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|Why We Watch Sports - (And It's Not What You Think)
Author: Jason OConnor Copyright: 2006
Whether you want to believe it or not, we like to watch sports
for very different reasons than you may think. In fact, the real
things that cause us to like sports are in every person, whether
we like sports or not. What things can we learn about human
nature by simply looking at our fascination with competition?
The answers may surprise you. Not only are the answers
interesting in themselves, but they may just help you in other
There are some fairly straightforward and obvious explanations
for why we like sports to be sure. Sports teach us about
loyalty, perseverance and honor. It gives us a way to bond, it's
cathartic, and we identify with teams and players. We live
vicariously through the players we watch. We have our favorite
players, and there are teams we've grown up rooting for because
our brother or dad used to love them, and now we still root for
them today. Or we may follow a sport now that we used to play as
But there are some deeper, more powerful and fascinating reasons
We're all just big children:
Whether you want to believe it or not, all adults are just big
children. We're all just big kids. We just hide our true
feelings and thoughts with highly developed skills (or at least
most of us do). We still want to belong or be accepted by our
peers, we all still want to be loved, we still feel emotional
pain, and we still find ourselves giving in to immediate
gratification when we know better. And yes, some of us still lie
and cheat in our normal day to day lives.
We certainly hide things better and often successfully 'act' as
if we don't care about belonging, or love, or pain, or whatever.
Deep down inside we are a little more mature and wise, but
basically still just children. We may not say it out loud
anymore, but we still think to ourselves sometimes, "That's not
fair!" We would rather play than work. Some may argue, depending
on whether they pee standing up or sitting down, that this is
especially true for men. Maybe that's why there are more men
sports fans than women.
You see, watching sports gives us a perfect, safe and secure,
black and white, little microcosm of life. Following a player,
team or game allows us to experience ups and downs and a whole
array of emotions, just like in real life, but we aren't
And unlike life, sports and games are generally fair! There are
rules and a crystal clear framework, or paradigm that all the
participants and spectators know about. There are never any
monkey wrenches thrown into a sports game, like the rules
changing mid-game for instance. If rules are broken, the
offender is penalized. They don't frustratingly get away
sometimes like in real life.
At the end, there is an unambiguous winner and loser. We get to
pretend that the game we're watching is life, where everything
is perfectly fair, everyone plays by the rules and everything
Children tend to think of things in much more black and white
terms. It is only through living and maturing that we realize
that all of life is a series of grays. But we all still long for
a simpler and easier life. When things are only seen in black or
white, things indeed seem simpler and easier, but life isn't so
This helps explain why politicians who break their platform down
into simple sound bites and into terms devoid of complexity
often do better than politicians who talk about life like it
really is, a complex, interrelated world of nuances.
Watching sports allows us a temporarily safe and socially
acceptable way to be more like our true nature, and our true
nature is frighteningly childlike. So the next time you deal
with a difficult person, remember that they are just a large
child, like you and everyone else, and maybe that knowledge will
help you deal with them a little more easily.
What do watching a horror movie and sports have in common?
Ever wonder why so many people, including maybe you, enjoy
watching horror movies so much? They provide a safe way for
people to experience high levels of suspension without actually
being in any real danger. Sports can be the same way. Again,
watching sports allows us to enter a perfect world where the
suspenseful outcome has no bearing on our real lives (unless you
have a nasty sports gambling problem of course).
People love drama, suspension, and resolution, which are all
elements inherent in sports. In fact, the closer the game, the
more suspension there is. If we identify with a player and he
wins, we are vicariously happy for the success. However, if the
player's team loses, we feel the defeat a little as well. But
our lives are unaffected. And sports announcers usually only add
to the drama and suspension.
A sports game is a sort of story. There is a beginning and an
end. There is a
protagonist (your team) and an antagonist (the
other team). There is a scene and setting, the stadium at noon,
and there is a plot, which is the action. Only after the games
ends, and depending on if your team won or not, is it decided to
be called a fairy tale ending or a tragedy.
Reptilian Brain and War
Whether you want to believe it or not, humans are a lot closer
to nature and the animal world than most people like to think.
We're not just close to nature; we're a part of it!
Evolutionarily speaking, we are much closer in time to our
unintelligent animal ancestors than we are to a transcended
sentient species apart from nature. Our behavior is guided much
more by our 'primitive brain' than our more recently developed
neocortex, which is the seat of our intelligence. The primitive
brain, or lower brain function, deals with fight or flight
behavior, hunger, fear, and sex, among other things.
A common, yet erroneous concept is that the human brain is the
result of billions of years of evolution. Our primitive or
reptilian part of the brain is that old, but our brain's extra
large neocortex, the thing that separates us from other mammals,
came about only a couple million years ago, a mere drop in the
evolutionary bucket. The neocortex has not had much time to
develop, and so our primitive brain plays a significant role in
Our basic flight or fight mentality is manifested in sports. We
can relate, on some deeper and unconscious level, with the guy
running with the football towards the end zone and being chased
by a pack of angry men. We can understand what it feels like to
check another player in hockey and slam him into the boards. Or
we can sympathize with the NASCAR driver who gets passed by a
competitor, but throws it into a higher gear and chases after
Our primitive desire for dominance is represented in sports.
When our team wins, we experience a sort of dominance over the
opposing team and their fans.
Our predatory nature is lit up when we see a linebacker
following a running back through a mass of football players,
waiting for the perfect moment to strike his prey with a tackle.
Watching someone chase the man with the ball in basketball,
soccer, or baseball affects us in similar ways.
Our tribal instincts are fulfilled by sports. We all want to
belong to something; it's a basic human need since we are such
social animals. We identify with a team like our ancestors would
identify with their tribe. This is especially true for the
Western world's modern man, where community has taken a back
seat to independence.
Our primitive warring nature is satisfied by sports. There seems
to be an innate desire for war, even in so-called 'modern' man.
Indeed, look at the world today and how many current wars are
going on, and you'll see how far we are to real peace.
Pathetically, that last statement holds true for almost any time
in history, regardless of when you're reading this. Again, this
goes back to the fact that we are ruled more by our 'primitive',
survival-driven, fight or flight brain than our reasonable and
intelligent 'modern' brain.
Every sports game is like a tiny war between tribes, with an end
and a declared victor. But there's one important distinction;
unlike war, no one has to die in sports.
One of the reasons going to a game is more exciting than
watching it on TV is that there is a kind of energy created when
so many people get together and root for one cause. You might
even liken it to a mob mentality. We don't have to look farther
than our own stadiums where pandemonium has broken out in
protest to a call or in celebration of a win. Sports strongly
appeals to the gaming and struggle instincts of humans.
And since our modern lives no longer contain any real physical
danger and all our basic needs are immediately taken care of, we
now have a void that needs to be filled somehow, our primitive
brain expects it. Sports fit the bill. It gives us the illusion
of reality where there are no consequences. It gives us the
illusion of battle, war, victory and defeat, without the
consequences. And it gives us the illusion of being a child
again, even if it's all temporary.
You may not like sports at all, but we are all a quite childlike
inside. We all yearn for some level of drama in our lives. And
we are all constantly affected by our primitive brain. Watching
sports is one excellent way for people to reconcile these
********** Jason OConnor has a BA in Psychology and Philosophy
and runs http://www.BestShowTicketsLasVegas.com NFL, MLB, NHL, &
NBA Tickets **********
About the author:
Jason OConnor has a BA in Psychology and Philosophy and runs
http://www.BestShowTicketsLasVegas.com NFL, MLB, NHL, &
NBA Playoff Tickets