I Don’t Understand Sports


Shea Walsh, Staff Writer

Steph Curry ran down the court and hit the ball to Patrice Bergeron. A home run! Until Brett Favre caught the ball and ran down the field to get another 6 points. The Lakers chose to push and punted the ball for another 2 points. Overall a great game for them.

If you’re like me, that probably made a lot of sense. At least in the way that it made no sense, but it sounded like a million other things you’ve heard in passing.

I love being physically active, so I know the basic rules of most sports so that I can play them if I want to, but there is a large divide between the sports side of sports and the cultural side of them. 

During my freshman year in health class, my friends loved quizzing me on what I knew, so they would say the name of a famous athlete and I would have to guess what sport they played. Naturally, I could get the basics such as Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, or Tom Brady, but when it came to anything other than the top few such as Jim Brown (who the internet tells me is quite famous), I would be completely lost.

I’ve also had some interesting experiences as a cheerleader, from questioning all of the weird parts of a scoreboard to embarrassing moments where I would cheer for the wrong team out of confusion or just enjoy a good play. 

No one would argue against the fact that sports dominate our culture. The NFL alone consistently amasses over 16 million fans in stands each season. 16 million people cramming hotdogs and spilling beers while trying to find some excuse to yell at someone. 16 million crazed supporters jostled together throwing money at a one-night experience where they watch sweaty men wrestling with other sweaty men over who gets to hold a ball the longest. If that doesn’t seem ridiculous, keep in mind the fact that New York’s population is roughly half that at 8.8 million.

The concept of sports alone is ridiculous and yet they’ve been a major part of just about every culture for well over 3,000 years.

Around 2500 BCE the Mayas were playing what is believed to be the first ballgame called ‘Pitz.’ In Pitz, players used a 20-pound rubber ball, ranging from the size of a softball to the size of a soccer ball. They would try to bounce the ball through stone hoops without using their hands. It sounds like an interesting game for sure, however, it carried far more weight than any other sport throughout history. 

Maya cities were centered around the ball courts and were used to demonstrate a city’s wealth and power, but they weren’t just there to show off. The Mayas believed that they were playing for their lives every time because it became a part of their religion. They had a cheesy 1980’s horror movie-type explanation about how Pitz connected to their gods involving “the hero twins” and “the Maize Gods” v.s. “The Lords of Xibalba.” Pitz was also very important as cities would actually play it as an alternative to war.

Imagine World War II, but instead of bombs and mass genocide, it was settled by the Olympics. If that were the case, the United States would probably rule the world since we have a firm grasp on the most Olympic gold medals won, well over double the country in second place. But once again, this is likely due to our massive sports culture.

But where does our need for sports come from? And why do so many people connect to it on such a deep level while some of us are lost without a clue?

There is actually a field of research specifically for those very questions called sports fan psychology. As you can probably imagine, it is a very small field, but it is present nonetheless. 

Daniel Wann is considered to be the leader in this field and his answer is basically that everyone has different motives, which seems like a cop-out to me, but he goes on to say that one of the main motivations out of the many is that people see it as something they can connect to, which I find a lot more fulfilling of an answer than “everyone is different.” 

I think that explanation makes sense for the modern day because sports are so popularized and it does seem like a safe conversation starter that allows people to connect with one another. But as for way back with the Mayas, I’m not really sure. My guess is that humans being competitive creatures decided they wanted something new to playfully fight over.

I understand the competitive side of things since I love playing sports, it’s just obsessing over the culture that goes with it that doesn’t make sense to me. I think that it is important to have something you identify with, and if some people want that to be sports, I think that’s perfectly fine. I do think that we should abandon war and transfer back to settling things with Pitz, though.