I support Arsenal. They are a great football (soccer) team from north London where I used to live. At the time, I had the good fortune of being good friends with the game-day rep for O2, a mobile (cell) phone company that was the Arsenal shirt sponsor and thus had an executive box at the Emirates. Whenever a ticket was going unclaimed in the box my friend would call me up and I would bike up to the stadium in the evening and watch the match. Bizarrely, with all of the different leagues and cup competitions in English football, there are a lot of matches that don’t attract a full crowd in the sponsor’s box.
I also got to see some pretty high-end games in the stands as well. The highlight of the live matches was Arsenal’s win over Barcelona in the Champions League in 2011. Needless to say, I was very spoiled by my introduction to English football and still enjoy watching it regularly from Scotland. I’ve even been to a few Partick Thistle matches, my local Glasgow team in the Scottish league.
People always question why I watch football or support Arsenal. As soon as they hear my American accent they assume I am an interloper and don’t know anything about it. I tell them that they were my local team when I lived in London and that, like a lot of Americans, I played football growing up in California and even played some inter-murals in college. They still think I am an interloper because I wasn’t born in the parish, but in that sense, I guess I am. I still don’t entirely get cricket, a bit like a more fluid baseball, or rugby, a bit like a more fluid American football without helmets. Football is my bag.
My brother-in-law lives in San Francisco, which has lots of good sports teams. Sports extend throughout many tv channels and venues throughout the year. You could watch it forever. The proliferation of televised sport on the cable channels and Internet is incredible – it can suck up a lot of your time.
My brother-in-law’s wife gave him a choice, choose your sport and support that team, but only that sport and only that team. He wisely chose baseball and the San Francisco Giants, as it has the longest season, with the most and longest games. Although with the way the Golden State Warriors have been playing lately, maybe not the most excitement. I love an afternoon baseball game with a hotdog and a beer in the bleachers almost as much as the next brother-in-law, but why do I enjoy watching sports?
In my opinion, I watch sports for very healthy reasons. It helps me relax and decompress from life’s trivial and not-so-trivial worries. It also gives me an emotional outlet that otherwise might not be available to me or that I might not be capable or open enough to have day-to-day. I can very safely care about something that is important to me with all my heart, but that is also one step removed from my life. I can divest myself of all the emotional feelings of success and failure and I can work myself up and work it out in a safe environment that is not a direct reflection of my own mental health or wellbeing.
If we win, I can celebrate, and if we lose, I can be upset, and then I can let those emotions go and be more balanced afterwards. When I get too worked up about a result, I can talk to my fellow fans, my friends who understand me, and work out those feelings.
Sports were invented to give men something to talk about. Men do not necessarily communicate as openly which each other as they perhaps ought to. Men who might otherwise be unable to have conversations, to express feelings of solidarity and comfort in an otherwise emotionally distant male world, can find a mutually bonding theme in sports.
That is not to say that our girls don’t appreciate sports. We enjoy watching the local school team practice on the way home and the occasional kick-around or impromptu tennis match in the backyard. I love it when we watch Champion’s League football in the weekday when mommy is away on business and my eldest makes a scorecard to keep track of the goals.
As I get older, I play less and less organized sports with each passing year. I have turned from playing basketball or football to less injury prone, solitary exercise like swimming, running, biking or even the occasional tennis or squash, where you don’t get the convivial bonding of team sports.
So watching sports allows me, or maybe even stay-at-home dads like me, to exercise some of that team-bonding spirit in the comfort of their own living room, pub or stadium seat. I can vent some of my day-to-day frustrations and rid myself of some of the manic energy that gets built up by excess testosterone in the ‘we don’t have to run from tigers anymore’ sedate modern world. All the while building a strong base for friendship through a mutually appreciated endeavor.
And hopefully, when I come home from watching the game, I can be more open and balanced with my emotions, with my wife and two daughters, whether we win or lose. But preferably, when we win, especially next week against Bayern Munich.