Tuesday, February 2, 2016

What NOT to do when a loved one’s favorite sports team suffers sudden defeat

A few weeks ago the Minnesota Vikings played a single-elimination playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks. The Vikings were strong underdogs, but the game was very close up through the final minute, when the Vikings trailed by only one point with the ball deep in Seahawks territory. All Minnesota needed to win the game, pull off a huge upset and advance to the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2009 was for their kicker, Blair Walsh, to make a chip shot field goal from just 27 yards away. The conditions were frigid, but Walsh is one of the best kickers in the league, and during the regular season, NFL kickers made field goals from between 20 and 29 yards on 229 of their 233 attempts.

Tragically, he missed the kick (video here). In the span of less than five seconds, the Vikings chances of winning went from 98% to 0%. Their season was over.

As has become common after major sports moments, YouTube was soon filled with dozens of “reaction videos” depicting either the heart-wrenching agony of Minnesota fans or the incredulous joy of Seattle fans watching the game live. One of these videos caught my attention.

Note the mother’s reaction especially: 

Awwwwwww, saaad…
I feel sorry for him…
awww…[unintelligible]…aww…awwwww, saad….Awww…”

Adding insult to injury, the poor dude’s sister chirps in: “at least he’s still got his looks, that’s all that matters!” 

Meanwhile, his mother sees fit to add “Are you crying honey? You feel like it, right?”




I don’t know where to start, so I’ll say this: that kid is an absolute saint. Those who have never felt the way he's feeling may not appreciate the amount of restraint he displays in this video. Allow me to demonstrate, by method of comparison. I am not an especially violent man. I love my family very dearly. If I were in this boy’s shoes at that moment, it would have taken every fiber of self-restraint I possess to refrain from throwing something at my relatives. Every fiber of self-restraint I possess would not have been sufficient to prevent me from screaming at them to SHUT THE FUCK UP!!!!

For a sex that is supposedly better at emotional intelligence and picking up on social cues, far too many women make this blunder. It’s not only women, but it mostly is. Nor is it just my mother or my sister (they're actually much better at this now than they used to be, and I really enjoy watching games with them as a result). I've been at friends' parties for big games, and ALL the Mom's do this. And it's not intended as an intentional way to get under our skin, either, because I know the difference. For all I can tell, the mother in this video was making a sincere, good faith effort to console her son.

Maybe it’s due to biological differences regarding competitiveness and the hormones which produce it. Maybe it’s socially pressured ignorance about sports and sports fandom. Maybe it’s the patriarchy, who knows. For whatever reason, many of our female friends appear completely lost in these situations. In service to sports fans everywhere, let me try to help them out. Your willingness to obey this one rule I'm about to give you is very likely the difference between whether we enjoy watching sports with you, or would prefer to watch them alone. Listen up, Moms...

If your son, daughter or husband is PASSIONATE about a sports team that you are considerably less passionate about, and you are watching an important game with that family member, and their team suffers a sudden and devastating turn of events in that game...for the love of all that his holy, shut up.

I am entirely too well acquainted with the emotions the Vikings fan in this video went through, but for all my writing powers, it is still a very difficult feeling for me to describe. Your heart skips a beat, and then sinks. For a few seconds, your mind races, trying to justify disbelief in what just happened – perhaps scanning the field for penalty markers, or begging for a replay challenge. Eventually, shock segues into misery, which can linger for weeks. No matter how much you try to grow up and move past it, the rotten sensation in your stomach returns each time you remember just how close your team was.

But in that first moment, before the heartbreak settles in, what we’re feeling is mostly a defensive reaction. It is borne from profound embarrassment, in front of our peers and in front of rival fans. To support a team publicly is to put your own neck on the line with every win and loss. To not merely lose a big game, but lose it spectacularly, is as mortifying as it is sad, because you know that everyone else knows you’re in pain. It’s a moment of weakness, and men instinctively guard those moments with seething anger.

When we flip out after an event like this, we're not acting. We are not deliberately putting on a show to prove our masculinity. Many male sports fans will legitimately feel threatened when their team loses, and the resulting fight or flight response is all too real. Maybe it's the same for women, but I haven't seen it to the same degree.

In such a state, we become acutely aware of the contrast between how torn up we are inside, and the relative indifference of most people around us. For some reason, this makes it worse. There is something intensely aggravating about being surrounded by people who can’t remotely relate to how devastated you are, and listening to them halfheartedly try to cheer you up.

“Hey, there’s always next year!”

“They tried their best, honey!”

“Oh well, it’s just a game.”

If you have ever said these things in the immediate aftermath of such a loss, you don’t get it, and you almost certainly irritated someone who does. 

Watching this video made me wince and squirm at how awkward the “saaaaaddd” was – not because it wasn’t sad, but because it was so clear from the woman’s tone that she was not saddened. She couldn’t care less! She didn’t even know enough about the sport to know what the missed field goal meant, initially asking “What?” as if confused by all the fuss. She only let loose those empty awws to pretend that she cared, in an attempt to fit in with the reaction of her family around her. Because that was so transparent, her comments instead only highlighted the distinction between how indifferent she was and how devastated her son was, thereby rubbing salt in his wounds. I’m not even a Vikings fan, and I felt a powerful urge to smack her.

So next time this happens, football-illiterate Moms of the world, please swallow the urge to console us. If you don't understand what happened, google it later. If you feel bad for one of the losing players, send them a silent prayer. But shut up! We love you. We know you mean well. It's just that for whatever reason, our immature monkey brains are wired in such a way that your clueless voice is the absolute last thing we want to hear in that moment.

Just as many of us are programmed to flip out and yell and break things to subconsciously defend our machismo, many of you may feel compelled to comfort loved ones going through pain. I get that, and it’s admirable. But in the immediate aftermath of cataclysmic sporting defeats, it’s also unwanted. If you must speak, say something to the effect of what this woman did to her Viking fan friend/relative: “Oh, Troy…I’m so sorry,” with a tone of sincerity rather than of mild disappointment. Don’t get offended when we ignore it: it’s not about you. Don’t mind the fact that Troy, in this video, is being a bit ridiculous; in the back of his mind, he knows this. He doesn’t care. You shouldn’t either. Don’t let us break anything valuable, or anything  that belongs to you. But besides that, put up with our sulking for a few hours. We’ll get over it soon enough.

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