The buzz about soccer has been hard to avoid these past few weeks, as the US team has limped its way into the so-called knock-out rounds of the World Cup. Not that I have been trying very hard to avoid it. Truth is, I have always been a fan of various sports, having been raised with Willie Mays and Fran Tarkenton as my sports heroes and fashioning my batting stance and throws after theirs. Like most fans (from the Latin “fanaticus” or “insanely but divinely inspired”), I have felt elated when my teams won the Super Bowl (several times) and the World Series (less than several times) and suffered the letdown and disappointment of repetitive losses. I can remember specifically where I was when Joe Pisarcik fumbled to lose a game; this and other images are etched in my memory as if they were life-changing (which they clearly were not).
And yet, as a psychologist, I recognize that there is something just a bit odd about my investment in sports. In fact there are some clinicians and researchers who liken fandom to a form of addiction, including the anticipation of the event, the absorption with it, the temporary high, and the eventual crash. Others have criticized the escapism of being a fan (which of course is not limited to sports) and the avoidance of responsibility inherent in taking time out from life in order to watch a series of games. These critics question why one needs to live vicariously through someone else’s accomplishments and creativity.
Personally, I take a more (self-serving?) balanced approach to the issue. Like any source of fun and entertainment, the issue really is whether or not one’s interest undermines important tasks and needs in one’s life. Are you glued to the television for an entire weekend, leaving your family alone or do you watch specific events with them, engaged socially in the process? Are you betting hard-earned dollars on games or cancelling appointments at work in order to tune into your teams? It seems to me that the question is whether or not one is able to keep a sense of perspective and balance in one’s life and is able to recognize that, ultimately, there are far more important things worth fretting about than whether or not your team wins or what team LeBron ends up joining. As long as this balance with work, family, and other interests is achieved, what’s the harm? Besides, after my appointments today, I DVR’d the United States and Belgium. I promise that I will be watching with my wife.
Phil Robbins, Ph. D.