By Tom Holmes
Chicago sports teams and mental health
Last Wednesday I watched the Blackhawks game until the end of the first period, and then I had to turn the TV off. I couldn't stand the tension. After the Bruins scored their first goal, the momentum seemed to shift to their side and Crawford got bombarded with slap shots.
I couldn't stand the thought of being down 3-1 at the end of the night, so I tried to put the game and the series out of my mind by switching channels to a travel show on Iran. Immediately my blood pressure went back to normal. In a travel shows there are no winners or losers.
So, why do we sports fans do this to ourselves? Why do we hitch how we feel to the outcome of game played by men getting paid millions of dollars, none of whom we've ever met?
I can just hear non-sports fans telling us, "You need to get a life. You all are putting your emotional health in the hands of a bunch of jocks. Do really want to give that much control regarding how you feel to other people?"
Buddha taught that suffering comes from craving and getting attached to things and people. If you want to experience serenity, Buddha would say, stop hitching your emotions to the fortunes of the Blackhawks. You need to detach and get to a point where you don't care if they win or lose.
Last week John Rice mentioned hockey-come-lately fans in his column. The Buddha would insist that jumping on that kind of bandwagon is still going to get you in trouble. At best, you'll feel good for a day or two if they win. And, of course, if they lose you'll feel terrible. So if you do a cost/benefit analysis, the Buddha would ask, is what you get worth your investment of time and energy?
And let's not even talk about the Cubs and the Sox. Personally, I turn the TV off every time Marmol trots to the mound from the bullpen. I get depressed two times for every one time I get a momentary high.
So, OK, most of us aren't very good Buddhists. We get attached to people, places, things and sports teams. Having made that choice, how then are we to keep our sanity during a playoff series? How are we to remain loyal Sox and Cubs fans when Konerko, Dunn, Castro and Rizzo aren't hitting?
First, we need to let go of this American obsession with winning. To begin, let's do the numbers. Of the 30 major league baseball teams that played games on Sunday, only 15 won. That means that 15 lost, and that means that if you hitched your emotions to your team winning, you had a 50% chance of being at least temporarily bummed out. Come October, only one of those teams will win the World Series. That means chances of feeling the high of your team winning it all is about 3 to 97. Nobody in Vegas would bet on those odds.
Second, when I was in high school, five friends and I would get together on Sunday afternoons, shovel off Pastor Anderson's three lane driveway and play two or three games of three on three. If one team won by a lot of points, we'd change the composition of the teams. Sure, we played to win, but winning by a lopsided score was no fun!
The way we played the game really was more important than winning or losing. That's the downside of attachment carried too far. If winning is more important than playing a good game, we will all be disappointed eventually. Ask Lovie Smith.
I wish the announcers at the Olympics would get off their criticisms of anything less than a perfect performance and over-dramatizing the chances of Americans winning medals. I wish they would just chill and help us enjoy the performance of magnificent athletes no matter which country they come from.
If it were just a problem of sports fans, it wouldn't make a lot of difference. The problem, however, has metastasized to our whole culture. When winning becomes more important than governing well (how you play the game) at any level, polarization leads to paralysis. When winning (making profits) becomes more important for Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley than serving their customers and doing business ethically, you get a housing bubble and the 99% lose. That's even worse odds than the chance of the Cubs winning the pennant.
I'm not saying that competition is bad. It's probably even necessary, but when carried to extremes it hurts a lot more people than it helps.
The Bulls got eliminated in the second round of the playoffs this year, but I watched most of their games until the end, because win or lose, I loved how they played the game.