If I May: On Sports Fandom
Issue   |   Tue, 04/03/2018 - 19:52

Being a die-hard sports fan has brought me a great deal of stress, heartbreak and disappointment. Earlier this year, Kristaps Porzingis, the best player on the New York Knicks — my favorite team — tore his ACL. He’ll be sidelined for another eight months, and even when he returns, he may never be the same player. As a lifelong New York Jets fan, I endure season after season of embarrassment and failure. And in 2016, I watched as my favorite athlete, golfer Jordan Spieth, lost The Masters in spectacular fashion — perhaps the most epic collapse in golf history.

On the one hand, it’s just sports. In theory, they do not really mean anything. In fact, for the participants, it is literally just their job. Watching sports is like going to a law firm and watching a lawyer do paperwork, but also being incredibly invested in whether or not the paperwork is done well. Rooting for teams is arbitrary; many root based on their hometown, but many I know became fans of teams at a young age because of the team’s colors. For individual sports, it’s completely arbitrary. Why should I root for Jordan Spieth more than I should root for Phil Mickelson? For exactly no reason at all, I simply chose to be a Spieth fanatic after he contended for the 2014 Masters and lost.

Furthermore, the outcomes of sporting events have little to no tangible impact on my life. In fact, this year’s March Madness showed me what life could be like if I didn’t have such strong rooting interests. The team I tend to root for (but am not particularly attached to) in men’s college basketball (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) lost fairly early. I watched some of the Final Four and enjoyed Loyola-Chicago’s underdog story. I didn’t even watch the national championship, instead performing in an improv show. On the women’s side (which was a much more captivating tournament, by the way), I loved seeing the clutch performances by Arike Ogunbowale in both the Final Four and the National Championship. But in both cases, I had no real interest, and the tournaments sort of just happened.

Frankly, this indifference was a relief. Because on the other hand, (yes, remember earlier when I said “on the one hand?”Here’s the payoff) for me, it is rarely “just sports.” Last year, when UNC was in the championship game (and won), even though I am not that big a fan of the team, I became incredibly obsessed over the outcome. I’m not sure what is it about me, but when I get interested in something, I get obsessed with it. So obsessed, in fact, that my mental health can often be affected by what happens to my favorite teams. This past fall, when the Yankees (my favorite baseball team) were contending in the playoffs, I was a wreck. Every game resulted in profound anxiety. I was fortunate enough to be able to attend two home games, and both were unbelievably stressful experience, even though they ended in wins for the Yankees. When the Yanks finally lost in game seven of the ALCS (meaning had they won, they would’ve been in the World Series), I cried. But I also turned to my girlfriend and said, “Honestly, this is a huge relief. I don’t know if I could have handled the World Series.”

Since then, I have been doing a lot of reflecting on my relationship with sports (which resulted in this column). After reading the paragraph above, it may seem like an easy answer: I should probably just chill out a bit regarding sports. But unfortunately, it’s not that easy. Because just as sports provides some of my greatest stresses, it also leads to some of my most joyful moments — and I’m not only talking about watching my favorite teams win. These joys are things like being in the stands with thousands of other fans who care just as much as I do, phone calls with my dad discussing what the Jets need to do to improve during the offseason (which is impossible, as they will suck forever) or even observing from a distance incredible sports theater like Ogunbowale’s clutch performance. The love of sports is sewn directly into the fabric of my life (sorry for that very over-the-top metaphor), and to tear those threads out would likely hurt even more than keeping them in (and also sorry to continue to use said metaphor even after I already apologized for it. Yup, that’s how I’m going to end this more serious piece, with a dumb joke).