This is something you start asking yourself after a brutal loss like Saturday’s loss to the Indianapolis Colts. Why do I even care? Why do I spend so much time thinking about, talking about, reading about and watching sports? Well, I have a few answers to that question.
First, I think they are our soap operas. Sports are a socially acceptable thing to gossip about and talk about. They give us a built in conversation starter when we meet other people or go to work on Monday. They give us something to watch on TV when we have nothing better to do (and often even when we do have something else to do). They provide a narrative and a set of characters that every other sports fan knows and can discuss, and that’s a powerful thing particularly in a world with infinite entertainment choices.
They give us something to root for. Neighborhoods, states, and even countries are somewhat transitive these days. It’s hard to be patriotic when your country does things you’re not proud of. It’s hard to be proud of your state when your leaders do stupid and/or immoral things every day. While our sports teams let us down too, at least when they do the consequences aren’t so severe.
For the nerdier sports fans, sports give us something to track and calculate and predict. Witness ESPN hiring stats guru and elections expert Nate Silver. Sports today have the same statistical richness as elections. Baseball in particular is and always has been steeped in statistics. In the last couple of decades we’ve decided that baseball doesn’t have enough statistics and so we have invented many new statistics with silly sounding acronyms like BABIP and RISP and xFIP. Even football has gotten into the act, as evidenced by the excitement around Peyton Manning’s touchdown and yardage record-breaking year. We even pay attention to things like quarterback rating.
Sports have even given us a way to participate when we have no athletic ability: fantasy sports. Fantasy football in particular gives us a way to enjoy the game all week and make otherwise meaningless games watchable. College basketball’s annual tournament gives us a reason to pay attention to schools that we’d otherwise never notice. And of course both fantasy football, the NCAA’s and the upcoming college football playoff system give us more opportunities to bet on sports.
Last, they give us something safe to disagree about. While fan on fan violence has escalated in recent years, particularly in parking lots, sports rivalries give us something to tease each other about and taunt each other over while not being personal.