What’s Spectacular About Spectating?

Watching the Salisbury-Bangor championship game brought out an old competitive streak. But what’s the draw of pro sports teams?


As a softball player in high school, I had a competitive streak a mile wide and took to making deals with God during close games. 

I’d tell God that if only we could win THIS game, he could have my bicycle, my guitar and -- during one county championship – my brother. My mother, who knew about these deals, said she was afraid if we ever made it to a state final, she and my father would – poof – disappear from the stands. 

That competitive drive receded a bit after college but resurfaces at times like last Friday when the Salisbury Falcons played the Bangor Slaters for the Colonial League Boys Varsity Basketball championship at Freedom High School. 

My kids go to Salisbury and I’ve watched some of the players grow up. Amid the thunderous cheering, I felt the visceral excitement of the game in the pit of my stomach.  

Mind you, the only thing I contributed to that contest was cheers for Salisbury but at the end, when Falcon’s standout Lloyd Irons dunked the final basket at the buzzer, the dormant 17-year-old in me was thinking: “How do you like us now!”  

But that’s where my fan-atism ends. I’ll happily root for my kids’ teams and that of their friends, but loyalty to a professional sports team is an anathema to me. Why would you take pride in, say, the Phillies’ success if you don’t know them personally and you contributed nothing to it? Why spend weekends watching strangers on TV simply because they play in the nearest big city?  

In our house, I’m outnumbered on this three to one. The Phillies, the Eagles, the Philadelphia Union and Manchester United all cast spells on various family members during their playing seasons – which seem to get longer every year. 

It’s easy to see why people might root for a particular player because they like his or her story -- Jeremy Lin’s fascinating rise or Tim Tebow’s religious devotion and acts of charity, for example. But how does that translate into wanting to spend chunks of each week watching people you don’t know in what amounts to perpetual Reality TV? For every moment of high drama in sports, there’s a lot of routine action to sit through.  

So, all you pro sports fans, I’m open to arguments. What draws you to root for a bunch of strangers playing a game on a Sunday afternoon? Is it the poetry-in-motion of a soccer player who can bend it like Beckham? The chance to see the grace and precision of a well-executed double play or a Hail Mary pass? The joy of sharing a passion with your kids or your parents and siblings? 

The woman who would have traded her brother for a county championship is all ears. 

Margie Peterson February 23, 2012 at 09:12 PM
Where and when, Mr. Katz?!?! I need to pack! Seriously, you're in my will. You get my copy of J.D. Salinger's "Franny and Zooey" and our goldfish, Spike and Fluffy.
Jonathan Gerard February 24, 2012 at 06:26 AM
Eugene McCarthy once wrote a column on baseball for The New Republic in which he framed every play as the successful intersection... or not, of two lines. I'm not a mathematician but that geometry has stuck with me. Watching baseball is akin to watching a ballet. The ball is hit to left, the center fielder runs at full speed, leaps, catches the ball at full extension, falls to the ground, manages to keep the ball in his glove, quickly recovers, gets up, and throws out the runner racing back to first--a double play. The technology of professional sports enables us to see it again, in slow motion, and exult in the sheer skill involved. Baseball plays happen so fast that you often need to see a replay to appreciate what happened. I live 3000 miles from LA but I'm a lifelong Dodger fan because Walter O'Malley and the Dodgers arguably began the modern civil rights movement. They, and all sports, have led the way toward an equality of the races in America. The hugging and expressions of unalloyed joy (or disappointment) that are exchanged among black and white players is still startling when we compare it to our own prosaic lives and limited social circles. Football is for brutes. Hockey is for sociopaths. Boxing, whose goal its to hurt one's opponent as badly as possible, should be outlawed. But baseball is as old and as pure as the Bible. In the big inning, God created the heavens and the earth.
Arthur Joel Katz February 24, 2012 at 02:03 PM
Bravo, Mr. Gerard. When I was a boy I lived three blocks from Ebbets field in Brooklyn where the Dodgers played. Dodger First Baseman Dolph Camilli lived on our block. Nevertheless, I was a Giant fan---that took a lot of courage and few brains. However, I admire your reason for supporting the Dodgers now. Margie, my love, to the contrary, I may abandon my passion for the Phillies if the Dodgers get sold.
Mary Ellen Alu February 24, 2012 at 04:43 PM
Indeed. Very well said.
Ann Wlazelek March 02, 2012 at 06:43 PM
I'm with Mr. Katz-- I'd run away with Margie any day!


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