Essay: Hey, It's Okay To Feel Crappy About Sports

Jun 14, 2019

We’re just about to the weekend, a time when a lot of people enjoy the chance to pop open a bag of chips and a beer or a soda, and watch their favorite team or their favorite sport, or whatever game happens to be on TV.

But as all diehard sports fans know, rooting for a team can be a double-edged sword. It was a game a few weeks ago that drove that point home to essayist and Lake Effect sports contributor Shaun Ranft:

The only rule you should have to follow when a team you love loses a final is this: don't be a jerk about it. That's it. Otherwise, all emotions should be fair game.

Two things you should know:

  1. I am a sports fan that has lived in Wisconsin my entire life, and yes, the Green Bay Packers have won two Super Bowls in my lifetime (one of which I was old enough to appreciate), but... I don't care all that much about the NFL these days.
  2. While I don't particularly care about the NFL, and while I'm not all that invested in the NBA either, I empathize with friends of mine who are. I want my friends to be happy, and at the end of the day I obviously want Wisconsin sports teams to win things. It's pretty simple.

With that said, here we go. 

Saturday afternoon, Tottenham Hotspur lost 0-2 in the Champions League Final to Liverpool. And guess what? To me that absolutely sucked. In fact, here are my top three most euphoric feelings as a sports fan (in no particular order):

  1. The Milwaukee Brewers winning Game 163 against the Chicago Cubs in 2018 to clinch the NL Central Division.
  2. The Milwaukee Brewers winning Game 6 at home against Los Angeles Dodgers in the 2018 NLCS to force a winner-take-all Game 7.
  3. Tottenham Hotspur overturning a 3-0 deficit against Ajax in the second half of the second leg of the  2018-2019 UCL semi-final to ultimately reach the UCL Final.

Unfortunately, all three of those moments have two things in common: one, they're very recent, and two, they ultimately led to nothing. 

Instances 1 & 2 happened in the same season, and as we know, the Brewers came up short in Game 7 against the Dodgers. They didn't go on a play for a potential World Series title. When they lost Game 7 at home, even against a team that was more talented on paper, it hurt. It hurt really, really badly.

So what did I do? I felt crummy about it, called it a day, and took multiple months off of Twitter. For all of the good moments that season had, and trust me there were plenty, it didn't matter. I felt proud of how far the team had gotten, but the season ended on a sour note. And, as it turns out, it left a bitter taste in my mouth. Guess what, though?

That's perfectly fine. 

When a team you love loses at that point in the season, it's going to sting. And you're allowed to let it sting. You're allowed to be sad about it. You're allowed to take a break. Regardless of how silly it might feel to be this invested in sports, when you are that invested in sports, it's going to suck. 

The same can be said for how I felt when the final whistle sounded Saturday afternoon and Tottenham had lost in the Champions League Final. On multiple occasions, they were this close to being eliminated from the competition altogether. Moments away, several times. They knocked out Manchester City and seemingly the team of destiny in Ajax to get to the Final. Heck, they scored the decisive goal one damn second after the allotted amount of extra time in the second leg of the semi-final. It's as close to a "buzzer-beater" you're ever likely to see in soccer. Maybe they had no business being there, I don't freaking know. It didn't matter, though. They were there, and that's what mattered. 

So I cried. My eyes still well up as I think about it now, and that feels a little silly. But it's not. Or if nothing else, it shouldn't be. 

So Saturday Tottenham lost, and I cried again. This time, they weren't tears of happiness or joy. They were tears of sadness, and maybe that should feel silly. But again, it doesn't. And it shouldn't.

As trivial as it may seem, folks are allowed to feel sad about sports. They are allowed to take a mental break if they feel they need to. Obviously there are bigger things going on in the world - and that will literally always be the case. But hey, if folks get to be upset about how Game of Thrones ended (to the point where they went online to sign a petition to change the ending), I get to be a little sad about how Tottenham Hotspur's season ended. I get to do that, and you don't get to make me feel dumb about it. 

The Milwaukee Brewers have never won a World Series, and there's a chance they may never do so in my lifetime. Tottenham Hotspur had never been to a Champions League Final, and if they keep up on their current trajectory the next time they will be I'll be 90 years-old. There's always the reality that they may never get back there. That's how sports work, especially when you're never a fan of one of the "top" teams. Chances come few and far between, and when the team you love comes that close but ultimately falls short, it stings. Maybe it stings more than it should, I really have no idea anymore. 

The highs of Milwaukee's 2018 season were so incredibly high. The same can be said of Tottenham's 2018-2019 season. The good moments felt so darn good. The trade off, of course, is that the endings felt so darn bad. That's just how it works. There's literally no rational explanation for caring this much about the results of a game played by "costumed strongboys," as a dear, dear friend of mine would say.

But sometimes you just can't help it, and that's perfectly fine ... even if it's the dang worst.

Milwaukee essayist Shaun Ranft is Lake Effect’s regular sports contributor.