Occasionally I’ll step back and recognize the seeming futility of it all. I stay up late to watch the games, check the box score the next day, read the latest trade rumors, buy the merchandise, look at the standings, watch the losses pile up, and head into another offseason of disappointment. On and on it goes, the only thing changing is the season. Why do I do it? Why do we do it? Why do we recognize the seeming futility of fanhood, and yet stay plugged in and invested?
King Solomon had a lot to say about futility and fanhood in the book of Ecclesiastes. Well, not about fanhood exactly, but he certainly gave us the language for analyzing our fanhood and putting it into perspective. Ecclesiastes gives me mottos after every crushing defeat (“Vanity, vanity, all is vanity”) and hope after every rival’s victory (“What happens to the fool will happen to me also!”). More importantly, Ecclesiastes serves as a reminder that there is a season-ness to all of life. We toil, make decisions, find pleasures, weather storms, get dirty, clean up, celebrate, and mourn, all the while recognizing that life is brief and we are small specks on the scale of human history. As Solomon writes in Ecclesiastes 5:18, “This is what I have observed to be good: that it is appropriate for a person to eat, to drink and to find satisfaction in their toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given them—for this is their lot.” There’s a cycle to life we can’t escape because we are limited by the very nature of creation itself. Within this cycle, our commitments root us in the soil of time and place. They invariably limit us, because every yes means a thousand no’s. But every commitment also serves as an affirmation of our existence in our particular place. Sports fandom in particular roots us in a community identity, just as the Olympics roots us in national identity. We pact to cheer together, hope together, mourn together, and celebrate together with the ups and downs of our team.
In his commentary on Ecclesiastes, Zack Eswine warns of two dangers Christians often face in making choices in life, and I think that these apply well to sports fandom. One danger is escapism, pretending that the messiness of reality doesn’t exist. In Ecclesiastes 7, Solomon invites us to embrace the concept of death as an escape from escapism, because recognition of death grounds us in reality. Fandom can serve as a form of escapism, an attempt to cover the reality of life with hopes that don’t truly satisfy our deepest longings. Any fan knows the danger of their fandom spreading like a weed to more important areas of life. If I know more about my team’s stats than my family’s schedule, then I am failing as a husband and father.
However, Eswine’s other warning for Christians is about the danger of pietism, which removes us from the rootedness of historical existence in its rejection of the created order. We can rail against the insignificance of physical reality, all the while missing out on the God-ordained goodness of this reality. Ecclesiastes 2:24-25 invites us to enjoy the simple pleasures of life within proper recognition. Although it occupies a comparatively small portion of my life, my fandom isn’t insignificant, in the same way that my love of good food or certain holidays isn’t insignificant. It’s a small part of my shape, one of the choices that I make that locates and limits me. If I am here, then I can’t be there, so why not embrace being here? If I look at my fandom not as satisfaction for my soul, but as a delight within the cycle of the world, then I can see it as God’s blessing. As Solomon reminds us in Ecclesiastes 3:13, we can see these facets of life as gifts of God when we hold them in right order.
Seen in this light, fandom becomes a gift. It is a small microcosm of existence, placing into perspective not only joy and sorrow, but desire, satisfaction, longing, and patience. When my team is winning (a rare occurrence), I can enjoy it for what it is, while knowing it is not eternal. When my team is losing (a frequent occurrence), I can be thankful that the seasons are relatively short (my wife would disagree). And if the Lakers win another title, then with Solomon I can recognize this as a meaningless, grievous evil (just kidding, maybe). If I rightly view my fandom, then I have a bit of clarity in which I can view the rest of life in both its ups and downs.
Of course the humor of it all is that my team might never win a title. In fact, they might pack up next year and move to a different city that promises a more rabid fanbase or a nicer stadium. I recognize the contingency of my fanhood just like I recognize the contingency of my entire life. I can take sweet enjoyment in my fandom today, just as I enjoy other limited delights, as a person planted in a certain time and place by God. And who know, next year might really be the year! Or as King Solomon would say, “Hope springs eternal.”