Love of Sports: Why Our Obsession as Spectators is Good For Us

Steve SmithSenior Writer IApril 27, 2010

MIAMI - APRIL 25:  Guard Dwyane Wade #3 of the Miami Heat reacts against the Boston Celtics in Game Four of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2010 NBA Playoffs at American Airlines Arena on April 25, 2010 in Miami, Florida. Wdae had 46 points as the Heat defeated the Celtics 101-92. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)
Marc Serota/Getty Images

As I anxiously await the start of Game Five of the First-Round series between my beloved Miami Heat and the vaunted Boston Celtics, for my eightieth article, I thought I’d extol sports in general.


Dwyane Wade and Paul Pierce will thrill us all tonight when they clash in this pivotal game, but I thought I’d explore why this attracts us in the first place.


As many of my loyal readers and fans already know, I’m a huge fan of South Florida sports franchises. I’ve discussed why this is in many articles I’ve written in the past, including my story about how the 2003 Florida Marlins shocked the world with a victory over the vaunted New York Yankees you can read here .


Let me just begin by saying I was born right above Miami, and because of that will forever be a fan of all Miami teams. However, because Miami didn’t have sports franchises in baseball, basketball, and hockey when I was growing up, I developed a love for other teams such as the Oakland A’s and Detroit Red Wings that I still carry today to a lesser degree.


Yet, what is it about sports that fascinates me, and many others so much? I have a good friend named Greg who isn’t even remotely interested in sports, and honestly wonders what the attraction is to them. What’s the answer to that? How can I possibly explain something so basic?


If I had to break it down to just one thought or one sentence, I’d have to say my love of sports (and I’m speaking about spectator sports; watching sports) stems from the fact that all human interaction can be seen in team and individual sports, and more than that, it allows the fan to interact and live, if only vicariously, in the world of athletic accomplishment.


Not many people will ever know the thrill of actually dunking a basketball. They won’t enjoy the feeling of leaping into the air so high it almost seems like they’ll never come down, and the exciting rush when you actually push that ball over the top of the rim and through the net.


Although I’m nearly forty-five and am now an amputee who couldn’t touch the rim if I tried, I knew that thrill when I was young.


However, fans of the game of basketball can feel a semblance of that thrill just by watching D-Wade or LeBron James posterize an opponent with a monster dunk. As someone who’s dunked a ball in my life, I can honestly tell you it’s a pale alternative, but if it’s the only one you have, it’s definitely something.


There have actually been studies done that show the mind gets basically the same enjoyment from watching something being done as it does from when the body it’s connected to actually does those things. In fact, this study may explain the obsession with spectator sports. There are “mirror neurons” in everyone’s brain that fire in the exact same way whether you’re doing something or watching someone else do it.


Despite these “mirror neurons,” there are limits, though, that should be set as a fan. Those who surpass them (and you fanatics know who you are…lol) tend to go way overboard in their desire to get thrills out of the actions of their sports heroes. As with all things in life, sports is only good for you in moderation. If you allow your love of sports to dictate your life, you have a problem.


What I mean by that is that if you were to even have a quandary in your mind whether you should go to that mid-season baseball game or head to the hospital to be at your wife’s side as she gives birth to your first child, you are seriously in need of therapy.


Now, if it’s game seven of the World Series, that’s another matter.


Seriously, though, there are things many fans do that tend to show an unhealthy love affair with sports. If you take your vacation time around the middle of April in order to spend two whole weeks poring over the NFL draft possibilities on your computer while watching ESPN nonstop, you are in need of help.


Conversely, if you take your family to a baseball game, paint your faces in the team colors, and cheer vociferously at every base hit, RBI, and home run your boys smack around, while chowing down on numerous hot dogs with mustard, you’re simply your average, everyday fan.


Well, at least if you don’t scream out vulgar obscenities to the umpire in front of your children and others if he calls your favorite player out on strikes.


I won’t go deeply into why sports are good for those playing them. That’s a given in my view. Sports develop both character and teamwork, which are vital in all real-world pursuits, including your job and social contacts.


Individual sports, while not developing a sense of teamwork, develop a necessary drive to excel and push yourself to your limits that is vital to achieving what you want in the real world as well. Of course, the health benefits of all sports go without saying.


Yet, are sports good for those watching them? In the case of bloodsports, such as boxing, there have been numerous articles written making the case they are detrimental to human development; glamorizing violence and visceral entertainment only. To some extent this is probably true, although with boxing and martial arts, even just watching them can lead to a desire to discipline your own body with training.


I could make light of the subject, and say spectator sports are good for the following four reasons, they allow underdogs to actually come out on top a decent amount of the time (in real life this rarely happens), they make Saturday and Sunday holidays for all people of all creeds, religions, or nationalities (depending on whether they follow college or pro games), they give us plenty of things to distract us with while wasting exorbitant amounts of time and money, and they give us an excuse to drink beer at ten in the morning.


I mean, if you’re sitting in your living room quietly drinking a beer that early, you’re an alcoholic. If you’re drinking a beer while watching the NFL previews on ESPN, you’re just a fan.


All jokes aside, though, sports bring people together. Some of my best friends are those I’ve met either watching sports somewhere, talking about sports online, or writing about sports at sites just like B/R.


They give the casual fan a sense of togetherness with others. It allows them to bond and feel a sense of purpose. They’re cheering on their team. They’re rooting for their boys (or girls). They’re part of something bigger than just themselves.


I once read a story that truly captures how sports can bring people together. To encapsulate the story, the gentleman who wrote it talked about  how he’d moved away from home, and rarely interacted with his father or family, but that when his father lay dying, they shared precious moments watching baseball games, and that interaction was all he and his father needed to feel connected in the end.


Such tales are legion when it comes to sports. They bond us together, whether we’re playing them, or simply watching them with others, and they play out all the drama and joy of human life. There’s a reason for that old clichéd and hackneyed saying, “The thrill of victory, and the agony of defeat.” As both participants and spectators, sports brings those emotions out of us, and the sharing of those emotions create bonds that can last a lifetime.


In regard to men and sports, I’ll quote Jane O’Reilly as to why they’re great:


“The one nice thing about sports is that they prove men do have emotions and are not afraid to show them.”


So, if you want your boyfriend or hubby to cry and show some emotion, ladies, don’t bring him to an opera, take him to a game.