baseball.  By the end of the 1993 season, I had a favorite hitter (Todd Hundley, a young home-run-hitting catcher who would eventually be forced to embarrass himself in the outfield), a favorite pitcher (Jeff Innis, who had the goofiest delivery I had ever seen), and most importantly, I had a favorite pastime: America’s pastime.

I had the fever.

Finally, I caught it.

These days I still have the fever, but what was once an exercise in hero-worship — cheering for gladiators battling against lions who had mysteriously taken the form of the Atlanta Braves — has evolved into a not-insignificant piece of my emotional life.  Baseball is for me a meaningful way to acknowledge the passing of time, to separate one year (or season) from the next.

That said, I have no problem recognizing that the above paragraph is insane.  To ascribe words like “meaningful” and “emotional” to an athletic competition where you are a spectator and no member of your immediate family is participating — what amounts to a highly-publicized game night that you are watching from a neighbor’s couch — seems to misunderstand the capabilities humankind.  There are meaningful, emotional aspects of society, but the game of baseball?

Any sentence that explicitly states or casually implies that baseball has Real Significance in our lives rings hallow.  In fact, grandiose statements about baseball have to false be because baseball is objectively unimportant.  Grown men hitting tightly-wound string collectives with wooden posts and running around in a very specific, peculiar manner.  This is not an activity that moral philosophers have grappled with over the years (except for maybe one).

And to the extent that baseball is subjectively important, there are certain sad realities that one must acknowledge:

  1. as a general rule, players wear a particular jersey out of a desire for money, not hometown/team pride
  2. cities lose teams because citizens reasonably reject tax increases to build stadiums that provide a marginal economic benefit to the taxpayer and/or because the local fanbase is deemed insufficiently large/wealthy to maximize revenue
  3. if we utilized even a fraction of the money we spend on sports on some objectively worthy cause, that worthy cause would be improved dramatically
  4. within the economic universe of major league baseball, wealthy owners in large markets can leverage their financial prowess in ways antithetical to the notion of fair play

I know all of this.

And while it is completely true that I was known as The Voice of Reason in college (among other things), I just can’t shake this baseball fever.  Shouldn’t I be able to give up something once I recognize that it has at best neutral value and is at worse an economic drain on society?  Shouldn’t I direct my efforts — in terms of time, energy, and economic power — towards something legitimately meaningful?  Shouldn’t I attempt to replace the part of my memory that contains minor league baseball statistics with, oh, say, fluency in another language?

Shouldn’t I?

I won’t.

But shouldn’t I?

And because I will never give up this irrational hobby, March will forever be the month when baseball begins to permeate my consciousness.   When Spring Training begins, when horrible and true “Hope Springs Eternal” puns are unapologetically written by headline-writers across the country, when the weather warms up in the North just enough to think about tossing a baseball around, when winter coats are hung up for the last time and the sun peaks out from behind the trees and downtown monstrosities, temporarily blinding us for the first time of the year.

In March, hope does spring eternal.

The first spring training game was last week and my body temperature was literally 102 degrees.

Objectively I know that I was sick, but there is still a large part of me that wants to believe I simply have The Fever.

Special Bonus Content: Don’t have a favorite team?  Use this link to figure out who you belong to.

Last Thursday, The Powers That Be — through a man really actually truthfully honestly named Sepp Blatter — announced that the United States will not be hosting the World Cup in 2022 (assuming, of course, the world does not end in 2012).

Instead, the games have been awarded to Qatar, a country that the average American cannot…

(a) spell (no “u”)
(b) pronounce (somewhere between “cutter” and “gutter”)
(c) locate on a map (east of Saudi Arabia, west of Iran, north of the UAE)
(d) use in a game of Scrabble, unfortunately (proper noun)

If you interview an average American citizen and ask them to rank their level of disappointment when hearing this news, they will probably grind their teeth, clear their throat and eventually burp out a hearty, “World Cup of what exactly?”

(And then, if stereotypes of Americans are to be believed, they will ferociously snap the notebook from your hand, slather it in taco-flavored ketchup (dibs on this idea, btw), and hyperventilatingly gulp it down like an expecting baby chickadee before stabbing you in the leg with an American flag.)

The World Cup of Soccer, by the way.

Wikipedia explains to us that Soccer is “played between two teams of eleven players with a spherical ball.” This is the sport that has rejected us.

We have been rejected by soccer.

And yet, it is difficult — though of course not impossible (See: Seattle) — to find sports fans in this country who give a hoot, let alone give a full-fledged vuvuzela. I’m talking about a “Write An Article With The Headline FIFA are rotten to the core! I feel like a shower after this crawling, venal game” level of caring that our friends in the United Kingdom are so effortlessly able to embrace.

On this side of The Pond, we have the New York Times — in its predictably understated way — yawning out this headline: U.S. Should Know There’s No Sulking in Soccer. But do we really know that about soccer? Do we really know anything at all about soccer? Should we ever even print “United States” and “should know” and “soccer” in the same rhetorical statement (besides this one)?

And to the extent that we do actually consider the prevalence of sulking in the world’s most popular sport (besides corruption), wouldn’t a supermajority of casual soccer-viewing American fans declare with calm confidence that if there is one thing that we know for certain about the sport with fewer goals than a high school methamphetamine addict, it is that sulking, whining and general cry-babyishness are the three food groups of communication on the soccer field — excuse me — football pitch (which is, by the way, a term composed words strongly associated in the United States with sports wholly unrelated to soccer: American football and baseball, respectively)?

And yet, there is a cycle in the American media that repeats itself every few years. Like clockwork, as we approach an internationally-relevant soccer event like the World Cup or the Olympics, newspapers, magazines, and televised editorialists coast-to-coast all pose the same question in unison:

“Are Americans About To Embrace Soccer?”

It is with great regret that I demand we stop asking this question.

Why?

Because the answer is “No” no matter how many times the question is (or will be) asked.

And until we accept soccer’s already-sealed fate, our domestic sports (and to some extent, national) media will continue taking on the personae of sleep-deprived kids in the back seat of their parents’ Ford Taurus en route to Universal Studios longingly pleading, “Are We There Yet?” because they know at some point the answer will be “Yes, we are there! Yes, Americans have once and for all embraced the world’s game!”

But we are not there yet. We will never be there.

On a personal note, I quite like the sport. Some of my earliest and most prominent memories take place on the grass-dirt-pothole fields a short bike ride from my childhood home. I played through sophomore year of high school (I was a striker/winger), until my being reasonably fast and willing to slide-tackle anyone (for any reason) no longer sufficiently masked my complete inability to strike the ball with my left foot (or with any accuracy with my right).

The fact is, my positive relationship with soccer isn’t that much different than the millions of folks in America who are in a prime position to consume and care about the sport — if they were so inclined. We all played it when we were kids. We all generally understand the rules (ball in goal, hands to self). But we all also tend to find ourselves either leaving the sporting life behind, or primarily focus our athletic energies on one or more of the major domestic sports: football, baseball, basketball, and Justin Bieber.

Which is, sadly, why the word reject — one of the most simple yet harsh words available in the English language — is the fairest and most descriptive of our relationship with the game that Israelis and Palestinians have no problem agreeing on. We have experienced soccer, we have experienced alternatives to it, and we have chosen those other things.

Our relationship with soccer can be differentiated from a sports like cricket, which has not been “rejected” in the same way. Yes, we all assume that it is terribly boring and not worth our time (that we could spend eating nachos), but when confronted about our distaste, we ultimately end up hiding behind our ignorance of wickets and beamers and bouncers. Therefore, to say that we have “rejected” cricket seems a bit strong.

We’ve ignored cricket, but we certainly haven’t rejected it.

We have rejected soccer, though.

Sorry, soccer.

But here’s the thing: It’s okay.

It’s okay that Americans will not ever entirely embrace the sport with the same passion of our neighbors to the north, south, east, and west.

It’s okay that the United States will never be overrun by scarf-wearing hooligans because it’s ultimately not very important, especially for those of us who are able appreciate the grace and beauty of a well-struck header off a corner kick. The inherent value of the game is unchanging, even in the face of a skeptical public. Viewing our culture’s rejection of fútbol as some kind of fundamental social or intellectual failing, or as having any sort of deeper meaning, is to create a tension where there is none.

It’s okay that. on the whole, Americans are more likely to associate the term “yellow card” with that time they got drunk and dropped their Visa in the toilet.

It’s okay that as a society, we stand atop our soap box pooh-poohing the flopping, shin-grabbing and all-around fakery that goes on in the Premier League and embrace “King of Flops” Vlade Divac.

We have been rejected by soccer, and soccer has been rejected by us.

And that is okay.

%d bloggers like this: