Why care about sports?
It’s a question I get asked a lot, as somebody who habitually cares far too much. But after yesterday’s events, it was a question even I had to ask myself.
Sports is one of the rare paradoxes in life wherein oftentimes the more passion and energy you put into it, the less you get in the end. By its very nature, it requires eternal waiting, hoping against hope that maybe this time we’ll take the next step and everything will go right, maybe this time we will actually want to tune into the playoff selection show. Yet time and time again, it ends in failure. Each passing season will either be remembered for its devastating end, or (perhaps even worse) won’t be remembered at all. And still, we (and by we I mean those near-masochists who continue to inflict sorrow and misery on themselves year after year) devote years of our lives to this hope.
You wouldn’t go out to see a play if you knew there was a 99 percent chance of it being mediocre or terrible. You wouldn’t read books that only ever ended in the main character dying or living non-spectacularly ever after. Yet we do it with sports, year after year.
Now others will be quick to point out that there is obviously a lot of happiness to be derived from sports. This football season was an unbelievable journey, one that almost every school in the nation would have given anything for. This is certainly true, but it is always difficult in hindsight to divorce your nostalgia for these successes from the painful memories of what came next. How easily will one be able to look back on this period of Wisconsin sports and only remember the good times? Who will really be able to forget the 2014 Final Four, 2015 Final Four, 2016 Sweet Sixteen, 2016 Big Ten football title game, 2017 Sweet Sixteen or the 2017 Big Ten Championship? Perhaps those people are out there — we could learn a thing or two from them. But they are likely few and far between.
I may be more than a little jaded — being a Washington sports fan has done that to me. I have nightmares of facing Sidney Crosby in a game seven at least once a week. Just hearing the name Kelly Olynyk is enough to make me shudder. I was taught by DeShawn Stevenson to believe that LeBron James was overrated, which has been proven wrong approximately 100 times a year, every year, for the last decade and a half. Not a single Washington team has made a conference final appearance — NLCS, NFC Championship Game, Eastern Conference Final — let alone a championship run this century. The failure is endemic, it’s become part of the culture. As a result, my pessimism when it comes to sports is deeply ingrained. That same principle continues to manifest itself in Madison.
Wisconsin sports is irrefutably in a golden age. The fact that a columnist has this many recent big-game memories to draw from would render a 1980’s Daily Cardinal staff member green with envy. But on days like today, it can be easy to forget that. It can be easy to ask, “Is this really worth it?”
And yet here I am, the morning after one of the most painful sports experiences of my life, thinking about next year. Thinking that the offense, which should return nearly everyone, will take another step, and that the defense will reload as usual. Thinking that J.T. Barrett can’t possibly have another year of eligibility (right? Or did he get granted a 14th year?). Maybe next year will be the year, after all. It’s that uncertainty that keeps pulling us back in. We can’t help it; we just have to know if, someday, the heartbreak will come to an end. And while this year was merely another chapter with a miserable ending, the story goes on. For better or worse, I will wake up next September and have hope, hope that will persist for three months. Millions around the state and the country will feel it too. That’s the kind of feeling that very little in life can give a person. It’s a feeling that always prevails, even on days like today. So I guess that’s why we care about sports.