Friday, May 15, 2009

Your Team Sucks! Sports, Fandom, and Schadenfreude

By Fidel Martinez * Other Fidel Martinez Posts

So, it turns out that Manny Ramirez is a big time cheater. That kind of makes me really happy. Actually, it makes me extraordinarily joyful. I'm not one who subscribes to the theory that the proliferation of steroid usage has desecrated the sanctity of baseball. Steroids is no worse a stain than the legacy of racism and exclusion in professional baseball. Truthfully, if given the chance to compete, there would be more than a handful of black players that would make Babe Ruth look like Chipper Jones, or whatever other white player has the appropriate stats to be inducted into the hall of fame but whose play was not particularly memorable. My point is that racism and steroids are both blemishes on a sport that has never been that pure to begin with. So why would the Ramirez revelation bring me so much jubilation if I don't agree with the idea that rampant steroid usage is ruining baseball? Quite frankly, because so many people out there do, particularly Dodger fans.

When I first read the news, the painful memory of the Dodgers sweeping the Cubs in last year's first round of the playoffs was completely erased. Sure, Manny Ramirez had a hell of a series, hitting everything that was thrown his way and wiping out what has been one of the best seasons in recent Cubs history, as well as making my favorite player Carlos "BIG Z" Zambrano cry like a little bitch. But, he's a cheater. He's also infertile. That makes it OK. That almost erases the image of BIG Z sitting in the bench looking sadder and mopier than anyone at a Morissey concert as he sings 'Last Night I Dreamt that Somebody Loved Me" from my mind. Ramirez’s suspension is the ultimate trump card. LA fans can brag about beating us last year, but hey, at least none of our players are cheaters (that we know of yet). The only thing that would have made this story even better was if we had found out he was juicing in Boston. That would've been the icing to this wonderful cheating cake.

Bad news for teams/fan-bases you hate is always good news. When the A-Rod scandal broke, every fan in Boston rejoiced with a “wicked awesome” in that awful Southie accent. While I can't stand those Massholes, I certainly understand them. A curse on my enemy is my blessing. When Redskins player Sean Taylor was shot in the crotch and then passed away after a breaking and entering at his Florida home, I spent the following season reminding each and every Redskin fan I knew how their star player died. By being shot in the crotch. I even named my fantasy football team "I Shot Sean Taylor" because there was at least one Redskin fan in my league. Was this morally reprehensible? Probably. Ok, it was definitely a horrible thing to do, but I still slept wonderfully at night. I got my fair share of "oh come on man, that's not cool. That's over the line" from said Redskin fans. Was it going really going overboard, however?If they had found themselves to be in my position, would their behavior have been any different? I received a lot of heat when Tony Romo was sacked at the one yard line during that fateful NFC wild card playoff game against the Seahawks, and while I'm able to differentiate between losing a football game and someone losing their life, the intention of rejoicing in the misery of another fan remains the same.It was all done in the name of fandom, and under that guise, what is considered reprehensible by societal norm is justifiable.

That's what I love about sports and fandom. They provide the appropriate and necessary outlet for our most primordial desires. Rejoicing in the misery of others is a wonderful thing, and to deny yourself that pleasure is inhuman. The Germans even created the perfect word for it: Schadenfreude. In an utopian world, no one would ever derive pleasure from the misery and misfortunes of others. Unfortunately for us, we live in a place that's far from ideal. Much has been written about the nature of man and the prevalent conclusion (be it philosophical or theological) is that we as people are inherently evil. I don't necessarily subscribe to this outlook, but there's definitely a case to be made for it. Everyone enjoys seeing others suffer. If that weren't the case, things like the Fail Blog, or half the videos on Youtube would not exist. A 2002 New York Times article about Schadenfreude and the scientific studies it has inspired argues that the principle behind such "shameful joy" is inspired by Social Comparison Theory-- a theory in which we as individuals measure ourselves in comparison to our peers. If those around us suffer misfortunes it makes us feel better about ourselves even though their bad luck does not improve our particular situation.

Social Comparison Theory works wonderfully in the realm of sports. If I invest myself emotionally on a team that doesn't succeed, I can feel better about following a bad team if my opponents also suffer misfortune. It proves that I am not the only one who suffers at the hand of their team, and I'm able to sleep better at night. Sure, i am finding joy in the Manny Ramirez's woes, but at the end of the day he will still make millions of dollars by swinging a bat for our amusement. It becomes easier for me to laugh at him for using steroids (and for using a hormone predominantly used by women) instead of poking fun of some Joe Schmo who's having a really bad day. Plus, the douche made the Cubbies look bad.

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