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A Culture of Sport Gone Wrong
Posted By Travis Heath On October 16, 2013 @ 11:00 am In Main Page,NBA | No Comments
Sport is a great escape for many people. It is really no different than a seeing a Hollywood motion picture. Folks are able to enter a fantasy world for a period of hours. At its best, sport supplements a healthy life full of a wide variety of interests. At its worst, athletics can become an obsession that features compulsiveness, loss of control and continuation despite harmful consequences to one’s life.
As a clinician I have worked with people who lost their spouses and family due to their inability (or unwillingness) to control their consumption of sport and/or fantasy sports. For a time, I really believed this was likely the worst consequence of a sport-obsessed culture.
Turns out, I was wrong.
Last week, fans showed up outside the home of much maligned Houston Texans’ quarterback Matt Schaub. According to reports, fans approached Schaub in his driveway and started yelling at him due to his recent poor performance on the field.
Such behavior is stunning. Grown men or women actually followed a football player home and berated him for his play on the field. Add to this the fact that Schaub is married and has three daughters and the lack of perspective demonstrated by these fans is downright terrifying.
This was followed this past Sunday by fans booing Schaub after he sustained an injury on his home field against the St. Louis Rams. It was a disgusting sight to behold.
I know the popular refrains in these situations: “It was the minority of the fans who were booing,” or “Those were just a few crazies who don’t represent the whole.”
Put simply, this is a cop out. It allows most fans to put their collective head in the sand as if they have nothing to do with this behavior. It is yet another case of moderates creating space for the extremists to exist.
As fans, we have a responsibility to turn to the person next to us at the game who is booing Schaub when he’s down on the turf injured and make an effort to put a stop to such behavior. To simply sit idly by and pretend it’s not happening, mutter under our breath about it or attribute it to forces beyond our control is to implicitly acknowledge that we are okay with it.
Perhaps the more interesting question is how exactly sport has become this important in our lives. I grew up a huge fan of the NBA, NFL, MLB and even the NHL when the Colorado Avalanche was relevant. However, I’ve always understood that this is all fun and games. It is becoming much more to people with increasing frequency.
Some have bought into the marketing messages of the professional sport leagues just a little too much. They have managed to convert this land of fantasy into something they believe is real. Because Schaub throws an interception on the field these fans have convinced themselves that this in some way really impacts their lives and they are justified in their actions.
Maybe this is a broader reminder to all of us. Watching our favorite teams win or lose is simply a hobby. When it becomes more we all risk losing perspective. Does that mean we will stalk our favorite athletes so we can yell obscenities on their front porch? Likely not. But if we are honest with ourselves, how often has the outcome of a game impacted our lives far more than it should have?
Feeling sad or angry that our favorite team lost for any extended period of time is quite an interesting phenomenon. After all, this whole exercise is supposed to be in fun, right? What stake do we really have in the outcome other than it being a fun escape for a period of hours? Are we really prepared to risk relationships in real life over the outcome of a game?
In other countries players have been murdered for their failures on the pitch. Thankfully we haven’t reached that level yet in the United States. However, the behavior of some fans leaves us teetering dangerously close. And if the best response we have is, “Hey, at least we don’t kill our pro athletes,” than that alone is unnerving.
During my upbringing and well into young adulthood there was always a fairly intense rivalry between my beloved Denver Nuggets and the Los Angeles Lakers. Well, at least from Denver’s side there was a rivalry. The Lakers often had bigger fish to fry, and that only made the disdain for the purple and gold even greater.
It was always a lot of fun to go to the arena and boo the Lakers even though they sent the Denver faithful home with a loss more times than not. I recall talking trash with Lakers’ fans throughout the game. Afterwards we would congratulate the winner and leave having enjoyed an awesome night regardless of the final tally. This personified what fandom should be like. No true malice, just good-natured fun.
Later, I would end up covering the NBA in Denver. I recall leaving a game between the Nuggets and Lakers not long after its conclusion to catch a flight. On my way out, I saw a fan on the ground lying bloodied and unconscious. Me and a few other folks waited with him until medical personnel arrived.
This image stuck in my head for some time afterwards (and obviously still does today). I began pondering some of the same issues about our culture of sport that I am addressing in this space. I came to understand that something was different than when I attended games as a youth.
I have seen a number of similar instances of physical violence at NFL games. Such experiences are happening with enough frequency now that I wouldn’t dare bring my daughter to a game. That’s a damn shame, too, because I would like nothing more than to share with her the same experience I had as a young person. People who refuse to act civilly have hijacked something that is supposed to be about fun, excitement and relaxation.
There is obviously a strong correlation between some of these events and alcohol. Considering the alcohol companies are worth billions to professional leagues in the United States, I wouldn’t expect a change anytime soon. That, however, is a rant for a different day.
The more pertinent question as it pertains to our discussion is were the people who went to Schaub’s house drunk? My guess based on the information available is no. Keep in mind they went on a Tuesday night. It’s not as though they followed him home in a drunken rage after a game. It sounds as though these people had the forethought to plan a trip to a professional athlete’s home with the intention of confronting him. This, in many ways, is scarier than if they had been intoxicated.
Do overzealous fans who do no physical harm to anyone and just live and die emotionally with their teams cause others to act in disgusting ways like the crazies that approached Schaub at his home? Of course not, to imply as much would be preposterous. However, these fans create a set of conditions and an emotional tenor that create space for such craziness to exist.
Our country is in much need of some cold water to the face with regard to the proper place of sport in the culture. Perspective has been lost and we are much closer to losing it further than we are to regaining it. When I feel safe taking my daughter to a local stadium, perhaps that will be the first sign that sanity has been restored.
Dr. Travis Heath is a psychologist in private practice, assistant professor of psychology at MSU Denver and a former NBA team consultant. He also co-hosts a show on Mile High Sports Radio on Tuesday nights at 6pm. You can follow him on Twitter @DrTravisHeath.
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