We arrived at the game early to beat the traffic and meet up with some friends. Anticipation was in the air, the Diamondbacks needed to win or their season would be over. Even though most of the fans were wearing Diamondback colors, the was plenty of Dodger blue in the stands. This happens a lot here, over the last 20-30 years, Arizona has become an affordable relocation destination for those fleeing the high cost of living in other states. As a result, Arizona is a melting pot of team loyalties. It’s not uncommon to see a high number of fans from the opposing team at any sporting event.
We made our way to our seats. The music is pumping and fireworks are exploding during the team introductions. The atmosphere was more like a concert than a sports game. Sitting next to me my son was taking it all in, his eyes wide with wonder, eager for the game to begin. A man and his father sat down in the seats next to us. The father was had on a Diamondbacks hat, while the man was wearing Dodger blue. The Dodger fan sits next to me. We chit chat about the teams and the ages of our sons. He talks about what a big fan his dad is of the Diamondbacks and that he is just along for the ride. In spite of being dressed to support the visiting team, he says he wouldn’t mind seeing the Diamondbacks win to keep the series exciting. As the game went on, he consumed more adult beverages and he started to cheer very loudly. As the Diamondbacks tried desperately to start a rally, he stood up and started yelling “Look at the scoreboard!” (the Dodgers were winning).
I let the first few comments go. Then he asked why I wasn’t talking to him anymore and I said “This game means a lot to my son, he’s only 9 and he loves this team. You don’t have to be a jerk and yell scoreboard.” I think he was shocked and surprised I would call him a jerk. It stunned him into silence for a bit, but a couple plays later he was back at it. Around the eighth inning, my disappointed son looked over and said, “I’m ready to go”.
When you become a parent, it often feels like you are looking at life for the first time. You see things you never saw before and this was certainly one of those moments. As I drove home I wondered, when did sports become such a mean and nasty experience? It has become quite normal to “talk trash” to your friends or other fans when their team doesn’t win. Why do we do this? Why do we feel the need to rub it in someone’s face and make them feel bad? Why do we need to gloat that our team is the best? Why is it that our team winning gives us such personal satisfaction? That may seem like a silly question. Maybe you never equated your team winning to your own self-worth, but think about it for a minute. If watching your team win doesn’t give you a feeling of fulfillment, then why spend the time and money to watch?
Similarly, when you talk to many sports fans, they will say “Oh I hate this team”. I am guilty of this as well. But why does another team have to be the enemy? Why hate an entire team whose players you don’t know personally? Hate stirs up emotions like anger, irritation, aggressiveness and defensiveness and while those strong emotions might not be your intent, are you able just to turn off all those feelings when the game is over? Or do some of those bad feelings linger and spill over into other things (like being frustrated over the traffic after the game or arguing with other fans)?
What are we teaching our kids? Kids enter sports with a clean slate and an innocent purity for the excitement of the game. When they witness this behavior, we are showing them that the negativity is a normal part of sports culture.
Sporting events are actually a wonderful way to unite a group of people. Games bring together groups people that can set aside their differences for a few hours while they cheer for the same outcome. We’ve seen sporting events unify entire cities after tragic events like 9/11. We’ve seen events like the Women’s World Cup and the Olympics unite and electrify entire countries. But it just seems to me that lately, there is more and more animosity and negativity growing in sports. It feels inevitable that the innocent joy my son feels today, will be overtaken by trash talking negativity.
We have enough in our world to be angry about. There are enough forces in our nation pulling us apart instead of uniting us. Let’s not add sports to the list of divisive activities. Let’s keep sports where they belong – as a fun, unifying form of entertainment in an uncertain and challenging world.
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