by Ryan LaRosa
Absence makes the heart grow fonder. That’s what they say – but I’m not so sure. I had a long distance relationship and I didn’t notice an uptick in fondness. I don’t think it’s true for relationships but it might apply to hometowns and sports teams.
I’m from Cleveland and it can be easy to complain about its many problems, especially in late January when it’s sub-arctic and it feels like you haven’t seen the sun since the Reagan administration. But if you move far enough away (halfway around the world should do) you start to miss it, or you might say, grow fonder of it. I moved to Tokyo in 2001 and often find myself defending Cleveland and pointing out its great art and music scene, sometimes even exaggerating its many charms. My love of Cleveland’s sports teams has only grown since I’ve left even as they have continued to lose (and lose and lose and lose…) Clevelanders have learned to wear the losing like a badge of honor so what will it mean if the Cavs win the NBA title in a couple of weeks and how will it make me feel?
Scientific proof that absence does not make the heart grow fonder unless it’s absence from a sports team, in which case your fondness will increase about a touchdown for every thousand miles you are from your team. No offense to the long ago object of my affection.
Of all the things that bring people together, sports fans probably have the greatest diversity (and Phish fans the least?). Maybe not at live events, where ticket prices keep a lot of people out, but in the general population, there are fans from every walk of life. This rare feeling of community that isn’t defined by religion, money or anything else is one of the best things about sports. Even my mom, a lifelong sports atheist, can get caught up in the civic pride that occurs in those rare instances where a Cleveland team is competing for a championship. Watching sports with friends or at a bar or event with hundreds or thousands of strangers can be one of the most exciting experiences but what about following scores online thousands of miles away by yourself surrounded by people completely unaware of what’s happening? That’s why we watch, to have that one moment together where everybody is celebrating the same moment.
When you allow yourself to imagine your team winning it all, what do you see? Are you surrounded by your family and lifelong friends? Are you celebrating with a throng of humanity joyfully shouting in the city streets? You are probably not sitting alone in an office updating your phone for scores. It seems to me that the whole point of cheering for random athletes that are contractually representing your city is the communal aspect. What’s the point, otherwise? You comfort each other after loses (oh so many loses) and celebrate in victory (or so I’ve been told). How does the way we consume sports change when you are away from the people you cheer with?
As the Cavs try to break the 51 year Cleveland championship drought, what am I supposed to feel?
I remember all the painful loses over the years and I worry that the pain of those loses is a stronger emotion than any joy that can come from finally winning. Is that crazy? Is that only something that a scarred sports fan from Cleveland, Minneapolis, Buffalo or Leeds would think? Will there be actual joy or just a relief that we finally didn’t blow it? Is that relief a kind of joy? Am I over thinking this? And if (when) the Cavs win, it will be around lunchtime here in Tokyo. I’ll be finishing a lesson and checking my smartphone for the score in the teacher’s room. And there, surrounded by co-workers who don’t even know what’s happening I might finally get what I’ve been waiting for. With no friends or family, with a shared history, to high-five, have a toast with or to celebrate with. No strangers to hug; nobody to even acknowledge the moment with. Will it have any meaning? Does cheering for a sports team in a vacuum have any meaning? Hopefully I can answer these questions in a couple of weeks, until then, GO CAVS!!!!!