I no longer understand the appeal of spectator sports.
When I was a kid, I lived and died with the Los Angeles Dodgers. I idolized the players, memorized their stats, kept score during games, hoarded their baseball cards and even joined the fan club.
Sometime during my teen years, though, my interest in professional team sports began to fade. Today I sometimes watch NFL football to humor my wife (she's a rabid Raiders fan, go figure), but I've otherwise completely separated myself from spectator sports.
It's not that I have anything against sports. I treasure my childhood memories playing baseball, basketball and soccer. I plan to keep golfing and playing tennis as long as my limbs support me. I love throwing or kicking the ball around with my friends and my kids. My kids have all the sporting goods they need for every major, any some minor, sports, and we encourage them to make sports a part of their lives.
I'm not sure exactly why I no longer care about the Dodgers or any other sports team, but I have a few ideas:
- We're just rooting for laundry. Seinfeld got it exactly right -- players and coaches move around so frequently we end up rooting for an abstract concept of a team rather than actual humans. As a kid I followed the infield of Garvey-Lopes-Russell-and-Cey. I felt like I knew those guys. After free agency, I had a hard time transferring my affections to a new cast of characters each year. If I liked a player, I was more likely to continue to like him wherever he went. It got harder and harder to root for one team when I liked so few of its players and my favorites played for so many other teams. After a while, I no longer cared who won or lost. Eventually I no longer cared how the players did.
- We live through others. My mother refused to allow my sister to be a cheerleader, reasoning that it was better to be the one being cheered than the one doing the cheering. Spectators are just like cheerleaders. I'd much rather test myself and reward myself than spend my weekends watching others test themselves. Take it from me -- it's a lot more rewarding to shoot a basket than watch someone else do it. An afternoon watching a game with friends at the nicest baseball stadium cannot compare to an afternoon playing over-the-line with friends at a makeshift baseball field with jackets for bases. Active is so much more rewarding than passive.
- We watch a lot of TV to keep up. Nothing sounds less appealing to me than parking in front of a TV for hours on end just to watch others play. Spectator sports fill the TV during my prime time -- daylight weekend hours -- when there's so many better things to do. Outer Life readers know that I'm a happy ex-TV addict (see "T.V.O.D."). I see no way of staying involved in spectator sports without succumbing to the TV succubus yet again.
- We worship jocks for being jocks. Successful spectator sports sustain our interest by creating stars. Worshipping sporting gods like Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods and Joe Montana is a central tenet of our spectator sport religion. Sure, I used to idolize athletes, but I outgrew that kind of hero worship before I hit puberty. If we're going to spend our time admiring others, I'd prefer that we spend that time admiring admirable people. People whose lives set a good example for us all to live by, not people with little to offer other than freakish athletic ability and, too often, a personality warped by living a one-dimensional life with constant public adulation.
- Life is not a spectator sport. If your happiness depends on your team's victory or your favorite player's achievements, chances are there's something missing in your life. Instead of exulting in the achievements of others, why not try for some achievements of your own? Strive for your own victories. Life is precious, life is short, life is meant to be lived, not watched. When I'm on my deathbed, I'd much rather look back on my journey, on my achievements and, yes, on my failures. It's my life, after all. I only get one. I'd hate to think I wasted a huge chunk of it watching others live their lives.
I'm not an absolutist on this. I indulge my wife's weakness for Raiders football. I take my kids to sporting events. I read Sports Illustrated. I have friends and colleagues who passionately follow spectator sports, and I know enough to keep up with their discussions.
But I don't understand why spectator sports are so successful, taking up so much of our time and resources. And I'm troubled by what our obsession with being passive spectators says about us.