While sitting on the edge of my seat last week after the Canucks nearly handed the series to Chicago in Game 7 - but still only distantly involved because I'm still a Leafs fan at heart (boo, we suck, CBC shows too many games, wahhh!), I pondered the role of sports in my life, and how who wins or loses seems to matter less to me every year.
The ultimate question is whether sports on television enrich our lives, or ultimately takes away from us. We only have so many minutes to live it up after all, and it seems an insane waste to spend all those minutes on a couch, cheering for one corporation to beat another corporation when there are so many other genuinely worthwhile things we could be doing with our time. We could read books, play music, play outside, be productive, pursue a hobby... you know, all the things we'll have wished we did when we're old and realize that we wasted years of our lives on meaningless crap.
It was over a year ago when we all sat and watched Canada play the U.S. for the gold medal in the Olympics, and while I was obviously rooting for the home team it was also far too stressful to be truly enjoyable. We all wanted a win, not necessarily a great game. I asked myself, did my personal happiness at that moment (and maybe for weeks or months after that), really hinge on one team beating another in a sporting event where refs can make subjective calls and anything can happen? For some sad reason the answer was "yes."
(Keep in mind that I'm still bitter about the 1993 NHL season when the L.A. Kings knocked out the Leafs from Cup contention, with Wayne Gretzky scoring the winning goal for the Kings when he should have been in the penalty box for a high stick on Doug Gilmour.)
And I'm not just talking about hockey (which is great entertainment as sports go), but I know people who will sit down on a couch for an entire weekend of our short spring and summer to watch golf, tennis, baseball, car racing... some will even tune in to watch the NHL draft. When they're not watching sports they're updating their fantasy pools, talking sports online and reading sports sections and magazines. Some of them know nothing of world events and couldn't tell you what the big issues were in our federal election, but they can tell you how much Roberto Luongo is getting paid this season and who's leading MLB in home runs.
I know people that, without a trace of irony, have gone to insane lengths to justify Todd Bertuzzi's vertebrae-breaking cheap shot on Steve Moore, but call for blood every time a member of the Canucks is fouled even slightly. Fandom is like a sickness sometimes, and clouds our judgment and sportsmanship.
Truth be told, I've always been a little uncomfortable with sports, though I did enjoy playing them - most of the time, anyway. In high school we drilled for every football game like we were going to war, not playing a game or having some fun. Part of me liked that atmosphere - we were a small school playing much bigger schools in Toronto, but that kind of fanaticism had a dark side as well.
In the last game I ever played in senior year I was tackling a running back when a couple of lineman fell on the side of my leg and blew two ligaments. Instead of sympathy, I remember getting nasty looks after I was helped back to the sidelines because a younger and less experienced player replaced me at cornerback - and sure enough the other team exploited that to knock our team out of the finals. I was on crutches for six months (surgery wasn't a good option in 1991) but the feeling I let my team down was far worse than all those months of painful rehab.
Ostensibly, we're supposed to care about sports because watching sports is supposed to make us want to play them, and we all end up happier and healthier as a result. And it really does work that way sometimes - 2010 Olympic gold medallist Alex Bilodeau grew up wanting to ski like Jean-Luc Brassard, who won gold in 1994.
But while sports can make us healthy, they don't always make us happy. Ever seen somebody chuck a $300 putter into a creek after a quadruple bogey? A parent challenge a ref at a little league game? I remember playing 'E League' Slo Pitch in Whistler one year where another player on the opposing team started yelling because he "caught" one of our infielders wearing an outfielders glove. It can get ugly out there.
Over the years I've reached the conclusion that sports are a good thing to play, as long as we remind ourselves that it's always just a game. It's also okay to watch sports, in moderation, as long as you have the ability to put what you're watching into perspective - and promise yourself that the outcome is not going to affect your mood or make you upset for a week (or 18 years in my case - stupid Gretzky).