“Faith, devotion, worship, ritual, sacrifice, commitment, suffering, celebration”— these are all words associated with both religion and sports. Bart Giamatti’s book, “Take Time for Paradise” made many religious references to sport which got me thinking about the reasons behind sports fanaticism. Why do people dedicate so much of their time and emotion to something as futile as sporting events- an irrelevant game?
Sports fanatics are devoted to and worship their teams just as religious individuals worship their respective deities. They partake in rituals such as painting their faces, wearing elaborate costumes and dying their hair. They come together and cheer and chant in unison which can be looked at much the same way as collective prayers. They have strange superstitions that provide them with hope and allow them to believe that they have some sort of control over the outcome of the game. They sacrifice their time, money, and energy in order to support their teams. Star athletes, even on the collegiate level, have thousands of followers on social networking sites. Sometimes fans get angry or upset when their favorite star does not respond to their tweet, which is comparable to the feeling that religious people can have when their god or other deity does not answer their prayers.
The difference between religion and sport, however, is that sport fandom does not have any long term effects on one’s life. Many people look toward religion as a saving grace, a way to ensure that something better is to come. But in sports, the focus is the present, the now. There is no future except the result of the game, the road to the championship, the end of a season.
According to Giamatti, sport “is a drug to keep people docile or at least diverted from real problems.” The rituals, the devotion, the cheering- they all become an escape from everyday life. It allows spectators, for a brief time, to have no worries except for the outcome of that one simple game, that ultimately will not change anything about their lives. In life, “to have no ‘real’ consequence or sequel is such a rare event” (Giamatti), yet in sports, this is possible. Once one season ends, there is always restored hope for the next season. Nothing is official, everything can change. It is this very principle of sport that allows people to become so dedicated- knowing that no matter what is going on in their life outside of their team, there is still hope somewhere.
It is true that at times fans do overreact and put too much of an emotional investment into their teams. A loss is not the end of the world, and their superstitions may be a tad bit ridiculous. They may act a little insane. But identifying with a specific team has its benefits. It makes one feel like they are a part of something bigger. That sport, that team becomes a part of you. It is not just a logo you wear on a t-shirt every Saturday or Sunday. It is what makes you feel alive, feel like you have a place in the world.