The weekend after Thanksgiving was a crazy time for sports fans. On Saturday, Michigan went for a two-point conversion following a late touchdown and lost to hated rival Ohio State 42-41. A few hours later, Auburn returned a missed Alabama field goal 109 yards with no time left on the clock. Next day, the Bears saw their playoff chances dim when they lost in overtime to Minnesota in a game that gave new meaning to “the agony of defeat.”
These football games, which involve young, giant strangers, have a grip on the national psyche. Make no mistake: sports, especially pro and college football, are big business. Monday Night Football is among the most watched shows on TV. Whole industries — athletic shoes, performance drinks, team apparel, sports TV, radio, Internet, gambling and liquor — are powered by our passion for sport.
Why on Mondays do many Chicagoans feel at least a little down after their beloved Bears lose? It seems kind of silly that we should care about the games that children play. Yet soccer fans routinely fight each other after matches the world over. Why do people care so much for sport?
One reason might be tribal. Our evolutionary DNA is at work. Our distant ancesters came together on a good piece of earth to live, and inevitably they fought over that ground. Men and women gathered in clans and tribes.
So when we despair over the Bears’ repeated failure to gain a yard on third down, we are reminded of our tribe being driven from our homes millennia ago. OK. Maybe a stretch.
But maybe not.
Another reason is a more philosophic one. Our lives are transient, hard, and often boring. We long for the transcendent — anything that can take our minds off the fact that each day our time grows shorter. Our lives are filled with demanding bosses, bills, aging parents, difficult children, traffic, annoying people, gridlock politics, crappy TV.
But when we watch sport, all of those quotidian concerns are suspended, even forgotten. For three hours, we watch men and women compete in real time. It is genuine and authentic, and it matters, not only to them, but to us. Our athletes affirm our humanity. We revel in their success, and we despair in their failure. So much better than watching a pre-recorded sitcom with a laugh track, or paid political consultants taking positions they probably don’t even believe.
If the human condition is one of blood, sweat and tears, then sports is the affirmation, even celebration of that condition.
Long live sports!