Explaining The Sports Thing: or, why do I get so into something that doesn’t really matter?

My cousin and I are the only ones sitting at the table, our plates piled high with sloppy joe, mashed potatoes and baked beans. The headphones connected to our walkmen are plastered to our ears as we eat nervously.

The rest of the apartment’s occupants, my sisters and parents, are watching a movie in the adjoining living room. It has reached a particularly quiet, I think sad, scene, and everyone seems to be sitting wrapped in his or her own thoughts about whatever is happening onscreen.

Meanwhile, the game we’re listening to, the Charlotte Hornets vs. the Miami Heat, is winding down in the old Charlotte Coliseum. The bees trail by 3, and Glen Rice prepares to take the hopefully game-tying shot. This act itself comes with its own weight, as Rice had recently defected from the Heat team he is now trying to defeat, having departed on somewhat unhappy terms.

Rice receives the pass. The clock ticks through final seconds: 3, 2, 1.

Glen Rice for three!” our favorite announcer Steve Martin says. The buzzer sounds, crowd noise increases significantly, and Martin says “good!”

My cousin and I erupt simultaneously into hoops of joy and clapping. Once we calm down, we discover that we’ve upset the silence and everyone is a little concerned about what might be wrong with us. I’ve also lost my Walkman, as it’s been flung to the floor and the batteries dislodged, but at this moment I don’t care. He hit the shot!

I wonder why so many people get attached to team sports in this way? We sit on the clich├ęd edge of our seats, as if the outcome will cause us real harm of joy. And when did this sort of attachment really begin. Could it have existed before the presence of electronic media?

Certainly if you follow me on Twitter, you’ve probably noticed, and perhaps been a bit annoyed by, my live tweeting during sporting events. I always work not to take it too far overboard, but for me having this form of interaction definitely enhances the experience. As a blind person, I enjoy the feeling that I’m in a sort of virtual bar with people all around who somewhat unwittingly describe exactly what’s going on to me, in addition to what the radio analysts detail.

When I first began getting into sports, my favorite was professional basketball. Specifically, I loved our Charlotte Hornets until they ripped my heart out!

Ever since, though, my and seemingly much of the country’s (US of course) favorite sport seems to be American football. Go Carolina Panthers! I’ve often wondered why this is, given its violent nature and the too-high likelihood that someone will sustain a significant injury on a fairly regular basis. In the last few years though, even my mostly non-sports-watching family will allow the TV to be dominated by this pastime on major holidays like Thanksgiving, and we can all sit around and talk strategy, wins and losses, etc.

I guess that longtime junkies like myself and more recent suplicants who have folded themselves into the sports-watching universe have realized is that cheering on this sort of athletic competition allows us to get at some primal pleasure that is deeply embedded in being human. We can get a pure rush of adrenaline, have reason to swear, throw things, and otherwise blow off steam as a game reaches either a favorable or unfavorable conclusion.

Whatever the reason, I think sports represent one of the best forms of escape we have available. So if I rib you about your team, remember that it’s all in fun. And please note my law that requires that you pull for the team in the city/state/region in which you were born. No Cowboys or Skins fans allowed in North Carolina!

I think the most fun I’ve ever had at a sporting event was when I attended a Bobcats/Celtics game in Boston. This was 2005, so the Celtics hadn’t yet gotten into championship form. I was so dismayed when Paul Pierce hit the winning layup that I yelled at passing fans as we made our way out of the arena. Catching our team on the road definitely gave me a stronger sense of pride in my hometown, though.

Do you enjoy sports? Have you ever been to a game. One where your team was playing away?

This topic inspired by one of my favorite writer friends on Twitter. Feel free to suggest other stuff you’d like to see me talk about, as I work to produce regular posts. Thanks.