There are millions of women sports fanatics. We know that. But I wanna talk to the fellas right now because I literally don’t even know many guys in our population who don’t Completely Lose Their Minds when it comes to their sports teams. Do you?
How many things can you say that about? How many things unify mankind in their utter lunacy? Maybe politics? But at least politics has some kind of actual bearing on society, right?
What do sports actually…do? You have ninety thousand people packed together in a collection of seats that cost a billion dollars to assemble to watch one person throw a ball and another try to catch it. If your team does catch it? You go insane with joy. Because that glory belongs to you, guy balancing nachos on top of a Miller Lite. (What glory, exactly? Doesn’t matter! GO TEAM!!!)
Also, if you’re good at catching a ball – not building artificial hearts or inventing Velcro – your annual salary is about a million dollars a month.
I say all this, admittedly, as a complete and utter sports nut. So I know that the highest emotional highs and the lowest lows come from this nonsense. And many teams I love are, alas, traditional losers. The Mets, the Knicks, the Giants (New York football this year – lord). My Virginia Cavaliers.
So when your team loses and your spouse says to you, quite reasonably, “Can you please just lighten up and try not to ruin the entire day with this black cloud over your head?” What do we say back? We may grumble “Fine” but what we mean is “You. Don’t. Understand.”
We say that because we don’t actually have any reasonable response for them.
We don’t actually know why we get so high and so low. Our response – because we’re invested in this team! – is circular logic because we are invested in them because we care about them and we care about them because we are invested in them. And what does that even mean?
My point here is NOT that we should not take sports so seriously. Because I take sports seriously. And my point is NOT that we shouldn’t let it affect our emotions. Because that feels like an empty cliche. Yeah, we already know. Also we shouldn’t get upset when somebody cuts the take-out line at Cheesecake Factory (it’s just cheesecake!) but we JUST DO because we’re human.
So what is the point?
The point is that we can either a.) spend all this time saying that we shouldn’t get upset when our team loses a game or b.) we can change how we look at it and start trying to see people as humans with feelings.
Let me tell you about a moment, a moment that lasted probably all of ten seconds, that completely changed my view on sports forever. You ready?
I was visiting Nepal back in October, 2015. Liz and I have a nonprofit there called Next Generation Nepal, we rescue trafficked children and reunite them with their families. We were bringing along some friends to see it up close for themselves.
On our way into some rural villages, we got stuck in a major traffic jam in one of the only roads leading out of Kathmandu.
And I’m not talking about a normal jam – I’m talking about people getting out of their cars to go for walks to stretch their legs. But whatever – this was Nepal and we knew to be patient.
So let me set the scene for a second here:
The views from the mountain road were spectacular. We were traveling with some of our dearest friends in the world in a convoy of three SUVs. We were about to visit a village that had been reduced to rubble following an earthquake months earlier, to see some of the amazing work our team had done to help rebuild and also to protect children from being trafficked in a vulnerable time. We had prepared for this trip for months. This was a special moment.
And yet all I could think about in that moment was whether or not the Mets had won Game 4 of the National League Divisional Championship against the Dodgers.
I was obsessed. Like, couldn’t focus on anything else. The game was just finishing back in the US and I had no means of checking the score. But my friend Mark, in the vehicle ahead of me, was in contact with his office back in the US and had a phone. He told me he would let me know as soon as he knew.
So in the middle of this traffic jam, Mark gets out of the car and walks toward me. My heart was in my throat. My breathing was shallow.
So stupid, right? So stupid! It’s a game!
And he walked right up to me and said: “The Mets lost. I’m so sorry, man.” And he gave me this big hug.
It wasn’t that news that changed my life. It was how Mark delivered it.
What Mark did in that moment was that he put aside in his own mind how stupid sports were. He put aside the fact that I was obsessed about a Mets game while we were on this life-altering mission surrounded by people who were struggling to survive. He put aside how foolish and self-centered and ridiculous that was. He put away all judgement and entered into my pain.
The source of the pain didn’t matter. He didn’t put a value on it. He just knew that this thing hurt his friend. It didn’t matter why it hurt is friend or whether it SHOULD hurt his friend. It hurt his friend and he was going to comfort him.
And suddenly I was okay that the Mets has lost that game. I mean, don’t get me wrong, it hurt, and the next day I was elated that they won Game 5 and continued on to the World Series that year. The reason I was okay with it was that Mark validated that I had made Sports the Most Important Thing in the World in a completely inappropriate moment in time. It mattered to him that this thing mattered to me. The rest, I could sort it out myself.
Don’t misunderstand me: I still get really up and really down about sports. I watch basketball through the spaces between my fingers. I perch on the arm of my couch like gargoyle out of sheer nerves. If you measured my heart-rate during March Madness you’d think I was being chased by a shark.
The difference is that now I just treat it as an emotion and not as something I need to defend or feel guilty about.
When my team loses I concede that, yes, the world is actually ending, and I give myself a minute. Then I do something that has saved my marriage: I go and I tell Liz that I’m feeling really bummed because my team lost and I know it’s stupid but that’s just me and I’ll be fine and I’m sorry in advance for the whole dark cloud thing. And she gives me a big hug and tells me that must really stink and that she’s sorry.
And that gives me the strength to go on.
Until the next game.