In the past twelve days, my two favorite teams -- the Packers and the Braves -- have had heartbreaking losses due in large part to officiating errors. This post is written as a direct result of the pain I feel from these two losses, but it is going to go well beyond Wayne Elliott and Sam Holbrook. This goes to the crux of sports as a whole.
Sports is obviously a huge part of my life and has been since I can remember. I was the kid drawing a fake diamond and filling it with Braves and their backups to keep myself entertained on flights. I was the kid who broke a chair when Freddie "the People's Champion" Mitchell caught a pass on 4th and 26. My social life, friendships, and thoughts are almost entirely influenced by sports. This has been my gospel for as long as I can remember, but for the first time, after tonight, I'm reconsidering.
Tonight, as I sat depressed at a post-game meal with my mother, she asked a simple question in regards to the end of Chipper Jones' career: What are you going to remember about Chipper? This seem easy enough. In fact I am writing a piece saying goodbye to the Braves great, and surely a Hall of Fame career would elicit thousands of amazing memories. Unfortunately, the first things that flood my mind are all losses. Painful losses. Jim Leyritz in '96, Livan Hernandez and the world's biggest strike zone in '97, Sterling Hitchcock in '98, the Yankees in '99, Rick Ankiel in 2000, Randy and Curt in 2001, Barry fucking Bonds in 2002, Prior and Wood in 2003, Beltran in 2004, Kyle Farnsworth in 2005, five years of misery without even sniffing the playoffs, Brooks Conrad in 2011, the Cardinals catching the Braves in Game 162 in 2011, and tonight, the infield fly and the three errors in Chippers' last game. I've never seen a Braves championship; every single season of me being a fan has been a failure. Not the kind of failure where you stop being emotionally invested in July. The kind where you get yourself psyched up before five days, or this year, one night, in October sends you to a long winter where you continue to delude yourself. Chipper Jones had an incredible career that I'll write about soon, but the fact that his career just brings up sad memories tells me something about what sports is to me.
The cruel reality of sports is it never ends well. The sports memories that I will always remember are incredibly negative. Perhaps this is my own tortured psyche, but I doubt it. I turned on the Braves game this afternoon and was immediately stressed. Every inning you are expecting the shoe to drop. When David Ross hit a two-run homer, I started mentally counting down the outs. I didn't get very far before Chipper Jones, my childhood hero, choked and threw a ball into right field, causing the Braves to lose a lead they never recovered. Maybe some sports fans would expect their team to take care of business, but I knew the other shoe would drop. It was only a matter of time. When Andrelton Simmons briefly appeared to have reached on a bad throw by Yadier Molina, it was too good to be true. Soon Dan Uggla made the worst throw in the history of baseball, sure handed Simmons botched a catch and throw, and the umps made the baseball equivalent of the simultaneous catch.
Having had a brief hour to evaluate my feelings about the whole situation, the question keeps coming to my mind: is this fun? Are sports fun? Is the stress that we voluntarily induce upon ourselves worth it? Would I enjoy sports more if I just casually followed it? What if I only did fantasy sports but didn't religiously follow a team? I've seen my good friends punch a wall because of their teams' failure, drown their sorrows after a terrible loss, and generally just be pissed and then be subjected to taunts for their team's loss. This is a self-imposed reality and it doesn't have to be.
Even when things go well, like the Packers in 2010, does it truly eliminate the pain from all the past defeats? Does it make the next year's losses easier? It seems like logically it would, but in practice, when the Packers lost to the Giants, I was every bit as upset as I was in 2009 when they lost to the Cardinals (my least favorite bird). I tried to shrug it off by spouting out lies like grace period, and it's okay after last year, but truthfully the pain I felt after that game was just as strong as the joy I felt after winning it all the year before. I expect bad things to happen, convince myself in the buildup to the game that this won't be the case, then when the game actually happens I only expect the worst, before it inevitably happens. Then I talk myself into the following season and rinse-repeat the whole cycle again.
The rest of my life is so blatantly different from this. I don't blindly follow anything, convincing myself of half-truths and putting my faith in something I know that most likely won't reward me. Sports basically turns me into a religious person wanting but unable to leave their faith, only this continues ad infinitum. This begs the obvious question that any rational person can see: why would you subject yourself to it?
The answer is usually because I love sports, I love the strategy, the drama, the feeling of being a part of something bigger than myself. I would have told you this thirteen days ago. Right now, I don't know how to feel. I cannot quit sports but I cannot keep myself in this cycle as a fan. I've never had a natural NBA team and while I've occasionally picked up teams and this past year committed to the Knicks for good, it isn't the same. I don't care nearly as much about the outcome and it is a hell of a lot more fun this way. I can have fun arguments about the value of JR Smith or Carmelo Anthony because if the Knicks fail in the end I won't feel nearly as awful as I would with the Braves or Packers.
Sports are great to argue about, but they aren't great to care about. The beauty and passion of the game, however, gets enveloped in stress and sadness for 31 of 32 fan bases. There is really only one successful season in each sport, and even when that happens, every other fan hates you. This is a depressing reality and I've been drinking the Kool-Aid for long enough. Being a passionate fan leads to more pain and suffering than anything else in my life and it's time to really consider whether this is worth it. Chipper Jones retiring is a great bookend to my early baseball fandom and I'm going to have to take an offseason to consider if I want to take this natural out and lessen my involvement with the team.
The Braves are done, Chipper Jones and Michael Bourn are likely done, and I feel like shit. Being angry at the umpires for missing a call won't change anything. It might transform my sadness into misdirected anger, but in reality it doesn't matter. There won't be another game until April; there won't be a real chance at redemption for twelve more months. The Packers won't get a chance to overcome last season's upset loss to the Giants for a dozen more weeks. They can only fuck up their season. They can only fail. This is because fans delude themselves, create expectations that can't be met and end up disappointed every single fucking season. Even if your team does win, the first feeling is relief and not joy. Relief that you didn't feel the sadness that would come with a loss in the final game. Sports puts me, and plenty of other fans, into this perversely negative mindset. It isn't healthy, it isn't particularly fun, and I don't think at this moment that it is worth it.
Tonight, I saw the worst side of sports and this is obviously a reaction to that pain--but it certainly appears that in basically every single season of my life I've felt this same way. The circumstances might change, I might grow more mature, but this feeling doesn't get easier to overcome. Being a diehard fan is the worst. Maybe you don't feel my pain now, but I know any diehard fan has felt this same feeling. I'll have much more fun watching the rest of the playoffs without a huge stake in any outcome (except rooting against the Cardinals because fuck them for chanting infield fly in their postgame celebration). Baseball and football are my two favorite sports and a huge part of my life, but being a diehard fan of the Braves and Packers leads to misery. Misery I don't want to inflict on myself anymore. If you're a diehard fan you'll understand exactly what I mean. And you'll understand that by November I'll have talked myself into another year of the same.