Why do we fall to pieces when our sporting heroes lose on the playing field?
It was a night straight out of a Stephen King novel. In the haze of tears and despair, there was a poignant picture of a young kid with huge glasses, holding a cup of Coke to his lips and rubbing off his tears as they cascaded into his cup. In some 30 odd minutes, all his heroes had fallen from their ivory towers and landed under the glaring lights of the Belo Horizonte stadium. The sins of his heroes were being washed away by his tears.
If those who saw the game are still trying to seek the answers as to what happened on that night from the depths of hell, I can only imagine what is going on through that boy’s mind. It was poignant because I saw in him my nephew, who refuses to believe that the team he’s supporting is losing. Who finds it hard to comprehend that his heroes won’t always win and that feet of gold can very quickly turn to feet of clay.
Explaining loss is akin to explaining death. The words don’t flow as easily as the tears and the heartbreak doesn’t show up on an ECG. If emotions were currency, a well meaning financial planner will surely ask why fans invest all of their life savings on sport and their sporting heroes.
Sport doesn’t pay the bills. The returns for supporting our favourite team are volatile at best. It causes us to drink and spew expletives in excess and have mindless arguments that end in more mindless arguments. It makes us call in sick to work, lose sleep, order too much take-out food and plays pole vault with our mental balance. And on the really bad days, it forces us see our gods in a human avatar.
My mind went back to that horrid day in 1996 when the Eden Gardens screamed, burned and finally cut a countless hopes into a million pieces . A match that began with the entire classroom jumping on the benches and desks when we got word that the feared Sri Lankan openers were dismissed in the very first over, ended with us staring at our television screens in disbelief. The face of that night from hell was Vinod Kambli, who ran into the dressing room, his face clouded by tears whose dam gates had just been forced open.
Yuvraj Singh realised this tenuous bond when he had his house stoned by miscreants in the garb of fans after the t20 world cup final. Colombian footballer Andres Escobar didn’t just have to put up with taunts and glares after he scored an own goal in the 1994 football world cup. He paid his invisible debt with his own life. Brazil maybe no different. The players who took the field on that fateful night will have to walk around with eyes on the back of their heads and live like monks secluded from the world till all the fury thaws into reason. .
Sport is more than just two competitors trying to make it to the finish line. It is the answer to all of our unanswered questions, the solution to all our unrealised dreams. Seeing sportsmen stretch every nerve and sinew and reach for some magical unicorn brings out in us a longing to do the same. They help us transcend our boundaries when they transcend theirs. When they bare their souls, we bare our souls. It’s as if we are bound to them like conjoined twins. They are the custodians of our dreams, insecurities, hopes and aspirations. And when it all goes according to plan, sport is one the world’s best anti-depressant. And when it all doesn’t go according to plan, the side-effects can be lethal.
To ask why we give so much of ourselves to our sporting heroes, imagine a life without sport. A world where we are secluded from the human spirit at its unmolested best. A world where we aren’t privy to every emotion conceivable to the human brain, converging in one arena and transporting us to a dimension where our frailties and inhibitions cease to exist.
Which is why it was so heart-breaking to see the Brazilian fans with their tears flowing down like the Amazon river. And so heartbreaking to see that little boy get his first glimpse of his heroes implode on the world’s biggest sporting stage.
For when our sporting heroes stand on the podium, the trophy aloft in their hands and tears of ecstasy straining down their cheeks, we are up there standing with them.
And when our sporting heroes crash and burn, a part of us goes up in smoke too.