Whenever a Boston team does well, my Facebook feed blows up. (I have good friends.) People celebrate, say how happy they are, and cheer on whatever team happens to be playing. When the Bruins recently won the Stanley Cup my feed was full of happy friends. And I certainly contributed to the celebration. It’s something special to see a favorite team win a championship.
But there’s always one or two people who have to be Debbie Downers. One update I saw was pretty typical: ‘It’s just a game, people’ (paraphrased). Or take PZ’s post about the Vancouver riots:
Some team in Canada won the Stanley Cup, which prompted happy revelers to…riot and destroy public property?
He eventually corrected his post to reflect the fact that Vancouver lost (How you like them apples, Luongo?), but such inaccuracy reflects the level of concern PZ has for sports. That particular post doesn’t demonstrate his indifference adequately, but anyone who follows Pharyngula knows PZ is not a sports guy.
And that’s fine. I happen to really enjoy sports – I can watch just about anything that isn’t soccer – but I don’t expect everyone to love them. To each his own, right? But what I don’t like is the dismissal of sports as unimportant.
Let’s go back to that status update. “It’s just a game” is the common refrain of those who believe they have the greatest of perspectives on sports. ‘Why, it’s just men running around trying to score goals or runs or whathaveyou. Who could care about such a thing?’ These people are missing the big picture.
Spending an entire season following a team is an emotional investment. It takes energy and devotion and it can even be draining. It doesn’t matter that it’s other people who are performing the amazing feats. It isn’t important that anyone can watch a grueling hockey game while devouring a pizza. And who cares that people who have never skated or never played an organized game on the diamond or done any of that stuff can follow the action? None of that changes the fact that it’s so easy to get wrapped up in the emotionalism of sports.
And there’s far more than that to it all.
My first professional sports experience was a game at Fenway with my dad in 1999. I didn’t watch sports at that point – which is ironic considering my dad’s occupation as a sports journalist – so I couldn’t appreciate the fact I was seeing Pedro Martinez pitch in one of his Cy Young years – a year when he won the pitching Triple Crown and turned in one of the greatest pitching performances ever. No, I hardly had a grasp on all that, but there was so much more to appreciate. I appreciated the Fenway franks. I appreciated the cheers of the crowd. I appreciate that I saw the Green Monster when it still had its netting (though the seats look great). I appreciate that I sat in a park, which now holds the record for most consecutive sell outs, during a time when it was possible to just show up and buy a ticket on the day of the game with ease. But one of the things I appreciate the most is that my first professional sports experience was with my dad.
It took me some time to realize it, but the point of going to that game was for the sake of the whole experience – father and son. I had asked my dad if I could bring a friend, fearing how much I would enjoy watching a game I didn’t understand. He told me he could only get two tickets, so the answer had to be no. I decided to still go, but it later dawned on me that he had also invited my brother. There had to be a third ticket available. My dad wasn’t just inviting me to a game for the sake of hopefully seeing a Red Sox win. There was a much more important reason he wanted me to go to that game – a reason that would only insult the reader for me to explain any further. (The Red Sox did win, by the way, 7-2 against Anaheim.)
To dismiss any sport as “just a game” is to dismiss all that comes with being a fan. Whether it’s the personal emotional investment – it’s difficult to understand the relief felt by so many Red Sox fans in 2004 – or a family affair, sports are important. They intertwine with the lives of many of us in ways that rise above a casual game of Monopoly or cards. They have an impact on us in ways that are value-heavy and memory-impressing. They have an effect on our lives that give meaningful experiences we often would not – or could not – otherwise have.
Sports matter for their ability to rise above being mere games.