The Spectator We

sportsI am a sports fan.  Yes, I have all the intellectual and logical questions about why I invest myself in professional athletes who make in a single year more than I make in a lifetime for chasing a ball around a gigantic lawn.  Or in college students who are no more students than I am a football player … and will soon be making in a single year more than I make in a lifetime.  It makes no sense but there it is.  I love my teams.  When they win, I say we.  When we lose I say we but not quite as loudly.  That would be The Spectator We.  My son hates The Spectator We.  He says, You’re not on the team, Dad.  It has been a dreadful several years for Older Eyes the Sports Fan.  My USC Trojans Football Team has been, well, awful.  My Los Angeles Lakers only slightly better.  And worse, their arch-rivals, the UCLA Bruins and Los Angeles Clippers are decent.  They are actually better than decent but I can’t bring myself to say it.  It looked like a long year was ahead.

Thank goodness for the LA Dodgers.  Now, I will tell you, when my football and basketball favorites are doing well, baseball is only slightly below golf on the good-for-napping-in-front-of-the-TV scale.   But desperation isdodgers desperation.   Until June, the Dodgers had been dreadful   They were 31-42, 9 1/2 games behind the Arizona Diamondbacks in the National League’s Western Division.  Then, they brought up a young Cuban player by the name of Yasiel Puig.  Puig drove baseball purists crazy.  He made throwing errors.  He made base running errors.  He ran into walls trying to catch fly balls.  But he played with joy and he could hit.  And the Dodgers caught his spirit and began to win, going on a historic winning streak that led to them winning the National League’s Western Division by over ten games.   This week, I’ve been watching the Dodgers play the Atlanta Braves in the National League Division Series (NLDS).  It’s really easy to root against the Braves … their fans are known for a annoying form of ritual moaning known as the Tomahawk Chop.

Anyway, on Monday night night, the Dodgers had a chance to close out the NLDS by winning the fourth game at Dodger Stadium.  It looked grim in the eighth inning – the Braves were up 3-2 and the Dodgers couldn’t hit the ball with an oar.  Then, Yasiel Puig hit a double and Juan Uribe … after trying to bunt twice … hit a long home run into the left field stands.

There is nothing like a game winning home run in front of the home crowd … and there was Older Eyes, jumping around the family room, clapping his hands and yelling, Yes!  Yes!  Yes!  At least I didn’t run upstairs and high-five Muri.  The Dodgers closer, Hanley Ramirez came in and struck out the side in the ninth.  We (Spectator We) won.

Of course, The Spectator We is part of a phenomenon known to psychologists as sports identification, a means of finding a feeling of belonging in a world of increasing alienation, much as some people find belonging in spiritual communities.  Others, like Ronald F. Levant, a psychology professor at the University of Akron, say, Identifying with your sports teams is one of the ways you can vicariously experience success, and in real life, success is hard.  We have ups and downs, a lot of things don’t always go our way … especially in this economy.    Professor Daniel Wann, a psychologist at Murray State University in Kentucky includes self-esteem as a motive for sports fans.  Psychology Today says that we love sports because we are at our center, a story-telling animal and that sports provides accessible drama through legions of critics and a fantastical rotating casts of angels and devils, geniuses and journeymen, fallen giants and rising stars. It does imperious triumph, lucky escapes, impossible comebacks and stubborn stalemates. It captures the brilliance of unpredictability, the uncertainty of the human heart and human skill, of improvisation and chance.  Scientific American reports a study by psychologist Paul Bernhardt and his colleagues, in which 21 male soccer fans provided salivary cortisol samples before and after watching their favorite teams compete against international rivals on TV for the World Cup. Mean testosterone levels increased in the fans of winning teams and decreased in the fans of losing teams.

So, you’d think with a winning team again … my sense of belonging enhanced, a fistful of vicarious success, my need for stories satisfied and my testosterone up … I’d be having a fabulous week.   No, it’s muddling along just as it was Monday Morning.  But it’s good to be winning again.  Maybe the psychologists should stop trying to figure out why and have some fun.  Go Dodgers.

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