Thursday, July 24, 2014

Sports Are Weird

I realized something recently: Sports are weird. Not playing sports. Playing sports is great (and an excellent source of exercise). Watching sports is weird. And rooting for a particular team is the weirderest.

Think about it. All but one team loses. In most professional sports, that means your team has about a 3 percent chance of winning each year. Once you factor in payroll, that number shrinks for most baseball teams. Once you factor in poor management, that number shrinks even more. In college sports, it's less than one percent. If your school isn't in one of the five major conferences, the odds are astronomical.

Some fans are weird. They live in cities like Cincinnati or Kansas City, but somehow root for Duke basketball, Alabama football, the Yankees, the Steelers, and the Lakers. That's weird because you just picked all the best teams. Anyone could do that.

Most fans live or die with their hometown teams. I grew up rooting for the Bengals, Reds, and Bearcats. Where has that gotten me? For starters, heartbreak when Kenyon Martin broke his leg. Torture when Carson Palmer's leg imploded. Nausea every time Joey Votto takes a step. (What is it with legs in this city?) Anger when Mark Dantonio Brian Kelly Butch Jones left for greener golder oranger pastures. I was born in 1977. The Reds won back-to-back championships in 1975 and 1976. I was alive in 1990 (when the Reds won again), but I was living in Louisiana. In other words, the Reds can't win if I'm within a thousand miles of the city.

Even winning feels like losing. If my team gets a lead, I fume when they lose it. If they blow the other team out, it feels like wasted energy, which (in my mind) will inevitably lead to a losing streak. The Reds made the playoffs in 2010, 2012, and 2013, but losing to the Phillies, Giants, and Pirates felt a hundred times worse than a regular season loss. And don't even get me started on the Bengals playoff game against the San Diego Chargers last year. Brutal.

Maybe living in Boston would feel good. The Red Sox, Celtics, Bruins, and Patriots all win. But in the past 28 years, the four teams have won a combined 8 championships in 112 combined opportunities. That makes them losers 93% of the time. Doesn't sound too fun to me. I suppose folks in Germany were happy after the World Cup, but the rest of the world was miserable. Especially Brazil. They probably feel like they threw a big party, invited all their friends, and then had those friends take turns kicking them in the junk. Yay, sports!

And even the elation of winning is fleeting. The Red Sox won the World Series last year; they stink this year. You think Boston fans celebrate every 2014 loss with leftover champagne from 2013? My guess is they're as miserable as ever, and they just won the dang championship!

Cincinnati sports have probably taken years off my life. So much anger. So much yelling. So many Twitter rants. So much time and energy given … to what? A game? Why do I care so much? Why do we care so much? I suppose civic pride has something to do with it. Maybe some connection to our gladiator ancestors. Maybe we just like an excuse to be angry because feeling anger is better than feeling nothing.

I like the idea of sports. I appreciate the drama that only emerges from real people engaged in real conflict. I just wish I could actually enjoy sports. But maybe that's impossible. Maybe the odds are stacked against us. Maybe sports are just an elaborate ruse to get our money and keep us from rising up and overthrowing the government.

Or maybe sports are weird. Or maybe sports fans are weird. Or maybe … just maybe … I'm the weird one.

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