Enjoyment of Sports

As evidenced by taking a look at a few storylines within the MLB and NBA, it is clear that the topic of enjoying sports as fans is much more nuanced than win or loss. There are many different circumstances around athletic endeavors that contribute to peoples’ enjoyment of watching them.

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Enjoyment of Sports

Beattie Bernfield, '19 explains what makes him enjoy baseball.

Beattie Bernfield, '19 explains what makes him enjoy baseball.

Toni Ouyang

Beattie Bernfield, '19 explains what makes him enjoy baseball.

Toni Ouyang

Toni Ouyang

Beattie Bernfield, '19 explains what makes him enjoy baseball.

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Sport – an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment. For the athletes themselves, their success and career earnings are based solely on their performance in competition and the ensuing results – win or loss. For fans of specific teams, entertainment coming from watching sports also comes from seeing their favorite teams win. In sum, everyone involved cares deeply about the numbers and outcomes outlined by the final scorecards and placings.

Yet, if that was the only parameter to determine how much fans in general enjoyed watching sports, then sports would be akin to computer simulations, in which people would place their bets on models with the highest probability of victory. While this metaphor does draw similarities to the nature by which games in basketball, baseball, and football, and track and swim meets take place, it is an apocalyptic, omissive one. There are many different circumstances around athletic endeavors that contribute to peoples’ enjoyment of watching them.

For one, people empathize with players and background narratives because of the storylines that they tell. The Toronto Raptors’ victory over the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals was headlined by the breaking of the infamous “Drake Curse,” wherein the team that the rapper supported would always lose. The Drake Curse fittingly added another dimension of entertainment to the NBA Finals, one also besides the game itself.

“Thinking about the Drake Curse made the Finals funnier to watch because it connected basketball to celebrity culture, said Daniel Lee, ’19. “So regardless of who won, it would all come back to Drake, and he would be endlessly satirized for confirming his curse again, or finally breaking it.” Far from a mechanical match, the NBA Finals offered far more, and the Drake Curse was just one of many of its appeals.

Michael Ho
Daniel Lee, ’19 explains the humor behind the Drake Curse.

In another sport, the New York Yankees will always be infamously regarded as “The Evil Empire” because of the team’s almost unlimited financial resources to augment the team’s performance, allowing reckless spending on free agents that would be otherwise impossible or wasteful, and resulting in a broad, notorious fanbase that only seems to boast about the Yankees’ advantages and resulting success. As truly villainous victors in the MLB, games the Yankees play in hold special meaning.

“It is definitely fun to see teams beat the Yankees, especially ones with less financial advantages, because for me, it represents the underdogs prevailing, and shows that buying rings doesn’t work,” says Beattie Bernfield, ’19. “Also, I hate their fans who yell ‘27 rings!’ all the time.” Taking storylines, such as the Yankees’, into account allows fans to appreciate the undertones that take place even during insubstantial, regular season games. Fans’ opinions about the Yankees, like Bernfield’s, can reflect personal values that can cause such opinions or reactions, like desires for an egalitarian playing, or to usurp the status quo created by large, powerful establishments. They are also distinctly human qualities that come from emotions and subjectivity.

There are many different circumstances around athletic endeavors that contribute to peoples’ enjoyment of watching them.

In recent years, the use of tracking systems, modeling software, and advanced mathematical formulas such as Statcast, Rhapsodo, PitchCast, and wOBA+, in addition to and instead of human scouting and basic stats has drastically increased among baseball teams and players alike to evaluate and improve them. Personally, I think this change in evaluation culture has improved my experience in watching the game. There is now an elevated intellectual understanding of the game by everyone, and the pursuit of optimal performance and maximal effectiveness – in any activity – is a beautiful one to me.

Yet, the fear over the loss of humanity and subjectivity in performance evaluation is one of the main reasons why many other baseball fans oppose, or are reluctant to embrace, the MLB’s move towards analytics.

“At least for me, baseball has become less fun to watch ever since the emphasis on analytics because I feel like everything is laid out by the formulas now, and I feel like I can’t even make my own judgments without being statistically wrong. The games have become more boring, too, and reduced to a few outcomes: home run, walk, or strikeout,” commented Bernfield.

The baseball analytical movement almost seems to erode the very qualities that make baseball enjoyable to watch in the first place, which begs the question, “Is the quality of baseball worth improving at the expense of its entertainment value?” What about in human society in general? Are technological advances worth the risks? Whatever the answers may be, these questions that place the enjoyment of sports as a microcosm of humanity definitely offer a more gratifying metaphor than the apocalyptic, computer simulation, and may explain why sports fans care so much.

As evidenced by taking a look at a few storylines within the MLB and NBA, it is clear that the topic of enjoying sports as fans is much more nuanced than win or loss. Though the athletes themselves are seemingly ordinary in trying to perform at their best, the actions that they perform with their funny looking balls, fat, wooden sticks, or oversized hoodies hold significant weight. They have the ability to speak volumes about fans’ personal values and potentially answer deep questions about human nature and society for those who watch them.

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