It’s true winning isn’t everything, but perhaps we have narrow views of what it means to win. Too often sport is seen as a futile endeavor, and competition as infantile. Winning gets reduced to the flip side of losing, games with winners and losers are a malevolent capitalistic contraption of figurative conquest whereby winners produce losers and thus someone gets left out. During episode 1 Manny and I concluded that the only thing worse than a bandwagon or fair-weather fan was what we referred to as a sensible fan, a non-committal type, the kind of fan that resorts to bland aphorisms and practiced dictum in the face of defeat. These sensible fans are apt to say stuff like “After all it’s only a game, I try not to get too carried away.” The scourge of the earth!
Thankfully sport like all other forms of theatre requires some sort of loss in order for there to be any sort of transcendence. Victory and defeat have no value if not coupled with blind non-sensible commitment to the experience of participation, of being vulnerable, whether as an actor or audience member. Losing is embedded in our cultural DNA and every master of a craft will tell you that the only way to be a winner is to lose more than anyone else. To lose often is to participate often.
The drama of winning and losing in sports is not mere entertainment; it is more than a respite from us and our nagging, ever present personal narrative of self doubt. It’s ironic that we claim to use the theatre of sport and the arts as an escape, entertainment we call it, but there in the cathedrals of art making we commune with the personages and icons of a stage bearing our reflection, every failure on the field amplified in high definition replayed in slow motion as a reminder of our own pathetic error ridden selves and every triumph a representational deity of our higher self. The drama of the arena is made of the same matter as us and by subconsciously submitting to the melodrama of the stage we resolve to begin to fully accept the possibility of transcendence through a silly game played by often frail demigods working thru their own human frailty on a grander stage. So is it mere entertainment?
Perhaps what the sensible fan is trying to mitigate or get away from is not defeat itself, but the inevitability of an end without resolution. Sport like a good piece of drama requires a suspension of disbelief, an acceptance of it reflecting some truth within ourselves; a story of us meant to elucidate some hidden unknown. Nobody would ever refer to Hamlet as “just a play” not meant to be taken seriously or doubt its relevancy nor would anyone think of listening to a Duke Ellington composition or operatic aria a futile endeavor. Whether Shakespeare Verdi or Ellington is to our liking we don’t ever question the value of their works because we have come to understand these works to be borne from the continuum of human experience and emotion. To participate in the visceral drama, feeling fleeting emotions, and to experience a fraction of existence in the present is to get closer to a resolution in some unknown future.
A soccer match is comprised of the same elements as a piece of theatre. To live through the drama of a game of soccer is to give into a tantric, 90 minute reality divided into 2 acts, and no commercial break to escape to. It’s all there: heroes, villains, foil characters, plot devices, composition, conflict and resolution. Sport allows us an idiosyncratic dose of ritualistic habit, a sense of completion on which to lean our tired theories about how we should be living.
To deny sports and its theatre of defeat and to feign detachment from winning and losing is akin to benching oneself. Like adolescent nihilism “I will only care and appear to give in when it’s absolutely safe to so and loss has been abated.” It’s impossible to be alive and try to understand life and go at it with caution only expecting a pleasant outcome; defeat embeds memory with marks that linger long past the marks left by victory. Losing breeds victory not only because it gives us the experience of failure, but because it leaves a lingering lesson. Even if it doesn’t matter, pretending that it does allows us to participate in the spectacle of human drama even if it is just a game.