When it comes to sports, I was wrong and pretty much everyone else was right. That’s the short version, at least.
I grew up in a family of sports fans. Mainly football, baseball, and tennis, but really anything if it was on and exciting enough. My family dragged me to games, and in turn I dragged around a bag full of things to occupy my attention as I suffered through a day that even deliciously greasy stadium fries and Dippin’ Dots could not redeem. This habit lasted longer than it probably should have: I brought a book to the BC game during Family Weekend my freshman year. I was only in attendance because my parents wanted to go. I also left at halftime and didn’t return to the stadium for another three years. Why? Because I was a self-professed hater of sports and everything for which they stood.
I was the worst kind of sports hater, too: I would tell people who liked sports about just how completely I disliked the things they enjoyed. I revelled in complaining about how arbitrary (if I was being remotely diplomatic) or stupid (if I felt like being provocative) it was to watch a bunch of adults chase after a ball for a few hours. It was, I firmly believed, a waste of time, resources, and attention.
Obnoxious, I know.
All of this started to turn around for me when I took a sports media class as an elective for my communication major. While I only took the class because I liked the professor, I walked away with a completely different perspective. Education—and I know this is crazy—expanded my understanding of the world. It’s almost like that’s exactly what it’s designed to do.
As part of the class, we read theorists who wrote about how sports help create a sense of belonging in an increasingly atomized world. Scholars like Michael Novak and Merrill J. Melnick (and the professor of the class, Michael Serazio) have explained that, as the rise of technology and the decline of religiosity increase feelings of isolation, sports offer a site to experience intense social unity and shared ideals. Communities are born and reborn through the rituals and rites associated with sports fandom.
My little-kid brain hadn’t been able to conceptualize that sports might not strictly concern what was happening on the field. And, as I grew up, I never took time to reevaluate the potential appeal of going to games. It never occurred to me that people might seek out sports for the same reasons that I sought out shared experiences and groups of like-minded people. For belonging. For community. For being part of something bigger than myself. In a matter of weeks, loathing sports went from being central to my perspective on pastimes to being antithetical to my values. If sports were about community, I realized, they might be for me.
So, returning to campus for the fall semester of my senior year I did the formerly unthinkable: I bought a ticket to the first football game of the season. My friends told me as long as I was going to the game, I had to commit to the tailgate too. And I did. I woke up early, got dressed in BC gear, and chased a plate of pancakes with a White Claw before heading out into the throngs of fans in the Mod Lot.
As I waded through campus, I felt an energy unfamiliar to me. Vibe, electricity, whatever you want to call it, the air feels different when you’re flanked on all sides by people up early, greeting strangers and friends, excited to root for the exact same thing as you. Dressed in the same colors, I felt a bond with the strangers rushing past me, each of us signifying fealty to a cause before knowing the outcome—identifying ourselves as allies regardless of whether the day ended in victory or loss. It was a different kind of belonging. It was infectious.
Throughout the game, the appeal grew even more obvious. People I hadn’t seen since pre-COVID-19 times pushed through the crowd to wrap me in sweaty, giddy hugs. Friends guided me through chants that they shouted with coordinated, practiced glee. I felt my voice get lost in the swell of sound as I screamed along to “Mr. Brightside.” Even as I try to write about it here, I find that there was something ineffable about not just being in the crowd, but being part of it. Part of a living, breathing, shared thing.
It took me 21 years to like football even a little bit. But in the crushing mass of fans at that first game of the season—that first game after a year of trading proximity for distance—I caught myself looking around and thinking that it was something I enjoyed. And while it will take me a little longer to “get in” in the way that Jeff Hafley—and many of you—have, I’m on my way. My grandma will be so proud.
Featured Graphic by Olivia Charbonneau/ Heights Editor