In the past three months, at least three big-time professional events have served to remind us of how sports-crazed we humans can be.
Our idolatry of particular players evolves into something fanatical.
On the weekend of April 11 to 14, people were riveted to their TV sets to watch their golfing idol, Tiger Woods, recapture some of his past luster and win the iconic Masters Tournament by a stroke. It was his first win at one of the four “major” tournaments since 2009.
CBS, which broadcast the event, and its advertisers were enraptured. The television audience was the most robust of any golf telecast in 34 years. Credit the Tiger comeback.
June 17 to July 17 was the FIFA Women’s World Cup soccer tournament, won by the United States for the fourth time in eight tournaments. (It is held every four years.)
American soccer fans’ hearts are still pumping furiously, and new hearts have joined in the frenzy.
On July 14, one of the most captivating tennis matches of all time was televised, as Serb Novak Djokovic outlasted one of the tennis world’s historic favorites, Switzerland’s Roger Federer, by this improbable and unforgettable score: 7-6, 1-6, 7-6, 4-6, 13-12 in the biggest tournament of them all, Wimbledon.
It’s estimated that more than half of Americans sometimes watch the National Football League’s Super Bowl.
To a non-fan, this is insanity. Why should anyone care so much about something in which the stakes amount to nothing demonstrably personal?
Obviously, something personal is at stake to someone who has placed a bet on the outcome of the contest, and that element has advanced with the spread of the trend of legalized sports gambling. New York enacted that legislation this year.
Even without the state’s imprimatur, sports gambling has been a thriving enterprise just about as long as sports have been played.
But idolatry of sports figures is a fact of life without the influence of money, and that is the part that non-fans might not understand.
What does a fan have to gain by having a sports idol — with no personal acquaintance — succeed?
And fans choose their idols by means inexplicable to most people. One fan we know was an enormous follower as a young boy of baseball great Willie Mays. After Mays retired, this fan eventually transferred his allegiance to Robin Yount of Milwaukee — a hall-of-famer, to be sure, but one with relatively ordinary numbers.
No, fans do not necessarily choose their idols by the numbers.
Psychologists point to any number of factors that could steer a fan to a player, but those choices are largely defiant of consistent wisdoms.
People idolize performers in other areas, of course. Take music, for example, Teenage girls were known to pass out during encounters with the likes of Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley and the Beatles in their primes.
But music is a more personally affecting experience than sports. A song touches the observer deeper than a birdie in golf or a tennis ace.
But, whatever the impetus, sports move most of us, and, though we can’t explain it, we certainly can enjoy it.