For the love of the game

It’s the summer of 2016. France recently hosted the Euro. The U.S. hosted the Copa America. Brazil will host the Olympics in the beginning of August. These events are major sporting events that attract millions of fans and tourists to the host country and hundreds of millions of viewers tune in to watch their team. This got me thinking – what exactly is it about sports that drives this fandom, love and even fanaticism?

I too am a crazed sports junkie. My main poison is basketball, with my hometown Knicks taking up a lot of my free time, probably even too much of my free time. And my obsession is not limited solely to New York Basketball, as I can find myself rooting for teams and players for just about any sport, from football to tennis to track & field. Like myself, there are millions of crazed fans everywhere, each with his or her own team or sport. And while there may be an endless amount of reasons for liking a certain team or player, one thing always holds true – it’s all about the love of the game.

Let’s interrupt that thought for a second and examine the following story. Paris, summer of 2016. France, the host country, is playing versus an underdog Portugal team led by the great Cristiano Ronaldo. 20 minutes into the game, Ronaldo is injured and Portugal’s slim hopes and chances seem to fade away. 100 minutes later, in a shocking turn of events, Portugal wins in overtime, shocking everyone in France and the entire world. The point of this story is to tell you what happened next. One the many cameras in and near the stadium happened to catch a heartbroken fan of France, wiping tears away and fighting back the moment’s emotions. In comes a young Portugal fan, no older than 11-12 years old, and consoles the French “rival”, hugging him and showing empathy and sympathy way beyond his years. True story. This video went viral, showing a side to sports that is not shown often.

Back to my thoughts…

Sports, like religion, is about believing in something greater than just one person, accepting the fact that fate is not your hands. In a world that is losing its sentiments and romance, its passions and excitement, sports are a rock that can’t be budged. You watch sports live, no taping and skipping commercials. You watch sports with friends, sharing is caring. Even if you are an atheist, you pray to God when your team is down with a couple of minutes to play. In sports, miracles DO happen. Records were made to broken. Every now and then, an underdog comes by and captivates our hearts. A Cinderella story finds its happy ending. There is something romantic about sports. Loving something as simple as a sports team can bring you to tears, whether you win or lose.

While writing this, I realize that being an obsessive, over-emotional sports fan is much bigger than sports. It’s much more than rooting for your hometown, it’s larger than countrymen pride and more important than political preferences that occasionally hide behind sports. To root for a team, to love unconditionally, to hope when all the odds are against you, to suffer a tough loss and to come again and suffer some more. It’s all about a connection. As a culture, we strive for connection. Connection through religion. Connection through family. Even connection via Facebook. So why not connection via sports? When searching for a connection, sports can be a binding force.

And to be a sports fan, at its purest, is filled with values. Cheer when you win, but don’t rub it in. Mourn when you lose, but get back up to fight another day. Hug your opponent at the end of the match, for the respect of the game. Never be violent, and remember, as big and meaningful as it can be, it’s only a game.

As the Olympics, the holiest of sports tournaments, is upon us, I can only ask – be true a fan and respect each other, for the love of the game if not for anything else.

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