Understanding Sports Fans

Through the links you’ve shared on your blog I’ve begun to listen to a lot of the same CBC radio programs you sometimes refer to. One of those very programs recently had quite an interesting documentary on the psychology behind being a fan of a sports team. I am not really a big sports guy but the documentary was excellent except that I do not feel that it succeeded at truly explaining the psychology behind what I would call the truly rabid sports fan. Watching people reacting to the Olympics exposes the fact that this behaviour seems almost primitive to me. My hope is that you can provide me with more positive ways to
look at the antics of some of these people who otherwise look slightly insane from my perspective. Thank you very much Scott. I appreciate your assistance on this matter.

signed,
Confused by Sports

Dear Confused,

Thanks for the question. Hey, you’re from Jamaica or Guyana or somewhere in that region, aren’t you? If I guessed right then I’m pretty sure you know what group of accents I’m talking about. They’re all quite unique, but they have certain qualities in common. You guys mix the precision of proper English speech with a reggae meter—I absolutely love your writing. Sorry—I digress. I love accents and words and anything “languagey.”

325 Relax and Succeed - Shout out to the loversYes—I heard part of the documentary you’re referring to. It was on the program Ideas, on CBC One—one of my favourites. It was very interesting and well done, but I didn’t hear all of it so I don’t know what sort of explanations they provided. Regardless, I can definitely find something very positive in the behaviour of sports fans for you.

The basis of the documentary’s premise was: why do people volunteer to be fans of teams even though on average they’ll lose and suffer about 50% or more of the time? (A lot more in some cities… ahemo.0) Because this idea was at the core of the premise of the show I’m going to presume that’s the part you didn’t feel was explained. I’m glad you asked, because after considering it for a while I came to realize that it’s actually as heartwarming as it is interesting.

To start with let’s consider our nature. Before we lived alone or in very small groups in houses, we were collections of people. We were tribes and clans and bands. We were together. 80% of the world still group sleeps. Before that we were somehow contained in the unified, ethereal energy of the universe. We were united in our Oneness. And there are aspects of us that know and remember that. It’s just our conscious minds keep blabbing about our separateness so we can’t hear our own knowing. (If this all seems too abstract, stick with me.)

People pair off. They have friends. The vast majority would rather work in groups, people consider loneliness something unpleasant, and around the world solitary confinement is the worst possible prison to be in. So we naturally fit together. We’re a pack animal. But in a world with no packs—in a world with no tribes or clans, we opt instead for teams. We voluntarily 325 Relax and Succeed - Life is like a roller coastercombine our interests with those of others. And why? In the hopes of winning? Maybe our egos think that. But the centre of us—the part that’s still plugged in—knows that we’re not there to winwe’re there to play.

In the confines of the arena of play we will very informatively allow and surrender to the vagaries of sports. We’ll love it even though the outfield is uneven, or the court is slippery, or there’s the uncertainty of injuries etc. It is so easy for a good guy to lose—but that’s precisely what makes it exciting. Like we do with movies we choose to engage in a roller coaster ride. We ride the downs because we accept that they are a fundamental aspect of the ups. Andy Kaufman knew that the more you hated his character the happier you would be when he got beat up (The Man In the Moon). The fact that we volunteer for those experiences represents an enormous lesson if we choose to meditate on it closely.

Now, can an ego get this all muddled? Absolutely. They won’t be participating in this spiritual way, they will be participating in an egotistical one. They won’t want an exciting interesting game, they’ll want to win. They won’t want to share your pain, they’ll want to unload all of theirs onto you. They will feel separate and in opposition. For them the game is a mask—an excuse to indulge in tantrums. For the average person and the spiritually wise alike, fandom is merely a form of remembrance of who we really are and that’s why it feels so invigorating to us no matter what direction things are going. Whether we are cheering happily together or wailing in agony, the point is that it’s a collective experience. That’s what we like about it.  Not the winning or losing.

This surrender into co-experience allows us to join and meld with others. We melt into stupendous cheers, we get chills up our spines together, we become one with the entire experience. We forget there is an us. We do not use our thoughts to create an ego—instead we are simply Being. This is no small thing. This is why people say things like we won,” or “I can’t believe how terrible we’re playing.” There is no separation between us and the group. And the 325 Relax and Succeed - Be thankful for the things you don't enjoyathletes themselves are more like the elders around which the tribe convenes. But everyone is an equal part. Everyone feels the sting of defeat and—by contrast—the elation of victory.

This is actually an excellent lesson in what enlightenment truly is. Enlightenment is not being happy all the time. Enlightenment is being okay with anything. Even death. Because the real you knows that this game goes on long after time appears to run out. So actually comprehend the fact that you choose to suffer when you engage as fan. But because you chose it with your free will you have no resistant thoughts and the result is that you enjoy the experience not for its result, but for the experience itself. Because your spirit is not an ego. An ego does things, but a spirit has experiences. And as long as the experiences are intense and amazing and rewarding then you’ve done the only kind of winning that anyone can ever really do. Have fun playing. 😉

peace. Scott “Slap-Shot” McPherson 😉

PS Here’s the link to the documentary if anyone’s interested:

A CBC Ideas Documentary on Sports Fans: Catching the Game

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