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October 25, 2018
My kids roll their eyes when I tell them that being a sports fan is a lot like life. This is probably because I say it too much.
But just look at our rhetorical metaphors.
For football: “We went the whole nine yards.” Or “I didn’t have anything to lose, so I just tossed a Hail Mary.” How about “We were so late for the wedding, it felt like we were running a two-minute drill.”
Basketball does this also: “I fouled out, man.” Or “Boy, I nailed that deal; nothing but net.” Or, when you blow it with a client? You were “tossing bricks.”
Baseball in America is the unrivaled monarch of sports-life comparisons. We don’t have enough room to fill this blog with all the clichés.
“Be careful with that guy. He’s the kind who likes to steal second.”
“Heck, he woke up on third and figured he hit a triple.”
“Man, I was good today. Hit it right out of the park.”
“Today was horrible. I just couldn’t find my strike zone.”
And so on.
But nothing on this great big planet actually matters so little—yet feels like it matters so much—as when your favorite team loses.
Think about that.
It’s so silly. We don’t even stop to question this strange identification with the millionaire athletes that we watch week in and week out.
There are droughts, and famine, and crime, and an election season crazy enough to make us tear our hair out, and all of those things involve, at least arguably, a bit of personal input. We can donate to nonprofits that fight against hunger. We can vote against going to war. We can support and even work for the candidates of our choice.
But your home team? You can’t do a damn thing about what happens to your home team. So, why is it if you’re a devoted fan and your home team loses, you feel like your dog died? Why do you feel so completely rotten? So horribly cruddy? So sad?
Yeah, maybe they’ve won before, but that feels like a million years ago now. That feels like a different century. That feels like ancient history.
In sports, there is only the morning after the most recent game.
Because there is one sure thing about sports, and it’s this one sure thing that might just make sports the best metaphor for life—or at least the best metaphor for that simplified version of life that we all covet:
Someone’s got to win, and someone’s got to lose.
And, no matter what you do, no matter how hard you want it, no matter how hard you try, no matter how much sleep you’re willing to lose and how many jerseys you’re willing to buy, it ain’t gonna matter.
Somebody’s going to be happy, and somebody’s going to be sad.
Baseball seems to do this more than any other sport. Bart Giamatti, a former commissioner of major league baseball, and also full professor of Renaissance Studies at Yale University, famously wrote this about baseball:
“[Baseball] breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then, just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops.”
There is no joy in losing the World Series. But across the windswept plains, from one great American city to another, there is that necessary righting of the scales. The flip side of one team’s pain is mirrored in reverse—and thus magically balanced—by the giddy, unbridled ecstasy on the streets of the World Series champions.
There is dancing on the pavement, and celebration, and pride.
At The Clay Center, we like to write about the infinite parallels between every day life and the psyche. That manic energy of the winning home team? That’s not our concern. It’ll take care of itself.
But for the hung heads of other home team, here’s a bit of advice.
Sports carry the weight that they do in our lives because of community. I could cite about a hundred papers showing you this, but you don’t need references here. You already know this.
Sports are metaphors for life because they bring us together. Being together – slapping strangers on the back, holding the door open for the same guy every day as you grab your morning coffee on the way to work, interacting and existing side-by-side…that is life.
Being together is life. As we’ve said before, we’re pack animals.
So, if you were rooting for the defeated team:
Don’t go it alone. Seek one another out. Revel in the shared emotions of common experience. Tell stories of the games that mattered. Celebrate one of your best World Series. Tip your hat to the improbable. And, hold those doors open just a little bit longer.
And know this: as painful as it might be to consider right now, there’s always next year. There’s always, always next year.
– A version of this post was originally published on 3 November 2016