For most people who go to Loyola, it is clear that we are not a sports-centric university. Last week, I had the task of polling students on what they are excited about in Loyola sports this year, and a shocking number couldn’t answer the question because they don’t follow Loyola sports, or sports in general. This may not be surprising if we were a smaller institution, but Loyola is a Division I school with a proud athletic tradition and is entering into an exciting new stage in its history with the switch to the Missouri Valley Conference.
For those who aren’t sports enthusiasts, following sports seems like a cult, an obsession. Sports lovers pour over statistics and articles about strategy, yell and curse at their televisions when their teams fail, and hate other fans solely based on their allegiances. From the outside, it’s a strange, strange culture indeed. With this in mind, I took a step back and re-evaluated why I love sports so much. Growing up in a sporty household and community, it’s foreign to me that someone wouldn’t want to go to a football or basketball game on a Friday night or talk for hours about which teams will make it to the World Series. However, it’s an undeniable fact that a lot of people don’t enjoy those activities, or understand why anyone would.
Hence, I have attempted to explain the cult of the sports-obsessed for those who can’t wrap their heads around the idea. First, sports is a constant struggle to achieve greatness. Just like musicians, painters and other artists are continually struggling
to create something innovative and completely original, athletes are always trying to do something that’s never been done. It’s common sports lore that you know you’ve made it in sports when they name something after you. But why is watching sports so special, when you aren’t experiencing the thrill firsthand?
Simply put, it creates a bond among viewers. Imagine, if you will, you are at the performance of Mozart’s first symphony. As the violins and cellos play, it’s beautiful and in sync and you’re enjoying yourself. However, when the climax hits, everyone is silent, waiting for the next chord to drop, and in that moment you are all of one mind. That is the feeling sports fans have when they are watching a football game at a crowded bar and the final Hail Mary pass is in the air, sailing toward the receiver’s hands. At the risk of sounding cliche, in that moment everyone in that bar, while that ball is in the air, is infinite (Perks of Being a Wallflower, anyone?).
After the fact, when the receiver has caught or dropped the ball, or the equivalent in any other sport, the bar erupts and celebration (or agony) ensues. That night’s experience is elating, but it doesn’t stop there. Anyone who saw that perfect play will always be able to remember where they were and what they were doing while they watched or heard about it. Just like grandparents today tell their grandchildren how they saw Jackie Robinson play his rookie year, today’s generation will tell their grandchildren how they saw the Blackhawks score two goals in 17 seconds to win the Stanley Cup.
It’s a bond that spans cultures and generations, and makes all of the losses and heartbreak worth it. Fans can watch thousands of games, and if they can have just one unforgettable, magic moment, it’s all worth it. There is plenty about sports that will be unexplainable, but if you can appreciate the search for that one, pure moment of perfection, be it through any medium, you can appreciate the most fundamental, obsessive aspect of sports. Welcome to the cult.