I was in the commissary getting my daily feeding tube of coffee inserted when, from down the hall, came a huge set of girly screams (which is weird in itself because normally it’s dude yells … NBC – still an old boys club.) Everyone did that "what are they watching” thing and I thought, "oh, nice! This this really IS going to be equestrian!" Because, you know, girls love ponies. And rainbows.
But as I checked out the monitors, I realized that they were actually watching field hockey.
A fan for every sport, I guess! Field hockey? That’s a thing?
(To be fair, it was the U.S. team.)
This is what is so fun about the Games – suddenly table tennis is fascinating! (and guys, can we agree it’s ping-pong? Don’t be thinking you’re all fancy because you give yourself a classier name. Ping-pong, I’d know you anywhere.)
I read something about the games in Sports Illustrated on the way over here – it was in the issue with the U.S. gymnasts on the cover – you know, the one you all ran out to buy 2 weeks ago because you were so excited that it featured gymnasts. Oh, that was just me? Ok.
Anyway, there was an article talking about why we care about the Olympics and it contained what I think is the best summary of why the Olympics matter. It made the case that when we watch professional sports like baseball and football, we’re invested because of how they make us feel and what they say about us. You proudly wear your sports team paraphernalia and it becomes a reflection of who you are. Oh, you’re a Giants fan? Well, you must be loud, proud and new york’ish. Oh, you’re a Packers fan? Well, you must be hard-working, fun-loving and like cheese. Oh, you’re a Cubs fan? Well, you must be a total idiot.
When “our team” loses a game or blows a touchdown – they deliver what feels like a personal blow. They did it TO us. It’s a personal attack. “You’re getting paid all this money and you can’t even catch that ball? What are you thinking?!!” (and then you’ve got to go face Jimbo in the office the next day and deal with his ribbing.)
But with the Olympics, it’s different. We don’t care because of how they make US feel. They aren’t a reflection of us – just a reflection of who we wish we were. We see our best selves in these athletes. And we care because of how we want them to feel. Because you know that behind every athlete, there’s one hundred falls, a thousand early morning practices, and a million sacrifices. And thanks to the P&G commercials, we have an incredible visual of a mom who did their laundry.
So when a gymnast falls or a swimmer gets out-touched at the wall or a wrestler gets pinned, our reaction isn’t the same as it is when our favorite baseball player strikes out.
When a football team blows a touchdown, they break our heart. When a swimmer misses the gold by a fraction of a second, our heart breaks for them.
Ahh… so Olympic.