I love sports. And while I grew involved in various athletic pursuits, adulthood leads to a different sort of participation: watching sports. It’s no surprise, then, that this is one of my favorite times of year in the sports calendar, what I call “October’s obsession.”
To the avid sports fan, I don’t need to explain. But for everyone else – you know, those people who only like hockey ;-) – October sees all the major North American sports leagues running at the same time (you could say April is also significant, but I’m a big football fan, so I prefer Fall). Just about any night of the week you can turn on your television to find some sort of meaningful competition. Major League Baseball has finally exasperated its 162 game schedule to play games that mean something. The National Football League has a monopoly on people’s Sundays that is an envy to many a pastor (speaking from experience). Friday nights sees a weekly clash in the Canadian Football League (yes, I said Canadian Football League. It does exist. And see Cameron Wake in case you doubt its validity). And from a Canadian perspective, who doesn’t find themselves drawn to the broadcasting altar each October as the National Hockey League's seasonal ritual resumes: Hockey Night In Canada. Oh, and I think the National Basketball Association starts too (go Steve Nash!). Combine all this with an ever-expanding sports broadcasting industry (TSN2, SportsnetONE, ESPN-who-knows-how-many-by-now), and watching sports in October is a couch potato’s recipe for resounding success. Sports truly is October’s obsession.
As I celebrate this October reality, I’ve been wondering: why this magnetic pull to immerse myself in sports? Positively, I think there are many great things about sports culture and being a sports fan. There is something about the context of athletic competition that relates to all of life. Competition, camaraderie, perseverance, toil, failure, victory constitute much of our human experience. In this sense, you could say sports were reality TV long before Survivor hit the scene. And because we relate to it, we rally around it. We cheer for our favourites. When they win, we win (sorry Canucks fans – one day…). In a sense, we live vicariously through the athletes and teams we follow; their risk to become our adventure. To quote the famous phrase, we participate in “the thrill of victory…and the agony of defeat.” In following sports, you could say, we are embracing the reality of human experience.
More negatively, however, I’ve wondered if this embrace of reality is actually more of a distraction from reality. Like the trend in the entertainment industry in general, it seems that living vicariously through athletes and sports teams insulates us from dealing with our own reality. We’d rather see Wayne Gretzky hoist another Stanley Cup then put the time and effort it takes to overcome our own challenges; or worse, not unlike the Bills of the 1990’s, put in time and effort only to fail anyways. Sports, then, is an escape. On its own, in the words of Ecclesiastes, our love of sports ends up as “a chasing after the wind” – a sort of exhausting pursuit of victory that coalesces in October’s obsessions but which is never fully satisfied. The clock always runs out. The game always ends. The euphoria subsides. And it’s back to reality.
Thankfully, like October’s obsession with sports, “chasing after the wind” isn’t the full picture. Rather than escape reality, the author of Ecclesiastes call humans to embrace it: I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God (Eccl. 3:12-13 TNIV).
In the midst of October's obsession I’m trying learn how everyday reality is a “gift of God”; how simple activities – eating, drinking, and yes, toiling – aren’t something to be escaped in the hopes of seeing a World Series no-hitter. I don't think I'll stop loving sports. I can, hopefully, temper my love of sports by embracing the everyday reality of life as a gift from God.
"October's reality." Ahh, much better...