Sports are a fool’s errand. They make little objective sense. In every major American sport, the prospect of failure far outweighs the possibility of the ultimate success. There are 26 teams in MLS, 30 in the NBA and MLB, 31 in the NHL and 32 in the NFL.
Only one of those teams will win a championship within its league, and while joy can be garnered from a winning record or a playoff appearance, the risk of disappointment is often higher than the hope of success. Only one team can claim a season that did not truly end in dissatisfaction and speculation of what might have been. And that team will inevitably face such failure in the future. Victory never lasts forever.
There are fans who will go decades and lifetimes without vindication. Seasons and games end with our heads in our hands and our teams — and our hearts — in the basement. Yet, still, we follow our favorite teams. We tie our fortunes and happiness to objectively insignificant games that will inevitably disappoint us. We can renounce them, renege on our passions and claim we don’t care, but when the game comes on above the bar, our eyes will be drawn to it like moths to light.
In the end, our passions tie us into a Sisyphean dream — a seemingly fruitless pursuit. Like Sisyphus, we have pushed our hopes and dreams for success upward only to watch them fall away. We live for the moment when we reach the top, as impossible as it may seem.
So why do it at all? What’s the point of putting your heart on the line for the minuscule amount of success? Why live a life seemingly rife with futility and sadness?
Sports fandom is an exercise in failure, but in many ways, that is what makes it so special.
Unlike many cultural phenomena, sports feature regular losers, difficulties and challenges. Each game and each moment as a fan or a player is a gamble. We bet for everything in victory, and we may lose it all in defeat.
It is those many moments — when the ball floats through the air, when the race begins or when the whistle blows — that make us watch. Our minds are transfixed because we genuinely don’t know what comes next. Even the best player may come away with nothing. Even the worst team could yet win it all.
We share in the exhilaration of the unknown, the jubilance of a victory and the sorrow of a defeat. We share in the mad wish that this next play will be different, that if we head on and fight one more second, our past defeats will be washed away in one ecstatic moment.
It is struggling to reach that moment through the almost sustained state of abject disappointment that makes fandom what it is. If you can’t support a team when it’s losing, you can’t support it when it’s winning. Sports fandom is not an exercise in futility; it is an exercise in hope. It is the constant state of reaching for a light at the end of the tunnel.
Following sports is a fool’s errand because we continue to hope despite the losses, but hope itself is a fool’s errand because it is belief against the odds. The idea that tomorrow might be better or that we can make a difference can feel phenomenally far away. As individuals and communities, we are facing generational challenges that will not simply vanish into thin air. Yet, despite our defeats and our failures, we still persevere with the knowledge that the next moment might be different, that our hope may not have been in vain and that if we work for our dreams, they may just come true.
Jasper Kenzo Sundeen covers football and is the deputy special issues editor. Contact him at