Why do I care about the fate of any sports team? Why do I consider the teams “my” teams?” I have no impact on or personal reward from the outcome of any game my favorites play. For the sake of transparency here, my favorites are the University of Oregon Ducks and Seattle Seahawks. Meanwhile, what’s most silly? I feel temporarily upset when either one loses and get a boost when they win.
I have talked to friends about this phenomenon and they’ve not been much help. Some say they’ve just always been a fan of so and so. They’ve attended a college or grew up in a certain city, say, for example, with an NFL team. Their dad liked that team so it’s an emotional inheritance. Whatever the answer, it is always vague and imprecise; in other words, they do not really know why, but just feel something and carry it like a crucible in team colors.
But what is it? Where does it come from? What purpose does it serve? I soberly recognize the irrationality of identifying with a team I never played on, such as the Ducks, although I did earn graduate degrees at UO but as an older student, and would have viewed myself mad if I’d traveled to Seattle for a try-out, even forty years ago when I was still a young guy with a flat tummy.
According to the anthropologists, there’s a connection. As long ago as the Middle Ages, peasants played a version of soccer while villages competed with each other, kicking a pig’s bladder around for scores. Games took place at carnivals, festivals and gatherings of all kinds with feasting, dancing and physical activity in which, most likely, every able-bodied person participated. These sorts of human interactions took place throughout the world, in primitive and so-called advanced societies, as far back as early man—it got into our DNA, in ways scientific and artistic, and stuck there.
I may understand it better now than as a child. However, once I played on teams then it became natural to enthusiastically support the effort. Even kids who never participated in a sport, like most of the girls when I was young, they showed their support by cheering for the boys they knew. We simply grew up with the habit of supporting school teams and it followed us into adulthood and life thereafter even though, nowadays, most of us do not personally know those for whom we root.
Hence, an additional dimension to this subject that can further mystify the questioning mind. Sports in the United States have become unattached from the fans who support them to a point where it is challenging to understand why anyone can cheer for a team. Players and owners take fan loyalty for granted and give back only wins and losses with evermore super-fans, mega-fans, fans who yell louder and spend more on tickers and merchandise. Team member indifference perplexes but the craziness goes on while the professional players have contracts and are paid whether they win or lose. They build it and we come.
In trying to figure it all out to a definitive answer, logic fails me. I recognized that powerful, illogical human emotions are involved. The widespread phenomenon has most to do with our being human. I don’t appreciate the disgustingly excessive money in sports, amateur and professional (a moral nation would provide food and shelter for its youth in poverty before paying grown men millions to play with a “pigskin”), but that equation has favored the games over my lifetime. I want to say that my New Year’s resolution is to back off of interest in sports teams but know I’ll fail that commitment as there is an instinctive, powerful force at work, something bigger than me, seeking human social belonging and membership.
(Gene H. McIntyre’s column appears weekly in the Keizertimes.)