Malee: Sense of community buoys sports fanatacism

“Why do you care so much?”

That’s the question I asked myself at the beginning of this school year and — surprise — it’s the question I’m still seeking an answer to nine months later.

Why do sports matter so much to me? Why do I live and die with every Chicago Bulls win and fall into a catatonic state when they lose (as they did last week in searing-fireball, rip-your-hair-out fashion).

What is it that motivates me to write about sports as a pastime and, perhaps in the future, for a living? Why do I frequent more than, say, The New York Times? Am I one of those people — blissfully ignorant of everything around me while trapped inside a bubble lined with scoreboards?

Questions. Questions, but no answers. Back in September, I urged sports fans around campus to take a step back and, well, stop caring so much. I stressed that it was unhealthy to approach the sporting world as a life or death entity, and that it was meant to be fun in the end.

As we head into another summer, it seemed only fair to step back and see how I’ve taken my own advice. Have I mellowed out as a fan and learned to take the good with the bad without losing sight of what is really important?

To put it bluntly: no.

No, I have not developed some newfound maturity that allows me to keep things in perspective. The “fanatical” part of me as a sports fan still lives on, unwilling to let go completely.

I would hazard to guess that this is the case for plenty of other sports fans. We are all perfectly aware of the fact that athletics, at its core, is meaningless. The final score of a Duck football game does nothing to fix the world’s problems; it does not end war, or put food in people’s mouths, or repair homes destroyed by natural disaster.

And yet, the difference of a single point, one missed tackle or poorly thrown pitch, can be enough to send us into frenzy. I took a long walk after the Bulls were eliminated from the NBA Eastern Conference Finals last week, which was about the most overly dramatic reaction I’ve ever had to a single loss.

It’s embarrassing, and I feel foolish when I look back on it. But I’m now beginning to come to grips with the fact that this is part of my identity, whether I like it or not.

But why? That’s the question that still racks my brain. After another year of covering various Oregon sports, a year filled with ups and downs, I can come up with just one answer that makes any semblance of sense.

Put simply, sports provide a sense of community that is becoming increasingly rare in this world. Be it in the physical confines of a stadium or the virtual world of Twitter and Facebook, people come together to talk about their favorite teams. they’re a way to connect to people without confronting the vitriol of national politics or the generally depressing state of the planet.

Is it shallow? Yes, it absolutely is. Anyone who puts sports at the forefront of their consciousness is walking in dangerous territory. But in the right doses, with a healthy balance of passion and perspective, following our favorite teams can be invigorating.

When it all comes together, it’s a beautiful thing. Last weekend, in what will likely be the last event I cover during this school year, the Oregon baseball team earned a 6-0 victory to sweep Oregon State. After the final out was recorded, the players’ family and friends, along with other passionate fans, made their way onto the field to congratulate the team.

Everywhere you looked, there were people hugging, crying or smiling for pictures. Just about the entire range of human emotions was on display as the team waved goodbye to the 2011 season. For a few seniors, it would likely be the last time they played organized baseball.

To a man, the players talked about how much they had bonded together during the season. They loved each other, and the fans loved them right back.

In the end, I guess that’s what it’s all about.

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