We Live In Sports Hell

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I think we live in sports hell. Right now. All of us. I was raised Catholic so my first instinct is to say we are in sports purgatory, but that implies we have an out, that an end is on the horizon. If we pay for our sins, at least in purgatory, we get out and go to heaven where the sports, presumably, are at least tolerable. But not here, in 2019, where the sports gods have left us to die on the vine.

Pan across the sports landscape for yourselves and see the trash heap with which we try to amuse ourselves. We live in a perpetual hell cycle of outrage and overanalyzing and bleak moments of genuine joy. In 2019, our distractions only remind us of the things we are trying to forget. Sports fans are expected to get by on the little things, the entertaining blips and anecdotes found on the road to a championship.

But the interpersonal drama and dysfunction, while fascinating, does little to nothing at all to impact the end result. The Golden State Warriors were going to win again this spring no matter what happened to Anthony Davis. The New England Patriots will probably be back next February no matter how fun Pat Mahomes is. At this point you can root against them, just as you can root against death, but you should never expect to be happy with the result. The blade comes for us all.

The worst part is that even those actually winning titles don’t seem to be having fun. The Warriors are consumed with petty grievances and sidetracked by chirping about not properly handling All-Star Game snubs. It just doesn’t seem like anyone is having any fun in Oakland, rooting for this super team that plays an incredible style of basketball that’s changed the league for the better. From afar, it’s a huge bummer. Meanwhile the NHL is too Canadian and insular to really matter in the greater sports landscape. Sorry, folks. Also: My beloved Sabres friggin’ stink.

But even the college ranks have settled upon a predictable championship formula of Alabama or Clemson or maybe someone else from the SEC, but probably not. Rooting against Alabama? Well, now Clemson winning isn’t all that much of a surprise now, either. Oh, and the best basketball prospect of a generation plays for an absolutely loaded Duke team. Yes, the sports world is conspiring to make Duke basketball fun and enjoyable. This should have been our first clue that something sinister is afoot.

Patriots fans, lucky lottery winners of rooting for the greatest modern dynasty in sports history, seem downright bored, forced to endure bleak, unexciting versions of a sport that simply can’t get out of its own way. The Super Bowl was an absolute slog, a game this nation in decline deserves to love most of all. The most popular sport in America can’t determine the basic facets of its rule book: what is or isn’t a catch, what is pass interference or not, the very nature of fumbles and possession and individual frames of 4K instant replay. We were reminded of how everything in sports right now is bad and hopeless when Robert Kraft, person revered for Doing Things The Right Way, was connected to a sex trafficking ring in Florida, with a warrant now out for his arrest on charges of soliciting prostitution. Not even Patriots fans can enjoy this fully, and the end result is an existential crisis on live TV frequently interrupted by beer commercials.

Let’s pause for our own commercial break and consider the nature of that advertising. Super Bowl ads this year included an ASMR beer spot, a Deez Nuts joke and most fittingly, a Pringles ad starring a depressed smart device quoting Harlan Ellison. You can’t argue advertisers misread the room here, either. We’re all broken inside, and the only thing really left to debate is whether it can be fixed or not. We’re living in a Tim And Eric commercial we can never turn off and buddy, guess what the punch line is you.

If you’re a fan of the teams currently winning right now, cool! Try to enjoy it. I get that it isn’t as easy as it should be, given the circumstances. And Patriots fans, please stop defending your beloved owner about sex crimes caught on camera. But if you’re not in the money right now, know that you don’t have to talk yourself into the lie that you’re having a great time. Stop trying to convince yourself your team can turn it around, or the Republican owner of your franchise probably means well when he funds another wonky white paper at the Heritage Foundation. This world is full of enough rubes. You don’t have to make it easy for them.

Trust me, it’s OK to be skeptical of it all.

It’s telling that a lot of Red Sox fans, including one present and currently typing, can’t shake the feeling that something is broken in baseball that might never be fixed. The game is getting slower, people are tuning out and everyone in charge seems to be chasing the wrong solutions. Pitchers and catchers have reported and Bryce Harper — one of the game’s best young players finally allowed free agency at age 26 — floats out in the ether along with hundreds of other free agents. The situation either reads as more than a dozen franchises completely indifferent to winning or outright wage suppression across the board. Whichever makes it feel more dire, really. Some things you just can’t shrug off so easily anymore.

So maybe we live in hell.

Maybe all the randomness and wonder of the games we learned to love is completely gone in a world where every day it seems something worse happens. Perhaps we live in a sports world with modern dynasties we simply fail to appreciate because we have too much access to the idiot fringe of the fan bases and know too much about the politics of oligarchs owners.

Perhaps all that remains of the sports with which we try to distract ourselves from death is the very mirrored surface we are trying hard to avoid. Or maybe we’re all just overthinking it yet again. But it’s hard to feel in 2019 that anything surprising is on the horizon in sports these days. The path might meander, sure. Someone with a solid reputation might get arrested. At some point the brands might conspire to group think up a compelling ad and a hot shot coach might convince some professional athletes that nobody believes in them. But the feeling that we have to tune in, lest we miss something surprising, continues to fade, and the sense that it is not chaos that guides us, but entropy, becomes more clear.

See you at the parade, or whatever.