I Don’t Understand Professional Sports

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I don’t understand the divisiveness of team sports. Us against them. Us against the world. Us against everything.

To a certain extent, I do understand the admiration of the physical skills and prowess of professional or full time athletes. Many of the pros may be overpaid children, or colossal douche bags in their own right, but, take away everything else, and they have worked hard, for years, to be so good at one thing that they can do it for a living.

But I don’t see why I should care. Not about them as human beings, but about why their particular team should win anything. I don’t understand the concept of team loyalty at all.

To give that a little context, I’m a science fiction and fantasy fan. And to give it some real context, I am a Star Trek fan. I have been a Trekkie for longer than I can remember. It’s getting old to say it now, but one of my earliest memories is sitting in my father’s lap watching an episode of the original series of Star Trek. I grew up on it, watching it all the time, added Star Trek: The Next Generation when it came along to my fan list. The movies. The later series each to a degree, each for different reasons. I can, if I wish, turn any particular situation or conversation toward Star Trek with the appropriate reference. Although, people don’t always appreciate the. In short, I am a Star Trek fan, in the truest sense of the word, fanatic. So I understand what it means to be a fan of something, but it’s different than what I see displayed as the typical sports fan mentality.

Being a Star Trek fan doesn’t stop me from being a fan of other science fiction or fantasy movies, television shows, or books. I like Star Wars, I like (love) Lord of the Rings, enjoy superhero movies, and quite a bit of other science fiction fantasy.

I can extend that to other things. I quite enjoy a fair bit of anime, and at 43 years old I still read comic books. I don’t mind watching My Little Pony with my youngest daughter. I’ll certainly sit down to play some weird or strangeboard, card, dice, or role-playing game like Tsuro, Munchkin, Zombie Dice, or Dungeons and Dragons. These are fun, and the promote family time.

I don’t, however, go out of my way, or even really think about how my particular aspect of geek fandom is better than others. It doesn’t matter. I enjoy what I enjoy, and if you enjoy something different, that’s cool. We can still be geeks together.

But professional sports is somehow different. It doesn’t have the same sense of, robbery or kinship. It’s apparently extremely difficult, for example, for someone to be a both Toronto Maple Leafs fan and a Montréal Canadiens fan. Conversations at work, and not even during hockey season, which never seems to end, it’s actually impossible. You have one team. You can have another team only if it’s in a different sport. Or, I suppose, a different league. It’s sacrilege, and offensive, to think otherwise.

And it makes no sense to me.

You will never, I suspect, see someone drive by with a window decal that shows Captain Kirk urinating on a storm trooper. But, it’s normal and acceptable to see that decal on any given passing car or truck with a cartoon character wearing a Toronto Maple Leafs jersey urinating on the Montréal Canadiens symbol. Or vice versa. Or the Ottawa Senators. Or the Vancouver Canucks. Or any other team that you have decided is the antithesis of yours. Sports fans seem to go out of their way to antagonize each other.

But it’s all in good fun. Rivalry is healthy, it creates discussion and interest.

I call bullshit.

When was the last time you saw geeks rioting because the wrong movie won an award? Or because the wrong television show got cancelled? It happens all the time in professional sports. It’s playoff season, and your team beat my team, therefore I am upset, and I with a bunch of my drunk friends will go out and wreck something of yours. This spreads, and soon you have a riot with hundreds of thousands of dollars in property damage as the result.

Over a game.

Geeks don’t seem to have the same level of rage because something goes wrong. Professional geeks, actors, commentators, role-playing gamers, none of us get into fist fights to make the game more exciting, or because someone did something we didn’t like. Happens in hockey all the time.

Fandom is inclusive. Geek parents don’t shout at the GM for not giving their kids enough to do during the session. Hockey parents, football parents, baseball parents, soccer parents… well pretty much any parents of kids who play team sports all know, have all seen the idiots who shout on the sidelines because obviously they can do a better job in the coach. Some of them shout at their kids, trying to override the coach. Some extend that to shouting at other kids.

I reject that sports are healthy on an emotional level. Competition may be good between corporations and manufacturers to keep prices low and business from getting stale and complacent, but between individuals it’s destructive. It adds tension to relationships that doesn’t need to be there, and in some cases, it directs those relationships. I have actually heard people say things like “That’s what you get for marrying a Habs fan.” or “You don’t like hockey? And you call yourself Canadian?”

I have, occasionally, on the floor of a convention, seen someone who’s only there to laugh at the geeks, but they quickly realize how outnumbered they are. And even better, they realize that we don’t care.

I have, occasionally, on the convention floor, heard one person disparage some other aspect of fandom, calling it stupid.

Yes, sometimes you’ll even hear people talk about how their fandom is better than some other.

Perhaps I’m sheltered, or perhaps I’m just not as observant as I think I am, but the universal reaction seems to be to ignore the offending idiot, shake your head, and walk away. You can’t help if people don’t get it, but it doesn’t matter, and they pretty quickly realize that most of the time.

Sports fans, don’t understand. They don’t understand how, or why you don’t get it. Obviously your team is superior and mine is full of bumbling morons. It’s clearly obvious to anyone with eyes or a brain. But it’s just as clearly obvious to me, that your team is the one full of bumbling idiots and morons. You’re clearly experiencing some kind of mental breakdown or delusion.

Doesn’t make sense to me. Never has. Never will.

I spend little moments throughout hockey season at work rattling the agents cages of the hockey fans. “Hockey season is starting? When did it stop?” “What, they’re still playing? It’s almost May. Hasn’t anyone told them this is a winter sport?” Of course, the truth is that hockey never ends. They start practicing in August, and the playoffs go until late May or early June. When the playoffs are over, they watch international tournaments. And when those are done, the sports networks put on classic games from the 1980s or 90s just to kill time until practice starts in August. Hockey never ends.

Other sports are learning to follow suit. Seasons are getting longer. And they’ve long since been bumped into each other to compete for eyeballs on the TV. Excited, angry eyeballs. Because those eyeballs are connected to wallets.

But the geeks keep watching other stuff. When something gets cancelled that we wish wasn’t, if we want it strongly enough, we complain to the network, not just each other, and we do it persistently and loudly, and sometimes it works. In the 1960s, the fans saved Star Trek twice, and might have managed a third if there had been different decisions made at the network. Firefly became a movie. Futurama came back after several years.

It’s unusual, but it happens.

And it’s because we work together, however loosely, however strangely. Sports fans don’t work that way. They don’t seem to be able to.

And that’s probably why I’ll never get.

But I’m okay with that.

After all, the geek shall inherit the earth.

Professional sports will probably never go away, but hockey is a sport in decline. Soccer is on the rise. Football and basketball? I have no idea, but it doesn’t really matter. If one sport dies, something else will rise take its place.

The real purpose of sports is, or should be, fun, physical activity, and friendship. The danger appears when you actually start to care who wins and who loses, because it’s only a game.

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