In the past months, I have watched my beloved Boston Red Sox beaten up, chewed and spat out by the New York Yankees. I hated them for it. Pin striped smug fools flying pretty in their brand new home run derby stadium. 8-0 going into this series were the Sox, sweeping the Bronx Bombers and making them look like a little league side from the Middle East. This got me thinking about the power of emotions and the collective hold sport has over society, both past and present.
By definition, sport is an activity governed by a set of rules or customs, often competitively (wikipedia.com). The pursuit of the sporting contest can be traced back thousands of years to the time of stone templates and leather sandals. It was socially acceptable for men to grow facial hair and they settled whatever score they had in the arena, the sports precinct or the battle field, often in honour of their family or a hoping to grace the hand of a fair maiden. As recent as the 1800’s, men dueled protecting their honour. In today’s society, we have 2 outlets. 1. The competitive sporting arena or 2. The Court System. The days of settling personal offences on the battlefield are long gone and something that must be done for us by well paid professionals wearing wigs and silk.
Emotion is a powerful thing. Emotions allow us to experience the joys of a sunset or the lows of the passing of a loved one. Emotions let’s us know that we care. Sport brings out the very best and the very worst in people. A high stakes international game of football or a casual game of golf amongst friends, people want to compete and win. Any victory, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant is an accomplishment. For that fraction in time in that setting, the winner is the best. The thrill of a win when supporting your team or accomplishing a dream of yours on the sporting field release the very best in our emotions. Equally, a defeat or unfulfilled promise has the capability to turn our emotions against ourselves and make the rational do irrational things.
Having experience in elite level sports both personally and by association, the average supporter cannot grasp the concept of the commitment, both physically and emotionally that it takes to compete at the highest level. That is by no means a derogatory remark to anyone who isn’t an elite sportsperson, as we all have our strengths and limitations , but rather a personal statement. Elite is exactly that… elite. The best of the best. The pilots at Miramar. I read message-boards of the teams that I follow across the globe and am dumbfounded with the commentary that is directed at sportsmen and women. Hour after hour of intensive physical and mental preparation, often at levels of high intensity preparing themselves for the weekend spectacle entertaining the masses.
I recently read on an American sports forum a poster complaining about Terrell Owens, the current Buffalo Bills and former San Francisco, Philadelphia and Dallas wide receiver. In this person’s mind, T.O as he is affectionately known “doesn’t play to win and only plays for himself and money”. T.O is a polarizing character at the best of times who is hung out to dry in media circles by the vultures canvassing for a fresh carcass to feed on in their print ledgers of death. I’ve seen T.O do some amazing things on a football field and listened to him pass comment on things left best behind closed doors. What struck accord with me regarding Owens was the rhetoric of the poster, who clearly let his own emotional attachment to sport cloud his own judgment. It never once occurred to this doyen of computer chat board heroism that Terrell Owens outbursts and apparent dysfunctional attitude towards losing or not having the ball thrown to him is that maybe… just maybe, Owens is emotionally invested in winning so much, that every loss stings like a thousands cuts of a razor blade to the professional sports person. Whatever you think you feel as a supporter after a loss or a win, magnify that by a large percentage and that’s what the professional sports person feels.
Personally, I tend to subscribe to the point of view that it’s particularly difficult for me to give gospel meaning to journalists covering sports who were never involved in that particular sport at the elite level. The reality is their opinions are just as valid as the average supporter, with one key exception. They are paid to pretend they know more about that sport then the average supporter. I’ll admit to be a New England Patriots homer and with the recent retirements of potential Hall of Famers Tedy Bruschi and Rodney Harrison to take up media positions, I take great interest in reading their columns or listening to their analysis of teams, formations and projections. In the short time both men have been in the media, it is clear that they have a sound and fundamental appreciation of the intricacies relating to statistical correlations, game planning, strategic implementation and analysis through breakdown. It’s interesting comparing two highly decorated sporting champions to that of a journalist commenting on the same issue. The comparison is there is no comparison.
I’m in the fortunate position to see the ledger from both sides of the fence. I’m an avid supporter of everything Boston and everything Perth. I’ve competed to a high level in my chosen field, my brother plays for the most successful sporting organization in Australia, I have family who have reached the pinnacle of success in their chosen sporting fields and a large proportion of my friends are successful sporting people. For mine, the biggest discrepancy between the supporter and the pro athlete is what people see on television or reported in the media to what actually occurs behind the closed doors, away from prying eyes, dictaphones and cheap suits. The silence is deafening after a loss. The bruises ache a little more, the joints less receptive to movement inhibit movement a little more and the mental post mortem begins. Anything you think you feel or experience as a supporter pales into comparison compared to the person who represents your team on a weekly basis.
Whilst my own career has not reached the lofty international heights I had hoped for derailed by serious injury and excessive socializing, the sheer fact is the commitment, investment and sacrifices you have to make for a sporting career are intense and varied. The extra sessions, injury prevention and management, the cortisone injections and running through pain to the point where you make yourself sick…. and I haven’t even begun to scrap the bottom of the barrel. You can argue that the 9am to 5pm jobs has it’s own trappings and commitments and that you’d equally be happy to take the professional sports person’s salary for what they do. Well I argue you may have had the opportunity to, you either weren’t committed or you simply weren’t good enough. Once more, that’s why it’s called elite level sports. There is no greater illustration of this than in the book George Best: Blessed – The Autobiography. Read this and I challenge you to not see the sports person in a different light. It’s powerful.. even in the most boring of passages.
I’ll leave you with one final thought. Next time you see a sports star out, instead of treating them like a mighty god, give them a pat on the back and give them thanks for their efforts, because amongst all the fame, the celebrity and the money, the trappings that accompany their physical gifts, the role model mentality, the constant scrutiny and the massive cross hairs that accompany them anywhere and everywhere they go, take a moment for yourself and think, how would I react if people were constantly telling me how to do my job better, or telling me that I’m no good, or badgering me when all I would like to do is enjoy some time with my friends.
That my friends.. is why off seasons are the worst time in the year.