Why do I keep caring about professional sports?

There are a few obvious time sinks in my entertainment habits, but none more shameful than my unyielding return to the compelling drama of professional sports.

I understand the allure: there’s always an easily mediated narrative with identifiable archetypes and resonating conflicts that produce clear results and generate provocative interpretations. The stories are simple and believable. It’s fun – and fundamentally human – to argue over who the best team or player is in a sport.

At the heart of this habit is the desire for meaning and purpose in our lives. By externalizing this meaning and vicariously experiencing it through these modern deities, we create an amazing source of existential comfort. The drama that unfolds, the stories that develop, the legends that seem to manifest themselves…there’s an emergent teleology to it all that defies the general cynicism and near-nihilism with which we approach everything else in the modern age. The professional sports world, in other words, is a bastion of human meaning and optimism.

When we profess loudly and make all the noise we can for our favorite teams, we are engaged in religious ritual. We are coming together in small communities with common interests and values to proclaim our faith, and to declare it paramount. When we believe in a team, we are believing not only in the group of individuals who happen to embody that team, we are believing in what that team represents: namely, the idea that human beings can come together to achieve something, to build a legacy that transcends each individual. We turn to sports for the possibility of participating in this transcendence, even if it’s fleeting.

We hold firm to the belief that we might eternalize ourselves through our fandom. Just as a Christian might cheer, in a sense, for God, I cheer for the Philadelphia Eagles QB. I surrender all my hopes and dreams and mortality-defiant desires gratefully to this new deity, confident that he will carry them and me forward to new life. In his apotheosis, perhaps then, is mine.

I become more alive through his journey, just as we become more alive through the tales of our religious and mythological figures. Regardless of the practical consequences of such time-sinking investment, it’s the idea that we get to feel timeless in the process that makes the return to these wells of faith an impossible thing to move past. Who cares if it’s an illusion? How can I not constantly return to the possibility of immortality?

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