February 21, 2008

Fandom cures the winter blues

There’s a reason we call them spectator sports: The number of people who go to games matters, and the noise those people generate certainly matters.

I’ve been to two Blackhawks games this week—one completely sold out and the other one at nearly full capacity—and the atmosphere generated by the number of fans who showed up clearly made a difference to the team’s performance. After the games, which were both victories, the players all gathered at center ice and saluted the crowd by raising their sticks.

Because these are professional athletes, one could take the cynical view that the players have a job to do and that the fans are essentially the ones who pay their salaries anyway. Therefore, these gestures are merely a show of appreciation for a paycheck.

But what if money weren’t in the equation?

I’ve watched a lot of D-III soccer over the past few years, and no matter if the game was a hard-won victory or a disappointing loss, the teams never waver on one thing: the postgame jog. Anyone who has watched the Maroons play has seen the teams go from touchline to touchline, allowing the supporters to clap for their efforts and, in turn, acknowledging the fans’ presence. Players can pick out their friends and family from the crowd—shake hands, hug, chat.

Collegiate sports, and DIII in particular, allow for these more personal connections. These athletes attend the same classes, eat in the same dining halls, and live in the same dorms as we do, and they inhabit the same world that we inhabit. The only difference is, once or twice a week they’re out there competing.

And we should all be watching.

Of course, there’s the aesthetic joy of being a spectator. The strength and grace required to send a football spiraling downfield, the fluid perfection of a soccer player meeting a cross from the goal line, or an unexpected, thrilling burst of speed that triggers a strong drive to the hoop—these are undeniable to anyone who enjoys watching sports.

What truly merits celebration, however, is the day-to-day, behind the scenes effort that goes into making these moments possible. As students of an intellectually extravagant university, we should be able to appreciate this daily grind, because sports and academia are merely two alternative manifestations of a similar discipline of mind and body.

At this point in winter quarter, the midterms and papers are piling up, finals week looms not much farther ahead, and Seasonal Affective Disorder has probably kicked into full gear. Here’s a suggestion: Go see the basketball teams play tonight at Ratner. With three games left in the regular season and with UAA titles still up for grabs, both the men’s and the women’s teams have a lot to play for. Not only will these be good contests to watch, but the Maroons could use the support as well.

Sure, it’s damn cold outside, and you may not even like basketball, but trust me, there’s nothing more therapeutic at the end of a stressful week than going to a sporting event and adding your voice to the crowd. It sure beats crawling into the nearest icy snowbank.

You’ll know what to cheer for, if not instinctively, then at least by the cues of those who do know. You can choose to get emotionally invested in the game, or you can lose yourself in the collective experience.