The Agony of Game 7: Can Sports Be Too Exciting?

Wait, why do YOU like watching sports?

Chris: Ehh, I don't buy the noble-fan thing. It's lame to watch sports without a rooting interest.

I watch for two reasons: 1) It's a pleasant, addictive form of escapism that lets you feel like you're a part of something outside of your day-to-day life. 2) It's an opportunity to see extraordinary people do extraordinary things. I like getting to see what I've never seen before.

Ashley: Maybe you like the spectacle and I like the team. So that means in this instance, you're a great basketball fan, and I'm a great Spurs fan (with less than one whole season of Spurs fandom under my belt).

Chris: I want the Spurs to win! I'd just like to see them win in the most dramatic way possible.

Ashley: I would have liked to see them win it in a way that was equal parts dramatic and efficient. Partly because of how much stress-eating I was doing in front of my TV Tuesday night.

Chris: "Equal parts dramatic and efficient" is the best description of the Spurs I've ever read. But that's what I don't get: If you're not attached to the team, would the loss really be devastating to you? I feel like you'd shrug it off after a while.

Ashley: Oh, I would totally feel it more if I were a lifelong Spurs fan—just like my heart still hurts when I think about the men's final at Wimbledon in 2007. That's a memory I sort of wish I didn't have. But the fact is that, however nascent my fandom may be, I do feel like I have a team in this series. That makes it a little bit different from times when I watch NBA basketball with mild or no investment in it and can just watch, you know, "for the great basketball."

I guess for me, watching in the cuddly noble-sports-fan "just for the objectively great athletic achievements/entertainment" sense can only happen when I'm not actively pulling for one team to win and the other to lose and leave crying.

Chris: Oh, totally.

"I can't watch 'just for the objectively great athletic achievements or entertainment' when I'm actively pulling for one team to win and the other to lose and leave crying."

Ashley: So if you're really excited about Game Seven and I'm kind of dreading it—what's the difference between us as sports fans?

Chris: I think the difference is that I have a higher tolerance for disappointment. I've been hardened to the point that I won't be crushed unless the team that loses is a team I already love.

Ashley: You ARE a Cubs fan. Jaded.

Chris: Being a Cubs fan is the worst. What do you think?

Ashley: I think you're probably right. I'm scared of Game Seven because it could mean that the team I have this (yes, sudden and random) loyalty to got that close to triumph and then lost it to LeBron and the Monstars. And despite knowing that sometimes that happens—that sometimes, in sports, the "good guys" lose—I would have some sads about that.

Chris: Ha, Monstars. So it's too stressful to watch? Will you stop watching if it looks like the Spurs are gonna lose?

Ashley: I think stressful is the right word. By nature, a decider game or a decider set means somebody is about to come so close and then be so bitterly disappointed—and it may very well be my team. If I'm particularly invested, I have to fight the urge to just disengage and save myself the sadness. Which I think is probably representative of why I break out in hives when it gets to Game Seven.

Chris: That's so pessimistic!

Ashley: ... I dunno, is it?!

Chris: It is. You're Eeyore.

Ashley: That must be it.

Chris: Maybe you're just more sensitive than I am?

Ashley: Like I watch sports with my feelings? I do, that's true. Isn't that kind of what it's about, though? I feel like you're supposed to watch with your feelings.

Chris: I do too, in a different way. I don't enjoy watching people lose, but it adds depth and drama to sports. "Watching with your feelings" is the opposite of "watching for the sake of the game." I think we all do a bit of both.

Ashley: I may do both when I watch this next game. Or, I'll try. But if it's especially close, maybe I'll just watch partly from under a blanket.

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Ashley Fetters & Chris Heller

Ashley Fetters and Chris Heller are associate editors at The Atlantic.

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