I’m sitting here watching the footy at the moment. I’m not a huge sports fan, and rarely watch a whole game. But I’m keen for my team to win, and right now I’m riveted.
For those of you who aren’t sports lovers, I won’t go into detail (you’d have to be familiar with Aussie rules footy anyway). But my team has been ahead most of the night, with the opposition closing in at regular intervals. In other words, it’s a tightly contested game, and I have been full of adrenalin as I watch.
It’s interesting how important it feels to me right now. But of course it’s not important at all really, only desirable. I’m all gee-d up as if everything depends on it, although in the dying stages of the game I’m relaxing more because it looks like we’re poised for a win.
This effect on spectators has been well documented and studied over the years. Basically we identify with our team, and their win or loss becomes our win or loss, that’s why we get all wound up. That’s why fights break out, and some sports experience violence, at the game or at the pubs later on.
It’s a bit sad really. As I’m watching, the crowds are booing perfectly good (or great) footy played by the opposing side. I mean, I don’t expect them to cheer when their opponents play well, but to boo, well, I just find it really petty.
That’s the word – petty. Aren’t we adult enough to not let our passion take away our sense of fair play? I get it that we are emotionally involved, that in some way we are the ones that are losing or winning, but you would think that we wouldn’t be so blinded as to lose our own equilibrium.
I’ve got a theory (probably not original). I think that we allow ourselves to drop our morals, to let go and just let our ugly side show, because the opportunity affords it. I’m not saying we want to be ugly as a way of life. But we’re tired of being well behaved (at work, at school, probably at home depending on what’s happening there). We crave an opportunity to let our hair down, be arseholes for a little while or at least behave in ways we couldn’t normally get away with. Maybe it’s a safety valve, letting off steam, maybe it’s something else.
I think we can see this in lots of places. When people have drunk a bit too much and do dumb things, I think it’s not just that the alcohol has removed their inhibitions (it is that, but not just that). I think it’s that people can also use the excuse of being drunk to do or say things they normally wouldn’t.
One of the bands I play in performs at what is called “bachelor and spinster balls” (nicknameed ‘BnS’). Daggy old fashioned name, but it’s rock n roll outdoor venues attended by young people in their teens and early 20’s. It’s usually held in country towns, and these events are known for wild behaviour. Typically, the attendees come dressed in white clothes, proceed to throw or spit food dye at each other and get rip roaringly drunk at the same time. Girls routinely flash their boobs, sometimes at the behest of the band playing or the boys and sometimes just because they want to.
It’s funny how in their efforts to be wild they are actually quite conformist, because the behaviour at all the BnS balls I’ve attended is strikingly similar, exactly the same really. So young people take the opportunity to do stupid things and be stupid because no-one is going to judge them (they’re at a BnS ball aren’t they?). And all the time they don’t really go over the edge – they’re still conforming, but can claim later their antics can be explained by the booze and the venue.
So getting back to the footy. I’m not the kind of supporter to badmouth other teams. Whilst I will absolutely get worked up and get emotionally involved (in fact at the moment I’ve had a crappy few days and needed a win tonight!), I still love great play by whatever team. But the crowds set a (low) standard that spectators can stoop to. They allow the individual to conform to crappy behaviour.
If that gets it out of their system, no harm done. Let’s shout, let’s scream, let’s abuse the umpire if he has made a bad call. That kind of atmosphere – okay. And if we can leave the grounds feeling a little better, that we’ve managed to let go of some of that stress, well and good.
But if it encourages ugliness, if it encourages discrimination, an ‘us and them’ mentality, rage…. then that’s not good. And I’m not sure that it’s possible to separate the two. Some people will ‘responsibly’ handle their emotions at the game, and some will not. Some are just looking for an excuse to get angry.
I don’t expect that will ever change. Sport (and other things that I’ve mentioned) is a drawcard for all of us to let our hair down and be a bit silly or even stupid (and goodness knows we need opportunities to let off steam). That it so often degenerates into something worse is an unfortunate by-product that no amount of security guards is ever going to stop.
But for the rest of us, lets have our fun, do some silly things but don’t go too far, don’t let it degenerate into ugliness, don’t let the crowd set the benchmark. Then let’s walk away, a bit more relaxed, a bit more relieved and get on with the rest of our lives.