On Sept. 21, 2001, New York sports resumed for the first time since the attacks on the World Trade Center ten days earlier. In an otherwise mundane matchup between the Mets and Braves, the entire city came together in solidarity. It seemed they needed that time, just to get away from it all. Mike Piazza’s game-clinching home run later in that contest only made that sentiment manifest.
For a nation and a city reeling from the events of 9/11, it presented an escape. This was a special circumstance, of course, but it does nothing to take away from sport’s status as just that—an escape from reality.
But at the end of the day, that’s all it is. It’s certainly not a substitute for real life and, though a great deal of elements of both correlate to each other, they should theoretically be separate. Sports are real life for the athletes who play it but just entertainment for the rest of us.
Not too long ago, I used to be a victim of failing to see this dichotomy. Once a Giants game ended, for instance, I would anxiously obsess over every minute of post-game coverage, win or lose, until next week’s game rolled around.
That tendency is gone now. I will still watch the games and emphatically remain a fan of these teams I grew up with; if they win I will be slightly happier, and if they suffer a heart-wrenching defeat I will be oppositely upset. But that’s the extent of my fandom these days.
This isn’t to be pessimistic or bash on sports fans that continue to obsess—it’s their form of entertainment. After a certain point, I merely tired of listening to Adam Schefter and company rehash the same opinions, report minor injuries, and create sensational headlines of locker rooms being torn apart by a caustic word or two.
Overanalyzing occurs with just about everything though—sports, television, politics—as pundits talk about what happened, its significance, and what it means for the future ad nauseum. And it’s not a bad thing for those who follow it. But in a generation like ours, this kind of coverage can’t be avoided. While it doesn’t prevent us from forming our own opinions, it becomes a lot more difficult in keeping them detached from other influential perspectives we read, see, or hear.
That said, a lot of these opinions are simply separate from us. We similarly overanalyze that bad breakup or some untimely death of a loved one, but those occurrences discernibly hit closer to home. That convolution of real life issues is what draws us back to these other, plainer issues. Does that inevitable idiotic statement Obama or Romney made last night have any significant impact on our lives today? No, but we’re sure as hell going to hear about it until our ears bleed.
This isn’t to say the sports world isn’t applicable to our everyday lives. We can take motivation from the underdog stories and the motivational techniques they use, among other things. With the special exceptions like Piazza’s homerun, the cynic in me says to stay away from anything more. While the result of last night’s game is great water cooler talk and inevitably relevant to the enormous amount of sports fans in our country, there’s a limit, even if sometimes there’s that rare synthesis.
Ten years later, Piazza came out and said, “I think the special thing about it is that it put to rest our fears and anxiety about being there. The fact that we did go out there and have a great night for our team and the city was a real blessing for us all.” There was a certain fusion of worlds in that moment, one where the trepidation of the real world merged with the solace of the sporting world.
With sports and similarly covered topics, though, the main comfort is the simplicity of distancing ourselves from it. The Mets are terrible this year? Stop watching baseball. Hate the Republicans? Keep an eye out on Gawker for Romney’s next gaffe.
Regardless of the situation, things like sports are always going to be there. Just wait until next year—with sports, hope springs eternal. For the most part, real life doesn’t play that game. There’s no mulligan for a costly mistake. There are some rare golden occurrences, though, where we get that reset button in real life too. A clean slate is all we can ask for, and it’s something we—as sports fans and real, emotional human beings—yearn for.