Last week the baseball hall of fame announced their 2016 inductees, the NCAA Football championship game happened last night, and the NFL playoffs are in full swing. Combine that with the NBA and NHL seasons and college basketball hitting mid-season stride and sports is near to peak excitement. Stories and debates and social media buzz abounds; it’s hog heaven for sports media and fans.
With the fervor at such a pitch I couldn’t help but wonder why. Why do sports matter so much to so many? Why do these games and these votes for entrance into a museum raise such ire and passion and zeal? Here are seven reasons people are so invested.
1) The Thrill
Sports are sheer, unadulterated fun. They provide moments of tension and excitement with regularity and intensity like no other entertainment or activity.
When tens of thousands of fans walk into a stadium or arena wearing the same colors they are part of something bigger than themselves. For some this is just a cool experience, but for others it’s much more than that.
3) Filling a Void
To some fans that experience of being part of something fills a hole in their lives. For others the whole thing is a needed distraction from some hardship or pain in their lives, an uplifting few moments between real life’s difficulties.
A roar goes up from the crowd. “Wow!” exclaims a fan at his TV. These are the reactions sports elicit because of the stupendous feats on the field of play. We love the feeling of being amazed, and sports delivers it.
Fathers and daughters, mothers and sons, friends and neighbors, even strangers– sports bring them together at the local park, in living rooms, at arenas, and in back yards. Friendships are formed that last decades for some, and for others it’s the catalyst needed to start a real conversation with a new neighbor.
6) Vicarious Living
In our minds we are young, lithe, in our athletic prime. In reality we stand on the sideline of our daughter’s soccer game with an achy left knee and holler instructions and encouragement and find joy in her efforts and accomplishments. We can still feel the thrill and the disappointment in her experiences, and we love it. And we miss it.
The smell of fresh mown grass, the crack of the bat, the whack of pads, the swish of the net, and the crisp fall air of a Saturday at the park bring us back. Back where? To a thousand of our favorite memories with family or friends, to our triumphs and travails.
No doubt you see yourself in one or more of these. I certainly do, and that reminds me that sports offer the potential for great happiness but also idolatry. We find joy in them but they can also occupy too significant a place in our lives. We love them, and that is good, for they are a good gift. But as we see ourselves in these seven reasons we must be conscientious that our excitement doesn’t become worship and our fervor remains benign. It is wonderful to indentify with others, to connect, to enjoy, to be wowed, and to remember – but not if we begin to find identity on those or turn to them as a primary source of happiness.