Sports are mostly an exercise in extreme catharsis. You rarely remember the times of mediocrity for your favorite teams. Fortunately, the ecstatic highs stay with you as joyful memories and happy associations of certain times of year. But the bitter lows stay with you much longer and more vividly than anything else in the realm of sports enthusiasm.
As a fan of a struggling major sports team that will remain unnamed for the sake of my pride, I can personally tell you that following a losing team is an excruciating practice in futility. A practice that can immeasurably impact your attitude on any given day and leave you with a sense of hopelessness as you think back to fond memories of your team’s success. As the normal events of your college life unfold, your team’s losses begin to weigh on you; a dark raincloud lurks over even your best moments.
As you look down at your phone during dinner you see the ominous ESPN updates staring back at you. SportsCenter is no longer is an innocent broadcast to have passively playing in the background while hanging out. It is now a nightmarish reminder of the mockery your once-proud, childhood team has become. Friends know your pain but do not truly understand it, so they ask you about it in jest, hoping to get a laugh. There will be no laughs over your pain.
One day, you stop and think: Where did it all go wrong? Just last year, you were gleefully asking others to revel in your team’s successes while they bathed in the misery of their own, and now there is no escape. It was only mere months ago when it all began: one player’s freak injury, another’s poor attitude and one opting to leave your team for greener pastures and more money. At the time, seemingly small losses meant nothing to you as you eagerly awaited the season’s start, but now you realize that the damage was substantial.
You suddenly look down at your team and realize there will be no return to glory, and it will sooner bottom out into the laughingstock of the league before it ascends like a phoenix from its ashes. It is a terrible realization and a gut check you can only manage once in a while. In the doldrums of the losing seasons you attempt to push these existential thoughts far from your current consciousness.
You mentally tell yourself, “It’s only one year,” and “You can’t win every year.” You desperately try every trick to seem casual about the crumbling state of affairs, but nothing can truly give you relief. When things are at their absolute worst, you will even adopt a stance of irrational confidence and delusional pride telling yourself everything truly will work out in the end.
You know it won’t, but still.
Just once, you do the unthinkable, even going so far as to question the entire practice of your fandom. You ask yourself why it all hits you so hard, and how a complete stranger snapping his tibia and fibula 2,000 miles away can reduce you to feeling such utter despair, making it seem as if it is your own leg that is now broken.
The honest truth is that I cannot explain these sentiments, and I can probably never give these feelings to someone else; they simply are inside you or they aren’t. I don’t say this as a badge of personal pride or honor. There have been innumerable instances this year where I would have loved not to care, but I can’t separate myself from what I’ve always felt.
Just know never to approach a troubled sports fan with a conciliatory, “Relax, dude, it’s just a game!” Never do that. There will always be a highly questionable attachment between sports and my soul, and even though I might occasionally denounce my relationship with sports, you should know that I never once meant it.
Screw pride. I can’t hold it in anymore.
National Basketball Association look out, we are coming for you. Next year, we will be back. Until then, please don’t remind me of what I already know. It only tugs on my heartstrings.
Contact reporter David O'Neill at firstname.lastname@example.org