It’s well after midnight, and I’m wide awake watching the Olympics. As I intently watch young ladies trying to sweep a stone onto a target, it strikes me just what a species of sports fanatics we are, me included. I’m far from an athlete in my own right, but I find myself becoming as emotionally stimulated while watching a competitive event.
Yet, we crave the emotional roller coaster, and even do things to enhance it. For example, each week boxing commentator, Billy C, sends his fans a list of fights via email. The fan who picks the most winners in a month wins a hat or shirt or something.
I’ll never win a hat, never. Each week I’m at the bottom of the leader board, and I mean the bottom. I play every week though, because making those picks enhances my emotional ownership of the outcomes. As I watch the fights, those boxers are boxing for me.
In a similar vein, a few weeks ago 111.5 million people disregarded their typical Sunday routine, fixed salty fatty snacks, stocked up on alcohol, put on jerseys, and watched a football game. This single competitive event has spawned an American quasi-holiday, complete with its own customs. While some claim to only watch the game for the funny commercials, it’s a safe bet that the majority of the audience was emotionally invested in the outcome of the game.
Tonight, in spirit, I’m joining millions, perhaps billions, of onlookers as I root for, not just my team, but my country. “We’re Americans, we can take the gold!”
Perhaps it’s the vicarious identification with victors that keeps us watching. In this modern world of computer screens and increased isolation, perhaps watching sports, as others are watching, fills our need to feel like part of a team. It’s something to think about.