Sports is an interesting distraction. I say distraction, because well, that’s what it’s supposed to be. Sports, like film, theatre, and television is entertainment…a vehicle to provide relief from the everyday trials and tribulations we all must face, and the mundane repetitiveness of our individual worlds. But despite a foundation based in relative unimportance, one which is meant to reside on the periphery of our lives (a sidebar to our everyday existence if you will) sports often ends up playing quite the central role in commanding our attention, consuming our time, and providing emotional satisfaction. Afterall, the term “fan” is short for “fanatic” which is defined as a person filled with excessive and single-minded zeal. That really doesn’t sound like someone briefly distracted by a game on TV switched on simply out of boredom. And it certainly doesn’t sound like someone casually checking a box score to see if her favorite team won the night before. Instead it sounds like someone who is seriously devoted, both emotionally and physically. It sounds like someone who sweats out the final seconds of basketball game, grinds through the last second field goal try at a football game, and painstakingly cringes during the extra inning rally at a baseball game. In short, it sounds like a lot of us.
There are of course those who don’t subscribe to the dedication of the fanatic’s way of life. Maybe they didn’t grown up in a sports family or amongst rah-rah friends, or they might simply find it all just a bit ridiculous. Either way it’s hard to explain to a non-fan or even a casual fan exactly why it’s so “important.” On the other hand, in the counter-argument it’s quite easy to list off the litany of reasons that it’s really not that important at all: it’s not life or death, you’re not personally on the field, you don’t know any of the players, the sun will rise tomorrow all the same, etc. But why then do we all still give our blood, sweat, and tears to a bunch of guys in a (non-military) uniform with whom we’ll never personally interact? Why, for example, will an estimated 50-75 million employees in the U.S. alone spend (waste) time researching, filling-in, scratching off, and submitting brackets for the NCAA basketball tournament while at work? That time spent dissecting and viewing the tournament occurring this month known not-so-subtly as “March Madness” will cost an estimated $6.3 billion in lost productivity for U.S. employers. And for anyone who’s tried, filling out a bracket and grinding through each game of the tournament is tough. So why do we do it? Why do we stress and strain over sports when we just finished classifying the entire industry as entertainment, and a means to decompress? Well what I noticed this week is that maybe it’s a simple matter of conditioning…while we love the entertainment value on which sports was founded, our worlds have become so inundated with stress and aggravation that perhaps in a strange way we crave it even in our entertainment. We’ve been conditioned to need the challenge. So to the non-fan it might all be just a little bit silly, but maybe to the rest of us it’s the new normal. Maybe we’ve just become so damn used to all the madness.