Sports Grief

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So your team lost the big game. Sports are supposed to be a pleasant distraction from the misery of life, but each season ends in crushing disappointment for the fans of all but one team. Chances are your favorite players will only win a championship a few times before you die. For every other year of your life, they’ll be a source of annual trauma that keeps you on a first-name basis with your liquor store clerk and pharmacist. Every true sports fan knows which whiskey pairs best with Xanax.

That brings us to your current predicament. You gambled your emotional well-being on a bunch of strangers you see on TV, and now you alternately weep and scream while your wife considers using that tranquilizer gun she stashed in the closet. Sorry to break it to you, but she didn’t buy that thing to fend off squirrels. Should you maintain consciousness, I’m here to help you through the grieving process. If you keep the following points in mind, you’ll regain your mental balance just in time to be devastated again next year.

Sports are like menstrual cycles: They provide disappointment at regularly scheduled intervals.

Remember, you care more about this loss than your team does. Sure, your sports idol might feel a brief sting at his failure to increase his negotiating power for the off-season, but even on the worst night of his life he’s still a millionaire. After he got done looking sad at the post-game press conference, he went home to his mansion, banged his hot wife, and pondered which tropical tax shelter to hide in for the next three months. You’ll wake up in a cold sweat about that game for the rest of your life, but in two years he’ll miss a trivia question about which teams were even playing that night. Even the best athletes only win championships a handful of times in their entire careers. The normal, expected outcome for all but one team each year is failure, either by missing the postseason altogether or by being eliminated in the playoffs. Success is a happy aberration. Failure is a paycheck and another step toward a worry-free retirement.

Tax evasion is the true sport of kings.
Losers win in the long run, anyway. When your team’s coach says victory requires sacrifice, he means it literally. Athletes suffer too many concussions to understand metaphors. Careers are measured not in wins but in surgeries. Triumphing in a few extra postseason games in pursuit of gaudy jewelry isn’t worth the price paid in destroyed body parts and reduced life expectancies. The NFL’s current retirement package is a swift cremation.

The smartest athletes are the ones who play well enough to keep their jobs but not well enough to make it beyond the regular season. When you see the confetti drop for that team you hate, keep in mind that according to the actuaries those guys should already be dead. Mediocre athletes are the ones who end up as color commentators in retirement because the truly great ones can no longer form coherent sentences. In a few years, that player who gloated about beating your team will spend most of his time screaming at a shiny rock he thinks is the vice president.

Then again, the braggers are the exception. The squad that beat your cherished franchise is mostly made up of classy athletes who use their free time to carry groceries for old people and rescue puppies from house fires. Sometimes they do both at the same time, which is impressive since those paper bags are super flammable. That makes it all the more surprising their fan base is comprised entirely of jerks. For every puppy those players pull out of a burning building, their supporters throw back in three.

They might be monsters for tossing puppies, but at least they throw a tight spiral.
While those opposing athletes would never say a derogatory word about your team, their fans make up for it with insults so far beyond the bounds of civilized discourse you have to google them before you can be offended. It’s unlikely that every single despicable human being in the country would pick the same team to root for, yet that’s exactly what happened. That’s not your biased opinion; it’s science. Those guys are wrong about absolutely everything, yet they’re still allowed to drive and vote. America is doomed.

But here’s the cold, hard truth: If your team won, it wouldn’t change anything. The opposing fans will never, ever admit your revered squad is better. If God himself came down from heaven and publicly anointed your team as the greatest ever, the other team’s supporters would just shrug and spout stats from their 1982 championship squad. You know that’s true because you’re doing it right now. Sure, the other guys won, but it was an off night for your team and the officiating didn’t help. If the weather was better and a few key players weren’t hurt and the rules were different and they played a different sport entirely, then the franchise you adore definitely would’ve come out on top. Winning doesn’t settle anything. If that doesn’t make you have an existential crisis, nothing will.

If none of that soothes your grief, try to understand this isn’t even your team. You don’t own it or play for it or make any of its personnel decisions. Your only material contribution is the tax dollars you were forced to pay for the new stadium, and for that the real owner thanks you. You should be proud to live in a country where a state legislature can compel the public to make one rich guy slightly richer. The team’s successes aren’t yours, but here’s the great news: neither are its failures. When the team loses, you aren’t to blame. This is the only source of unhappiness in your life that isn’t your fault. Chalk that up as a win and walk away.

Ultimately, bandwagon fans are much smarter than you. Loving a team is an emotional bet. You wager your happiness on the performance of a group of players, and if you win, you get that joy back many fold. If you lose, however, you’re tossed into a chasm of despair that makes family members hide sharp objects from you just in case. But bandwagon fans cheat. They enjoy all of the exuberance in victory and none of the pain in defeat. And here’s the crazy thing: It’s perfectly legal. There’s nothing in the Constitution that forbids you from treating sports as a fun diversion rather than a depressing obligation. So next year, care a little less. If your team wins it all, you can enjoy it anyway.