As a child/teenager, I used to follow a lot of professional sports. It was one of the few ways of connecting with my father, plus it put me in a lot of social circles with “the guys” as a teenager. As an adult I drifted away. I was living in Edmonton in the heydays of the Oilers hockey dynasty and managed to get free ticket every once in a while. I did enjoy the games, but making the Edmonton Oilers my reason for living was not on my life agenda.
There are two sports I like to watch on TV: the Canadian Football League, which is the most unusual game where Canadian cities compete to see who has the best Americans, and curling, which—to you people of warm climates—is a gigantic shuffleboard game on ice that moves very slowly. I can put aside a few household repairs to partake in these two recreations. But if something important is up in life, the TV stays off.
Then one evening in 2004, I seemed to have nothing to do. So I watched my first hockey game on TV in many years. It was the first game of the Stanley Cup playoffs, and the Calgary Flames were on the docket (Calgary is about two hours away from my home town, so naturally there was some local affinity happening). I enjoyed the game immensely. So much so, that I watched another playoff game, then another, and adjusted my life schedule as to not miss one game. Four rounds at seven games each round at three and one half hours per game meant that I had spent 98 hours watching hockey—and not one good thing was done for the world!
I was puzzled by my commitment to this recreation that consumed me, which never really happened before or since. A friend of mine, who holds a B.Sc. in Biology, explained it to me: “It’s all biology.”
My friend then further explained that when we emotionally attach ourselves to a professional sports team, we set up our bodies for a lot of hormone imbalances. When our team scores, we get a release of serotonin, dopamine, adrenaline, etc., etc. that gives us a high. We feel great and wonderful! And when the other team scores, we are deprived of our chemicals. But that deprivation only causes us to crave more, so we keep watching to get our next fix. And going from an extreme low to the usual high really gets our jollies rolling. We want even more! Nothing is better than watching our favorite team trounce the opponent—except maybe seeing our favorite team steal the victory away from our opponent is the dying seconds of the game. Man-oh-Man, do we feel good about ourselves when that happens! But if we are not watching, reading about the game in the newspapers the next day just doesn’t do the job.
If I were to concoct some white powder and promise my customers a biological high, then a low, then another high, and few more cycles and highs and laws, I would probably be arrested for something illegal. Yet the fabricators of professional sports are more or less doing the same thing. It’s a strange world.