A Riot in Vancouver? What is Wrong with you People?

Dear Sports Fan,
Why did the Vancouver fans riot? What is wrong with you people?
Paul

Dear Paul,
There’s an answer specific to this situation and a more general answer – the specific answer deserves a few hundred words of its own, and it has to do with the fact that Canada brings nothing to the table other than hockey, and no one feels this more acutely than Canadians themselves – so when something doesn’t go their way on the ice they load up on the LaBatt Blue, and watch out.

The general answer has to do with the nature of live sports. Going to a live sporting event is one of the most exhilarating experiences you can have. There are very few times in life you’ll be surrounded by tens of thousands of people all of whom share one common desire (in this case, for your team to win)– and when you think about the other times that happens, you realize how uplifting it can be. Concerts, political rallies – being around that many people who are all riding the same emotional roller-coaster at the same exact time can be an incredibly uplifting[1] and fun experience. The exhilaration is literally contagious, especially if you win – and even if you lose, the feeling of having taken a journey with 20,000 people is not something we experience every day.

But that same sense of exhilaration has a flip-side – once emotions start to turn, the negative feelings can be just as contagious and just as strong. It never infects the whole crowd – that’s why you see hundreds of people rioting after games, even though tens of thousands of people were actually there  – but all it takes is a few belligerent people (either violently angry at the loss, or violently happy at a win –these people are clearly not the picture of mental health, nor are they typical of fans) doing something stupid, a few people watching and getting ideas and no one trying to stop them, and soon enough couches are on fire and police are wondering how many rubber bullets it takes to bring down a rowdy West Virginian who weighs 285 pounds and is approximately 75% alcohol by volume.

Oh yeah. That’s the other thing: it’s safe to say the average blood alcohol level of a post-game rioter is exponentially higher than the level that would kill an ordinary person. They’re the same people who drink a fifth by themselves at home, then go outside and light stuff on fire in their backyard. Here, they just happen to be doing it in the middle of the street.

The bottom line: the pros of going to a live sporting event far outweigh the cons. Riots happen once in a blue moon, and nothing helps you appreciate your sports fan’s seemingly irrational exuberance like getting caught up in the communal euphoria of a live sporting event.[2]

Sincerely,
Dean Russell Bell

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)

  1. Using the word “uplifting” twice in three lines? who am I, Oprah?
  2. This does not apply to soccer games in Europe. If you are choosing a first live sporting event to attend, don’t start with European soccer – build to it, but don’t start with it. It is the double black diamond of sporting events, complete with moguls, ice, a completely vertical drop and 9-year olds rocketing down the trail around you wrapped in Kevlar jackets, titanium helmets and their own sense of invincibility. If you like taking your life into your own hands – and if you enjoy a smattering of racism (depending on where you go) – by all means, rock out with the hooligans. Otherwise, do yourself a favor and start on the bunny slope: baseball or basketball.

Why are sports fans obsessed with injuries?

Dear Sports Fan,

The sports fan in my life disregards my injuries and illnesses as mere complaints until I am either completely incapacitated or bleeding prodigiously. Yet the mere mention of a potential injury to any appendage of one of his teams’ players sends him into Colonel Kurtz mode – The horror, the horror – before he spends an hour on WebMd trying to identify a miracle cure. Any chance any of that sympathy can be directed my way?

Hurt in Houston

— — —

Dear Hurt in Houston,

Let me put it bluntly: no. When you get sick or injured, (knock wood) you get better and your life goes on. Your fan’s favorite athlete, or a key player on his team? Well…

Injuries are one of the most frustrating things in sports. Think about sitting at your computer doing work – not one of those mind-numbing, I’m half-working and half-googling to see if I can buy the dress Kate Middleton wore to her engagement announcement, but really jamming on a project, getting excited about it, rocking back and forth in your chair and laughing to yourself from time to time cause your brilliance surprises even you. Now, imagine the power goes out.  Your first thought is pure horror: all is lost.

There’s uncertainty – when’s the last time I saved? Does it even matter? Will it even remember that? There’s the period of irrational hope as you reboot when the power comes back on – I’m sure Bill Gates saw this power outage coming, there’s NO WAY Word wouldn’t save automatically. Then you login and pull up Word and, really, all you can do is hope.

That’s the best comparison I can come up with to an injury: no matter how well everything is going for your fan’s team, they are always one injury away from catastrophe, and there is NOTHING anyone can do about it. Absolutely nothing. That injury can happen in any number of ways – horrifically (Joe Theisman, a Redskins quarterback having his leg broken in two), hysterically (Bill Gramatica, an NFL placekicker, tearing an ACL celebrating a field goal) , frequently (Vince Carter[1]) and downright bizarrely (Shaq, the 7 foot, 300 pound beastly freak of an athlete who, for a chunk of his career, was felled by an injury to his big toe) –  but there’s no recourse for the team or your fan. All you can do is watch the athlete get carried off the field and try to convince yourself that it’s not nearly as bad as it looks and that yes, elbow joints are definitely meant to rotate 360 degrees.

One other note: an injury to your fan’s favorite athlete is a particularly crushing blow. One thing all sports fans are acutely aware of is that we have a limited amount of time with our athletes, and even less time to watch them while they’re in their prime (whereas, theoretically, they have their entire life to spend with you. But I digress). Age will slow them down even if injuries don’t. So when we see an injury to our favorite player we think two things. 1. I just lost some of my quality time with this guy; and, 2. Thanks to this injury, this guy may never be as incredible an athlete again. Think about that: in what other job can a single, freak occurrence ensure that someone will never perform at a high level again?

Hope this helps,
Dean Russell Bell

 

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)

  1. Note on Vince Carter: Vince Carter was an enormously talented basketball player who never fulfilled his potential because of his complete lack of heart and desire. He’s like the guy in your office who takes so many sick days for so many absurd reasons that you can start to predict when it’ll happen – you even have an office pool to bet on which ailment he’ll claim on a given day. It’s 80 and sunny – I’ve got $20 says Bob’s calling out with a stomach flu! That was Vince Carter – the man made tens of millions of dollars, but the mere suggestion of physical contact was enough to send him sprawling with a look on his face making clear that what just happened was some kind of historical injustice.

Chuck Klosterman Explains why Sports Fans Must Watch Live

Chuck Klosterman, the mildly well known pop-culture critic wrote a piece explaining the phenomenon of watching live sports and why watching sports on DVR just doesn’t cut it… we thought it was an ingenious and enjoyable explanation!

My life is broken into two halves. They’re not equal halves, but sometimes they feel that way. The first half is spent trying to figure out how reality works, if time is real, and what it means to be alive; the other half is spent scheduling my life around sporting events I am compelled to watch, even though I don’t care who wins and won’t remember anything significant about the game in two weeks’ time.

Read the rest of the article here…

Are Basketball Fouls Really Arbitrary?

Dear Sports Fan,

Can you explain basketball fouls? They seem totally arbitrary to me.

Thanks,
Otto


Dear Otto,

If we were more cynical on this website, we would say that NBA foul calls aren’t arbitrary, they only seem arbitrary because we don’t know which team the refs have gambled on!

In all sincerity and seriousness though, you are not alone. Basketball fouls are extremely difficult to read. They happen very quickly and there is often very little difference between a foul on one player or the other. Here are probably the three most common fouls to look for.

What is a Reach-in Foul?

A reach-in foul is somewhat self-explanatory. When a player tries to steal the ball from another player, he’s got to be pretty careful. If he touches almost anything other than the ball — an arm, a chest, a face, etc. — it’s a reach-in foul. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be your hand that’s reaching in — it could be any part of your arm (or all of it like in the photo to the left.

The one exception to this rule is that when someone has the ball and their hand is actually on it. When this is the case, like when dribbling or shooting the ball, the player’s hand is considered part of the ball and can be struck or slapped without penalty.

What are Charging and Blocking Fouls?

Charging and blocking are two fouls that can be called in situations that look almost identical. When you see two players collide and a whistle blows, it’s usually either of these two fouls. A charging call is always against the offensive player and a blocking foul always against the defensive player.

Charging and blocking are like the cheese plate at a party or an intersection with a four-way stop sign — it’s all about who gets there first. When two players collide the player who has the foul called on him and the one that gets the call in his favor depends basically on who got there first. If the defender got to the place where the collision was and established himself there (this part is a bit hazy; usually it means that the defenders feet aren’t moving anymore but it could also be that his torso is static even if his feet are still moving a little) before the attacking player arrived then it is a charge and the foul goes against the offensive player. If the defensive player is still moving when the collision happens then it is a block, and the foul goes against the defender.

Trying to guess where an attacking player is going and establishing yourself there so that they run into you is a pretty common defensive strategy. A player doing this is said to be “trying to take a charge.” Sometimes this strategy backfires if the defender guesses wrong or is not quick enough. Sometimes you will see what looks like a defender sliding sideways into a collision. This is a sure sign that the foul will be called a block and go against the defender… except, of course, if the ref has some money riding on the defensive team… Just kidding!

Sincerely,
Ezra Fischer

Why the fuss over Lance Armstrong?

Dear Sports Fan,

I thought Lance Armstrong was just the guy who rode a bike married Sheryl Crowe. Why is the U.S. Government investigating him for stuff that happened a decade ago?

Thanks,
Saoirse

— — —

 

Dear Saoirse,

Cycling is very much a niche – read, rich, white and primarily European people – sport.  The only time Americans become interested, as with most international sports, is when an American dominates the field.  Lance Armstrong dominated cycling for years and won the Tour de France something like forty years in a row.

As it turns out, even professional cyclists don’t find it particularly easy to ride a bike 125 miles a day through a mountain range in crippling heat. So they look for every advantage they can find. Stunning fact number one: some of them probably cheat. Stunning fact number two: most of them get away with it, because of stunning fact number three: the powers that be can’t keep up with doping technology.

Now, lots of people in the sport were (are?) doing it – but Lance Armstrong won a lot, got famous and married Sheryl Crowe, so he’s all over the feds’ radar. His urine is probably the most studied liquid in history, and it’s always come back clean.….but now his former teammates are telling 60 Minutes (and, one assumes, the Feds)  that he not only took the illegal drugs, he trafficked them and basically dealt them too.

Sincerely,
Dean Russell Bell

My friend's favorite team is out, why is he still watching so much sports?

Dear Sports Fan,

My friend’s favorite team was eliminated from the playoffs a few weeks ago but he seems to be watching as much sports as he was when they were still in it. What’s up with that?

Thought it was over for the year!

Jane

 


Dear Jane,

There’s a few reasons why your friend might still be watching as much of the playoffs now as he was before his favorite team was eliminated. Some people are fans of a team and some people are sports fans; some people are both. Your friend sounds like he is both. So, while he’s likely to be upset by no longer having his team to root for, rooting for “your team” is just one way of rooting.

Once your favorite team is gone you are free to root for other things. People root for close games, for exciting players, for games to get to overtime, for a seven game playoff series to make it to the most exciting seventh game. Everyone who watches sports wants to be able to say they were watching when something great happened.

Fans also tend to create miniature morality plays out of games and playoff series’. For example — the Chicago Bulls vs. Miami Heat series has been cast as a battle between a group of selfish mercenary stars (the Heat) and a young team built around an unselfish star (Derrick Rose) who are respectful of basketball history and play ‘the right way.’ In the last round of the NHL playoffs, the San Jose Sharks barely beat the Detroit Red Wings in what was an incredibly compelling series in part because it took on the plot of a great Western film; the old, veteran gunslingers (the Red Wings) are outgunned by the younger challenger (the Sharks) but through sheer force of will, guts, and the treachery of old-age try to stave off the inevitable advance of time.

It’s not always clear how much truth there is in these little plots but you can find out a lot about the character of a sports fan by noticing what side he or she takes when watching a game that doesn’t involve a favorite team.

Hope this helps answer your question.

Sincerely,
Ezra Fischer

 

I'm so confused about NASCAR. Help!

Dear Sports Fan,

Can you explain the popularity of NASCAR? How can people watch a four hour race?

Sincerely,
Confused in Washington D.C.

— — —

Dear Confused in Washington D.C.,

There is no satisfactory explanation for NASCAR’s popularity which, thankfully, seems to be fading. Driving is not a sport. Driving barely qualifies as an activity. There are only two possible scenarios that should lead a normal human being to consider throwing four hours of his or her life away on a NASCAR race.

1. Drinking and driving: Adding alcohol tolerance to the other talents required to be a successful NASCAR driver – ability to turn left, having a large bladder and being slightly insane – would add an element of uncertainty that might make the race worth watching. This could work a couple different ways. One idea is to require every driver to take a shot of whiskey every time they make a pit stop.  A twist: require every member of the pit crew to take a shot every time their driver completes a pit stop.  Bonus feature for this approach: all kinds of new sponsorship opportunities. Jack, Jim Beam, Red Stag – and, if they’re smart, MADD.

2. Throw in a right hand turn every once in a while: One thing you’ll learn as you venture into the world of sports is that most sports require you to go both left and right in some way.  It keeps things interesting and demonstrates an additional level of skill that separates the pros from the rest of us. NASCAR? Not so much.

Barring any of these changes, you should not trouble yourself with NASCAR. You may have a hard enough time figuring out why people like sports that actually matter – and from our perspective, it’s worth investing the time to do that for some sports, cause enjoying them with other people can be a very rewarding and satisfying experience.

But you should not waste a moment of your life trying to relate to anyone who follows NASCAR. If someone in your life – a brother, a boyfriend, a girlfriend, a boss – is a die-hard fan and continuously tries to get you into it, we suggest you practice your blank stare and your vacant smiling and nodding. Or disown/break-up with them.

Thanks for your question,
Dean Russell Bell