November 28, 2011

Embrace The Collapse?

About one month ago, Amy alerted me to an essay by Adam Sternbergh in the New York Times ("The Thrill of Defeat"), in which Sternbergh says Red Sox fans should embrace the team's September implosion. (I demurred, opting instead to forget the entire month and look to 2012.)

Sternbergh says a late-season meltdown is traumatic because it "falls outside the emotional parameters of what the sports fan has signed up for". Something that unpredictable is, by definition, impossible to prepare for.
The epic collapse is to be treasured, even more so than the improbable victory. It's more rare, and therefore more precious. And it reaffirms the essence of why we root for a team in the first place. ...

[Being a sports fan] It allows you to feel real emotional investment in something that has no actual real-world consequences. ... [Games or seasons] are never guaranteed to end happily. In fact, as we've seen, some end in a highly unsatisfying way. ... [The epic collapse is] crushing, maddening, unfathomable — and yet it means nothing. Like a shooting-gallery target or bickering sitcom family, your team will spring up again same time next year, essentially unharmed.
Sternbergh writes that the collapse of your team "is an opportunity to confront an event that's bewildering in its unlikelihood and ruinous in its effect, yet to also walk away entirely unscarred. It matters, deeply, and yet it doesn't matter at all. It's heartbreak with training wheels."

Red Sox fans of a certain vintage lost their heartbreak training wheels a long time ago. We know how to ride that bike. I question the depth of Sternbergh's fandom, in any sport.

The first commenter, Jerry, quotes "yet to also walk away entirely unscarred" and replies:
Yes, but.
And that's the point, isn't it? Yes, the Red Sox falling out of the playoff race was maddening and frustrating - especially since we were absolutely helpless to do anything to stop it - but I assume no one was scarred in any lasting or damaging way.


The fact is, we do care. A lot.

Why? I don't really know. But I have cared for many years and I know Sternbergh has it backwards.

He writes: "It matters, deeply, and yet it doesn't matter at all."

I would argue his sentence should read: "It doesn't matter at all, and yet it matters, deeply."


allan said...

Note: This was in drafts since late October, and I figured posting it was better than dumping it.

johngoldfine said...

Glad you did not dump it--your take is very nicely turned.

mattymatty said...

Totally agree. Glad you didn't dump it.

allan said...

Doesn't cost anything to post it. And space is unlimited!

mattymatty said...

Ah, the wonders of the interwebs.

JIM LOOMIS said...

Interesting and very apt twist. Besides, how can you embrace getting punched in the gut?

JIM LOOMIS said...

How the hell can you 'embrace' getting punched in the gut!?

laura k said...

I second (third) the revival of this post.

Wood > Sternbergh

allan said...

How the hell can you 'embrace' getting punched in the gut!?

It builds character. (I guess.)

laura k said...

I went back and read the essay. I suppose what Sternbergh means is that surviving a team collapse is heartbreak without the real-life consequences of real tragedies - that is, tragedies in your own life that matter on an elemental level. In that sense (he's saying) it's a pretend heartbreak. You are "unscarred" because no one has died, or divorced, or suffered a life-changing disability or other personal tragedy.

To me is premise is completely ridiculous. As passionate fans, we suffer when our team collapses, but none of us (I hope!) confuses that suffering with actual life tragedies.

Like Allan, I question if this writer is much of a fan at all. If he is, I hope never to gamethread with him!

Amy said...

Sorry it has taken me so long to respond, since I was the one who sent you this. It's been a crazy week.

But I read this essay as Laura suggested---as saying, hey, remember that there are much greater tragedies in life and that yes, we hurt because of the way the season ended, but nobody died. When I read this, I was really down in the dumps and aching over the way the season ended and angry about everything that happened and was happening. So I found comfort in being reminded that life goes on, that I am grateful for my health, my family, my friends, my job. I am as much a fan as anyone, but it helped to put it all in perspective to remember that as much as September sucked, I still had all the good things in my life.

Perhaps reading two months later it doesn't have that impact because we all have moved on, we are focused on next season, not last season, and we have other things in our lives that have reminded us that this was just baseball. Yes, just baseball. It's important, I love it, but it is still in the end just baseball. Not a war, not a deathly illness, not poverty. Just baseball.

Go ahead, shoot me, call me less of a fan along with Sternbergh, but that's where I stand.