The psychology of sports fascinates me. What is unique is the fact that none of us are aware of it in the moment. It is only during those times in between, where, should we care to, we can see the impact the games have on us.
As the NBA regular season was winding down and we (those of us who are basketball fans) get ready for the playoffs, the energy levels kick up a notch and our “sportsmanship” can occasionally slip behind our fanatical following of our favorite team.
I was watching some highlights on the last day of the season of one of the Heat’s potential threats in the playoffs. They won a tough game with a big late shot. One of their players began celebrating in an outrageous fashion and I thought “Doesn’t he look like a fool?”.
Moments later, I was amused at myself, because players on the Heat celebrate (differently) just as enthusiastically when they pull off some amazing feat or last-second triumph. But that celebration is “cool”, because it’s “my” team.
It’s the same mentality that allows us to boo the other team’s players, regardless of the exceptional game they may be having. We can groan at our own players’ gaffes and roast the referees who are clearly favoring the other team (why don’t they ever give our team a fair deal?).
It’s not fair to say we lose perspective, because sports fandom is not about perspective, it’s about your team (from youth league to professional) or country (from the Olympics to Golf’s Ryder Cup) winning. Period. Anything getting between you (and your team) and the goal is bad. Combine enthusiasm, hope and dreams and you get an intolerant and unreasonable package that probably doesn’t exist at any other time in your personality, save during game time.
I don’t mean to imply it’s a bad thing (although there are certainly examples of fan enthusiasm past the tipping point). Sports has so often provided a bond and a solace in times of hurt or despair. Recent times, such as when Baseball returned to New York post 9/11 or past times such as after WWII, show how often a nation needs and wants both the diversion and the opportunity to root for something alongside your neighbors.
Which just further illustrates the fascinating effects sports has on our psyche. I know, with the Heat trying for a repeat championship, I will soon be soaring and stumbling with every lead change, every twisted ankle, every thunderous dunk and every awful call by those obviously biased referees (not to mention those overly critical announcers ). I believe I have a good grasp on my sense of proportion and should be able to remain reasonably collected.
But I still think those players on that OTHER team looked dopey.