Why do we watch sports? Why are people so emotional about the teams they follow? Although I am one of the biggest Atlanta sports fans you will ever find (which isn’t necessarily saying much), I still find my love of watching sports to be a bit strange. An Atlanta Falcons win or loss could affect my emotional state for the rest of the day. My dad always asks, “Why do you care so much about the Falcons, its not like Matt Ryan or Julio Jones care at all about you?” He has a point and I guess my obsession is a little strange.
Bartlett Giamatti’s “Take Time for Paradise” offers legitimate reasons for people’s seemingly odd interest in watching sports. Sports give the spectator leisure time. It is a time that allows people to escape from their work and all of their daily worries. Sports provide unforgettable moments that make you feel free. While you’re in that moment, nothing else matters. These are moments you will replay in your head for the rest of your life and never forget. It is these indescribable moments that keep fans so devoted to watching.
Giammati also argues that sports can make us feel godlike. The moments of pure joy and satisfaction sports present can, for that short moment, allow you to feel what the gods feel, a feeling that you’re on top of the world. Sports also create godlike figures and give people someone to look up to. When people have certain talents or abilities that no one else in the world possesses and they are portrayed daily in the media, people treat them like gods. When Michael Jordan was playing, everyone wanted to be “like Mike”. He was able to inspire people through his actions on the court, which attracted spectators to watch him play.
The Uncertainty of sports is a unique quality that can make any given game exciting. The idea that the final outcome is always in doubt keeps fans interested and on their feet the entire game. A comeback, upset, or game-changing moment can occur at any time, in any game. There is always potential of history being made or records being broken. It is the thrill this uncertainty provides that appeals to so many sports spectators.
One of the interesting aspects of sports is how it can bring communities, cities, states, and even nations a great sense of pride. College sports are a great example. Almost 110,000 people come out to cheer on the Michigan football team every Saturday. The football team gives us a way of expressing our pride and love of our school, as well a way to display our school spirit to the entire nation. The same concepts apply to professional sports. I love watching the Atlanta Falcons because when they are winning, it makes me proud to have grown up there since the city is portrayed in a positive manner.
Sports can also have a meaningful affect on viewers since they often relate to political and social issues, which actually contradicts an aspect of Giamatti’s argument. He rejects the idea that sports have specific political and social consequences, but I would argue that indeed have significant consequences. Because sports are so popular, they can be used as tools to make statements far more significant than the game itself. Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in baseball attracted many African-Americans to watch the sport. Furthermore, the Brooklyn Dodgers were able to show the country that sports should be integrated, which eventually lead to the integration of all American sports. The U.S. hockey team defeating the Soviet Union in the 1980 Olympics provided one of those indescribable moments, while also giving the country a significant sense of patriotism amidst the cold war that was occurring simultaneously. The coming out of gay professional athletes such as NBA player Jason Collins and NFL hopeful Michael Sam provides a modern day example of how sports connect to greater political and social context. At a time where gay marriage is at the heart of political debate, Jason Collins and Michael Sam inspired others to publicly come out and be proud of their sexuality.
While it seems to some that watching sports is an odd phenomenon, it is really not. Sports give us moments of joy, heroes, pride for where we live, and a way to connect to current issues.