Sports fandom not unlike religion

In my new role as a GA reporter, I’ll be writing some features about the Yankees’ playoff run.

I have an article going tomorrow about…Yankee haters.

As a nearly life-long sports fan in New York, I know that the Yanks have a large and passionate fan base. But I also know that many baseball fans can’t stand the most prominent team in sports.

tjndc5-5r9ots8glyh12n5icnap_layoutMany are Mets fans. Some are old Dodger fans. Most decry the arrogance of the Yankees and their fans. Not to mention the team’s fat payroll and all the free agents.

I thought it would be fun to let Yankee haters vent, so we put a few queries on LoHud and in the JN to find some “haters.”

The reaction reminded me oh so much of covering a conflict between religious traditions.

Not only were many Yankee haters truly over-the-top in denigrating the team they love to hate. But Yankee fans wrote to me to protest my desire to highlight what everyone knows is true: that many New Yorkers don’t like the Yanks.

Yankee fans wrote that I was trying to polarize New York at what should be a time of unity. Lighten up!

It’s like a Clash of Civilizations out there in baseball land.

Maybe I shouldn’t have used the word “haters.” How about non-Yankee fans?

Kneel before Super Bowl week!

People are always comparing sports to religion.

The passion. The rituals. The good guys and the bad guys. The highs and lows. The fervor.

The parallels are easy to see (even if, in my opinion, they tend to be overblown).

Super Bowl week is an especially popular time to look at the American obsession with big men who chase balls in matching uniforms (And, hey, I’m one of them. I have a zealot’s passion for the Oakland Raiders, which is like being part of a denomination that has seen better days).

Rabbi Brad Hirschfield, co-president of the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership in NYC, is a thoughtful guy who now and then shares his thoughts on the news of the day.

And these are his “talking points” on the Big Game:

*****

The Super Bowl is a national holy day that is about much more than who will be declared the best team in professional football. Like any sacred event, it brings people together to focus on a particular performance, which speaks to their hopes and aspirations.

At this moment any opportunity to celebrate is really important, especially this one, because it doesn’t cost anything to gather in front of the TV. Experience of cheering for anything is very important right now. Too easy to fall into thinking that every day brings new despair. We still have it within us to scream good things.

Competition between a team that would have/could have/should have moved out of Pittsburgh ages ago (heart of the rust belt) and they didn’t, they hung in. The Cardinals did move from St. Louis to Arizona. They followed the growth curve of America. Two stories of America. Reflect on both. Learn from both.

Although not identical, football on Sunday and church on Sunday are more alike than most of us realize. Probably no accident that recreation and re-creation are the same word. When sports and religion are done right, we feel the fullness of our freedom. We really feel that we are as Gods.

Whether you are playing or watching the sport, you will be reminded of the amazing things our bodies can do, of the incredible capacity that we have as human beings, and how far we can carry ourselves and others if we train hard and work long enough.

We experience that sense of “being in the zone,” what psychologists call “the flow state,” of being where we are suppose to be, doing what we are suppose to do, with the people we want to do it with, and doing it all so well and naturally.

The importance of using this safe experience to teach ourselves and each other the difference between being a fan and a fanatic. The former loves his team but enjoys a great game no matter what, the latter really cannot see beyond his own team and cannot appreciate the good found in the other one. The parallels to other groups in our world is clear.

People will create communities and celebrate this event, just as they do around religious milestones. Small communities committed to a particular team will connect to each other and to an international body supporting that same team, and ultimately, to everyone who loves the game.