Friday, December 30, 2011

Sports! Or Bandwagon Rides Can Be Fun and Productive

I got back just a little while ago from my install this week - a new record for latest time home after starting the day before 8am at this job. Anyway, on the way home (not while driving) I found myself enjoying news of my local sports team winning. OKC Thunder on a hot streak, whee!

Why is this different? I haven't ever much enjoyed watching a sport itself. I've done it and enjoyed the process, but early on it was because I got to spend time with my dad at OU games. Later it was because my friends often had a game on the TV, and more recently it was mainly just an excuse to cook really awesome things for a large group of people. A few months ago at FreeOK, some of my friends in attendance helped me realize that watching me watch science talks is a lot like watching normal people watch sports - I nearly leave my seat, giggle, fist-pump, and behave in other embarrassing ways. I really think that opened me up to enjoying watching sports in general, because it gave me a frame of reference.

My biggest problems with watching sports have been 1) it doesn't get us anywhere. That time could be better spent doing anything at all. 1a) If we could redirect the mental energy spent on memorizing and analyzing sports statistics, we could speed up science, medicine, and technology by an alarming rate 2) Sports fans often get sentimental over games and horribly depressed. I've known Cubs fans. Why would you do this to yourself? Superstitions like filthy socks aside, the process of suffering to martyr oneself for your team just seems too overtly religious. 3) In the interest of brevity, imagine a long but eloquent diatribe about how the huge amounts of money spent on sports could be better used for nearly anything, and how sports stars should not be held as superior role models to authors, scientists, and artists.

So how was it that on christmas night I found myself in a rowdy bar with people, taking blue Thunder shots and screaming at the television? I figured out how I can enjoy sports without surrendering my rationality. It comes down to two things. 1) Camaraderie. Being around other people is necessary, and it's often at its irrational best when it's over something truly meaningless-made-sacred. Board games, trivia night, and my beloved karaoke come to mind. Sports is merely one flavor of escape. 2) I'm fine with being a bandwagon fan, despite what the die-hard fans demand. If my local sports team is doing well, spirits are high around me and I can personally benefit by adding my own cheeriness to the local collective unconscious. All it means is that there will be more rowdy, happy people nearby and more options for interesting things to do. If my local sports team sucks, I'll just read, sing, game, or go out as I normally would and ignore the people punishing themselves for the actions of others.

Christmas miracle? No. But I feel a little less removed from the general populace now, and that's nice. In the spirit of that, I think I will make the traditional New Year's Resolution -- though I will vigorously pursue my goals of promoting critical thinking all around me and exposing nonsense and bad claims, I will remember the beautiful flaws of humanity and acknowledge our need for fun silliness. That gives me plenty of wiggle room to destroy snake oil peddlers, but will keep me aware of the errant human need that created the opportunity; maybe this is better - treat the illness, not the symptoms.


  1. Well said, and I agree whole heartedly. My husband is a die hard Cowboys fan, and while I truly enjoy the high spirits in our house after a win, I never understand the grieving process involved after a loss. I can appreciate the sportsmanship but I can think of a long list of activities to better fill my time, like cooking, creating, cleaning, and just about anything else. I'm glad I'm not the only one that feels this way!

  2. Really well said Travis!

    Even when the team loses, there is a spirit of togetherness. Coming together as humans and celebrating wins and consoling loses is a great way to display compassion and understanding. I know it might seen trite to be sad when a team loses, but I honestly don't see that many sports fans becoming "depressed" over loses. I also know there are exceptions to this observation, and there are die hard fans that drive me crazy!

    I think cheering for teams, and a sense of competition is part of us because of evolution. I know there are many other more worthwhile things to be done with them time, but is enjoying your friends and community ever really a waste? I am glad you are on the bandwagon Travis! It's a fun ride.

    Thunder UP! (it was a pretty spectacular game)