Saturday, September 7, 2013

Embracing Instability

Wheels Within Wheels
So there's a story that's been floating around Blogfrica of an Emory University study about the relative mental stability of NFL fan bases, as measured in the relative level of negative or positive content in their Twitter accounts

Now, let's leave alone the idea that people on Twitter are a representative sample of a fan base. (It's not, of course: Twitter skews young and tech-savvy, along with male, and the reasons why don't really matter.) Which leaves me with a simple question. Why would you want to watch sports that leave you with complete mental stability?

The benefit of watching sports, and thinking about them, is that you and I can spend however long as it takes to watch the game, and completely subsume our conscious thoughts. For hours on end, we can watch something that doesn't really matter all that much, and care about it as if it does. We can howl for the demise of people wearing the wrong laundry, safe in the knowledge that it's all harmless, and that any ill wishes we have for them don't really matter. We can go all-in on something that, assuming that it's not coupled with a gambling problem or an inability to spend through the nose for tickets, doesn't do you any real harm or even high expense. I can not think about work, mortgage, mortality, world affairs, and so on, and so on.

Mental stability has nothing to do with any of that.

My favorite football team, as an adult, was the Eagles squad that lost to the Patriots in the Super Bowl. When the end of that season came, it happened while I was in New Zealand on vacation with the family, and I saw the game in an empty hotel room, while my wife and child swam in the hotel pool. I was as disappointed as I've ever been as a fan, and knew that, on some level, my team wasn't ever getting back there, and that the clock management and failings seen in the Andy Reid / Donovan McNabb pairing, as seen in that game, were fatal. I still wouldn't trade that year and that team, or think badly of them for not making it the last mile.

My favorite basketball team, as an adult, was the 2000-01 Sixers, where Allen Iverson was the MVP, and the only team to pin a loss on the Shaq/Kobe Lakers. Watching Iverson step over Tyronn Lue was a transcendent moment of joy for me, and the hatred that I felt for both of the Laker superstars is still potent to this day. My favorite baseball team in modern times were the Moneyball A's of the early part of the century (though last year's From Nowhere club was also all kinds of adorable). They were ended by the signature Derek Jeter play of his lifetime, Manny Ramirez putting the close to Barry Zito's run as a good starting pitcher, and Derek Lowe crotch-pumping to the Cheering At A Funeral spectacle of Road Red Sox Fan at the Coliseum.

All of that sucked hard, all of that put me into a funk for an uncomfortable period of time, and all of that is something that I can still, to this day, make myself feel bad about it. None of the players or teams that I rooted for in that set later broke through. Rings were not achieved, parades were never held, closure was not realized, and might never be. Had I never became a fan of any of those franchises, I'd be more mentally stable, and less scarred.

But I also wouldn't have taken the ride in the first place. I wouldn't have learned how to accept defeat and disappointment with any measure of grace (and it's an argument that I ever have, but so be it). I wouldn't have dozens of lesser but fantastic memories, of taking my daughter to dozens of baseball games, of watching the 20-game A's winning streak and Iverson ending the Bucks and Raptors, of the Reid/McNabb Eagles running roughshod over the NFC East for years.

If this is mental instability, I take it gladly.

Especially since stability seems to be akin to a coma, and the best year for it for Eagles fans was said to be last year, where we more or less gave up and just waited for everything to be over.

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