Tuesday, May 22, 2007


[Cross-posted to Hockey Will Tear Us Apart]

I am proud of the Ottawa Senators and how far we have come, proud of our even terrible moments rehashed, embarrassing detail for embarrassing detail, in national papers, but it occurs to me that in hockey, in sports, wins are never as great as you think they will be and the losses are never as hurtful as you think. This is all just escape, a diversion from the reality of our lives, but conversely, this is reality. We make the Senators our reality; the players, Scotiabank Place, the logo, the jerseys, the T-shirts, the celebration. But when we wake up the next morning from our hang-overs, we still awake to the pile of bills, unfinished tasks, dirty dishes, soiled sheets, unfulfilled dreams, the headaches of day-to-day living. The Stanley Cup Finals hasn't changed anything. I'm not sure even the Stanley Cup can.

So then, I'm faced with the question, exactly why are there so many sports fans, waiting patiently for championships, if it serves as a mere distraction? Partying isn't a good enough answer. We party during Mardi Gras, during Spring Break, you can party any time you want. They are an excuse for civic parties and gatherings but you don't need to be a fan to get drunk and press your boobs against glass. Are they just a way for emotionally crippled people to share a communal experience, to feel a connection? Am I emotionally crippled? Am I still capable of feeling joy without the Senators?

My heart twinges whenever they step out onto the ice. But is this a Pavlovian, conditioned response or is it indicative of something deeper? I love the team, but what the hell does that mean? I love their inception, their existence on the ice, but that all crumbles when the game ends, the gear comes off and the players become themselves again. I don't know the players. They cannot possibly exist as human beings. I don't know them as human beings -- they exist in snippets and incomplete sketches.

This probably isn't the best time to be asking these questions. Nothing about this makes rational sense. This is entertainment, but it's impossible to write this off in the same category as Lost or Pirates of the Caribbean. I've found that after all these years, I'm still puzzled as to why the hell I'm here. But I am. And I still care, and I still can't bring myself to change the channel or step away from my Alfredsson T-shirt or ignore tonight's Western Conference Final. I just don't know why.


k.le said...

this isn't going to help, but i'm going to write about it anyway.

After the leafs were eliminated from the running, there was the usual flurry of interviews where the boys were asked what went wrong and whose fault it was. The questions were answered by a round of congratulatory self-pats on the back with only the smallest trace of regret mixed in. I just remember being struck by how little they really seemed to care. I mean, I always just assumed hockey players WANTED to make the playoffs but after witnessing that, I wasn't too convinced they wouldn't rather take the early summer vacation instead.
And then I had a mini-breakdown because if the leafs didn't particularly care that they didn't make the playoffs, then it was possible that no team did, thus making the whole thing a farce, with all the players only getting into it for our benefit when they really, honestly, couldn't give a rip. And I didn't want to watch a bunch of guys act...(are thinking these thoughts like treason on a site like this?)

You know, I still haven't really resolved that, so I just don't think about it too much. I'm not sure if that helps at all. Just go with it. Perhaps think of it less as a game that means nothing in the grand scheme of things, and think of it more as a short window of time where your elation and insanity is simulatenously shared with a medium-sized (haha) community of people you'd otherwise have nothing in common with. It's about the game, yes...but it's also about the people it can bring together.

I don't think I've ever written anything so cheesy in my life. I'm going to stop now.

Schnookie said...

You know, this is like the elephant in the room for me -- I try to lead as unexamined a life as possible so as not to have to rationalize why I let sports mean so much to me (and why, as k.le points out, they seem to matter more to the fans than they do to the participants). I like to fall back, though, on something I once read from a sociologist that suggested professional sports are so popular these days because they fill emotional gaps that are left by the mundane, workaday lives so many of us lead. We get approximations of the high highs and low lows normally associated with the emotions of battles or wars when we follow sports, but don't have to engage in any destructive behavior to get them. I don't know if there's anything to that, but it makes me feel kind of better about how much of myself I give to just watching hockey when I think it's actually serving as a proxy for my basic human need to inflict pain and suffering on others while conquering them. (Or something.)

Interchangeable Parts said...

Great post, even if it is leaving me a little sad, nay hugely depressed.

Here's my take on it: Every day of my life is pretty much the same. I get up, I drive to work, I work a full day, I drive home. Sure, maybe one day my exit is closed and I have to take a detour, or maybe one day a gang fight breaks out at the library, but for the most part, it's always the same.

Watching sports, though, is an outlet for me to see something totally unexpected to happen. Watching scripted television shows or reading a book isn't the same. When that tv show is rerun, or when I reread the book, the same things are always going to happen. But in sports, you just never know. The most extreme example of this was Zinedine Zidane's headbutt in last year's World Cup. I remember trying to explain it to my non-sports fans friends and in the process I realized that since they only ever watch scripted and edited television, they've never something happen that wasn't in the best interests of at least one party involved.

So, the way I see it is, by getting irrationally happy when a team wins, or by getting irrationally upset when a team loses, I'm just celebrating that something happened that was different and that I had no control over.

Meg said...

I like to fall back, though, on something I once read from a sociologist that suggested professional sports are so popular these days because they fill emotional gaps that are left by the mundane, workaday lives so many of us lead.

Expanding on this, but in a somewhat different direction than the highs and lows of battle, I think that sports also provide us with a communal experience of sorts that is often lacking in our day to day lives. Sports teams are something that a community can coalesce around. They're a common interest that can cross political and social barriers.

I don't think that wanting this connection, or using sports to achieve it is an indication of being emotionally crippled. I think it's part of a basic human response. We form communities not because we're somehow emotionally stunted, but because it's what we're evolutionarily programmed to do. Not only around sports, but also around nationality, class, race, religion, etc. (Replace "evolutionarily" with "divinely" as belief system requires)

I don't think forming communities in this way is a bad thing, unless it's taken to extremes. Nor does being a part of one community exclude one from other communities. And then you have communities within communities: the community of Senators fans, withing the community of NHL fans, within the community of hockey fans, withing the community of sports fans, for example.

And I don't think that it's a bad thing when we form communities in that way. While sports fandom might seem like a kind of superfluous example, I think that it's caused by the organizational urge, so to speak, that allows us to live in relatively harmonious groups (when compared to other animals). We've developed a need for that kind of communal feeling over millenia.

The desire and ability to organize in groups is what has allowed most of human achievement (technologically, artistically, etc). But of course, it can also be a detrimental thing. Considering the many ways that need has been expressed over the years (gladiators in Rome, public executions, suicidal/homicidal cults, various wars, etc.) I think that cheering on a hockey team is a pretty harmless, and can even be a good thing.

I'm sorry this is so disorganized, but it's something I never game much thought before, and then Schnookie's comment sent me off on a rather rambling and extensive tangent (this is the short version, believe it or not). Hopefully it makes some sort of sense.

Meg said...

Yikes, I should have said, "disorganized and repetitive."

T. said...

As an Edmonton fan who still gets teary eyed if she catches the wrong (but oh-so-right) highlights from last season's run, I have to say I don't know why it means so much when our sports teams win or lose... but in spite of the last 11 months of misery (and it has been quite miserable here in Edmonton let me tell you), I wouldn't trade that inexplicable, exciting passionate joy and it's flipside of abject misery for anything in the world.