Go to any live sporting event and you’re sure to hear the same mix of songs over and over again. Hard rock and hip hop pump up songs blare throughout the venue to get fans and athletes alike pumped up for some modern gladiator combat. Queen is largely regarded as having two of the best sports anthems of all time with We Will Rock You and We Are The Champions being iconic to the genre.
However, both of these songs – much like every other track on your jock jams playlist of choice – has one fatal flaw: they imply happiness and success. Sports is not about success, it’s about chaos, anticipation, and the pursuit of something that may never come. With most major North American sports leagues having 30+ teams, there’s a less than 4% chance for any given team to find success. Over 96% of teams will be left broken-hearted and wondering what went wrong. Even in the nine-team CFL, a team only has about an 11.111% chance of winning. By comparison, in Texas Hold’em poker, a player with 2♠7♥ has a 12.4% chance to beat someone with A♣A♦. Even the most unlikely of victories in poker is still more common than success in the smallest of sports leagues.
That’s why I’m proposing we accept that there is only one true anthem that covers what it means to be a sports fan, and that song is Mad World as performed by Gary Jules and Michael Andrews. The slower, softer, composition of this cover truly captures the feeling that the vast majority of sports fans feel at season’s end. A look at the lyrics captures the emotions and thoughts that have gone through the mind of any die-hard supporter, something that We Are The Champions cannot claim.
“All around me are familiar faces”
At the beginning of every season, players return to a team. Good or bad, there’s a sense of familiarity.
“Worn out places, worn out faces”
The career of a professional athlete is a short one. The players wear out, they slow down and age, teams must constantly decide when to cut ties with a beloved player or bring them back as a serviceable veteran. More often than not, even the most beloved of players overstay their welcome and their value plummets along with their chance of success. Fans must either cut ties with their favourite players earlier than they’d like or watch them slowly become a husk of who they once were, there is no winning option.
“Bright and early for their daily races, going nowhere, going nowhere”
Players get up early to push their bodies to the limit and train. Fans spend their hard earned money grinding away at their job so they can be able to afford tickets and merchandise to support their favourite team. Ultimately it’s all futile as another losing season blows by.
“Their tears are filling up their glasses, no expression, no expression. Hide my head I want to drown my sorrow, no tomorrow, no tomorrow.”
There’s no crying in baseball. Take one for the team. Sacrifice the body. Act like you’ve been there before. Fight through the pain. Losers whine about their best, winners go home and fuck the prom queen.
Sports culture has adopted an unfortunate mentality that showing emotion is a sign of weakness or disrespect. Athletes or fans who show any sorrow after a loss are mocked and ridiculed. While there’s sometimes the hope of “we’ll get them next time” the truth is you eventually run out of next times. One by one, teams are told there will be no next time, a champion is crowned and suddenly there’s no tomorrow.
“And I find it kinda funny, I find it kinda sad. The dreams in which I’m dying are the best I’ve ever had.”
The journey of a sports franchise is a lot like life. There’s a depressing comedy to it in how you could work hard for something and never get it, due to the most unlikely series of events.
Sometimes the most exciting years for a sports franchise are during a rebuild. The team gets torn apart and players are sold off. A new energy takes over as tanking draft picks begins, and the excitement of actually winning something becomes possible when the draft lottery rolls around. Then when it’s time to draft and sign new players, fans get to experience the same youthful joy similar to a child gets on Christmas morning. There’s a whole bunch of new toys to play with that momentarily distract from the fact that even though you like your G.I. Joe, it doesn’t change the fact that the neighbour has a PlayStation and you don’t.
“I find it hard to tell you, I find it hard to take, when people run in circles it’s a very very… mad world. Mad world.”
“Why do you cheer for this team if they always lose?” they ask me, and my inability to answer that question says everything they need to know.
“Children waiting for the day they feel good. Happy birthday, happy birthday. Made to feel the way every child should. Sit and listen, sit and listen.”
The ongoing hope of any sports fan is one day they’ll get to see their favourite team win a championship. One day this will all be worth it. As long as I get to see them win that one time, it’s all I’ll ever need. I’ll savour the memory of that one victory every year for the rest of my life, even if they never win again. Look at how happy all the fans of teams that do win are, one day that will be me.
“Went to school and I was very nervous. No one knew me, no one knew me.”
Sports are often used as a common interest middle ground for people meeting. Whether it be at a new job, with new friends, or meeting a partner’s family for the first time. The suffering of sports is something that is universally relatable.
“Hello teacher tell me what’s my lesson? Look right through me, look right through me.”
Despite all sports fans having experienced this suffering, despite the loss and emotional turmoil we all face, we never learn. We convince ourselves things will be different, and yet they never are. Every sports fan eventually becomes a bitter husk of their once youthful, energetic self, just like the ageing athletes they themselves tossed away.
“And I find it kinda funny, I find it kinda sad. The dreams in which I’m dying are the best I’ve ever had. I find it hard to tell you, I find it hard to take, when people run in circles it’s a very very… mad world. Mad world.”
Insanity is defined as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.
e.g. Supporting Toronto based teams in the playoffs.
“Enlarge your world. Mad world.”
Our lives would be so much easier, and more productive if we didn’t invest so much time, money, emotion, and effort into being a sports fan. Yet we keep coming back because we love it. The randomness, the chaos, the excitement, the beloved veterans, the promising rookies, and the knowledge, not the belief, that ANYTHING can happen, because we’ve seen the unbelievable become reality countless times over and over. Every sports fan has had their heart broken, but every sports fan has also seen that nothing is impossible in the world of sports. It’s absolutely a mad world, and it’s why we keep going.