Something amazing happens when you tell people you write about sports for a living. You begin to feel like you’re in a scene from Dawn of the Dead.
The way people change when talking about “their team,” can be nothing short of zombiefication. Eyes glaze over, vocal chords intensify. Even the stodgiest personality melts like stadium nacho cheese when one hits the raw nerve of their football team, the pitcher of their childhood, or that moment of Olympic glory, replayed on YouTube ad nauseam. Being a sports fan makes us feel alive, but also, a bit like the walking dead: “MY TEAM” becoming the replacement for “BRAINS.”
Banning sports is a ludicrous proposition. Although I love being wrapped in a warm fuzzy blanket of nostalgia from time to time myself, I don’t think sports — the multi-billion dollar institutions that carry huge consequence for society — should get a free pass, either at the Little League or global level.
I’ve witnessed the zombie-sports-fan phenomena all over the world — in a village in Botswana, a Spanish soccer stadium, an Argentine park, and a neighborhood bar in Brooklyn. The escapism can be a marvellous thing, even if it results in someone puking their guts out after a night of Yankees heartbreak. Sports fandom transcends gender, race, language, political preference, socioeconomic status, or any other way you can think of slicing this planet. However flawed, sports show us that we’re human.
I write this from my hometown of Eugene, Oregon, which might as well be renamed Ducktopia. Yes, because of sports, a fluffy, white feathered creature with webbed digits has become synonymous with Titanic-sized men charging at each other, full speed while wearing eye paint. Locals here, in my experience, are very well-versed on where to find the best jogging trails and what Marcus Mariota’s astrological sign is (Scorpio), but would struggle to describe what, if any, tax breaks the University of Oregon receives for its sprawling facilities, how the school is or isn’t educating athletes on domestic violence, or what measures are being taken to prevent head injuries on the football field. It’s tribal, really, but not only are these questions not being answered, they’re often discouraged from being asked in the first place.
Even sports journalists can get caught up in the hoopla in a way that doesn’t benefit readers. Imagine if economic reporters leapt to their feet in joy on a strong Google earnings call or if political reporters crumpled into a fetal position if Hillary Clinton had a bad polling moment. In fact, sports are an area where there are often actual cheerleaders, making the journalist giddiness all the more misplaced.
It is from sports we get so many tough-ass mantras and Major Life Lessons. Vince Lombardi told us that “winners never quit and quitters never win.” Muhammad Ali fought like a butterfly and stung like a bee. Phil Jackson via Twitter said:
Superhero aficionados know that with great power comes great responsibility. Fans are consumers, and like shoppers in a mall, they move with their feet and credit cards. It’s not necessary to be a total buzzkill, but asking some basic questions, would be a great start. What’s good and bad? What are the consequences for all involved? What matters and why?
No machetes or Michael Jackson “Thriller” dance moves necessary.