Construction Literary Magazine

Fall 2020

The Joys and Perils of Fandom

The Joys and Perils of Fandom
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Editor’s note: Over the past few months, Construction editor Nathan Schiller, a Pittsburgh native, exchanged emails with his childhood friend, Michael Siegel, a graduate student in the Sport Management department at Ohio State. Their correspondence began with them compiling and classifying their favorite Pittsburgh sports memories, before it evolved into an examination of aging and cynicism through the lens of sport. Enjoy.

Schiller

Siegel, tell me if this statement makes sense: the last 100 years of major Pittsburgh sports can be separated into two distinct 50-year periods: “uneventful” and “eventful.” Between 1909 and 1959, the Pirates won two World Series titles (’09 and ’25), the Steelers were founded (’33) but were terrible, and the Penguins didn’t exist. From 1960-2010, a lot more happened. Let’s review this period.

‘60s: Pirates win the 1960 World Series by beating the Yankees on Bill Mazeroski’s Game 7 walk-off homer. The Steelers continue to be terrible, but in 1969 founder Art Rooney stops letting his friends coach the team and hires Chuck Noll, who immediately drafts “Mean” Joe Greene. Also, in 1967 the Penguins are established as an expansion franchise.

Video: Maz’s homer. Yankees fans are still not convinced that this happened.

‘70s: Pittsburgh becomes the City of Champions. The Pirates rally behind Willie Stargell, Sister Sledge, and Dave Parker’s nose to win the ’71 and ‘79 World Series titles; Pitt football finishes 12-0 and is declared the national champion in 1976; and the Steelers make the greatest play in NFL history finish 4-0 in Super Bowls. In other news, the Penguins are really bad.

‘80s: As the decade begins, the Penguins are still really bad, the Steelers have regressed to the mean, and the Pirates, in a brilliant act of foreshadowing, have fallen to one of the worst teams in baseball. Then the Pens draft Mario Lemieux, and the Pirates hire Jim Leyland to be their manager.

‘90s: “Super” Mario helps the Pens win consecutive Stanley Cups, and Jim Leyland takes the Pirates to two National League Championship Series. But in the second one in 1992, the Braves’ Sid Bream, the slowest player in baseball, beats a throw by Barry Bonds, the NL MVP, scoring the game-winning run in the bottom of the ninth inning. The Pirates disband and embark on the longest losing season streak in professional sports history.

Video: Goals from the Pens’ 1991 Stanley Cup-clinching 8-0 Game 6 win over the North Stars. A classic beat-down.

Right around this time, the Steelers get rid of Chuck Noll and hire Crafton’s Bill Cowher. The team makes the playoffs six years in a row and comes within a few Neil O’Donnell passes of winning the ’95 Super Bowl. Meanwhile, the Penguins are still highly competitive, and even though Mario contracts cancer and has to retire, in ’99 he saves the team from bankruptcy. And just before the decade ends, Pitt basketball hires Ben Howland.

‘00s: Pitt starts winning Big East championships and making the NCAA tournament. When Howland leaves for UCLA, his assistant Jamie Dixon takes over, and nothing changes. On the hockey side, Mario comes out of retirement, nearly helps the team make the Stanley Cup, and then re-retires. The Pens become the worst team in the NHL, so they draft Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, who, as two of the best players in the world, lead them to consecutive Stanley Cup appearances, winning the second in 2009.

But the big news is the Steelers. After years of solid defense carrying crappy quarterbacks to division titles and playoff disappointment, the Steelers draft Ben Roethlisberger in ’04. He leads them to a Super Bowl victory in his second season, nearly ruins his life by crashing his motorcycle while riding without a helmet, leads the team to another Super Bowl victory, sullies his reputation by being a sexual deviant, and then leads them to another Super Bowl appearance. During all of this, Cowher retires to spend his Sundays laughing with Dan, Boomer, Shannon, and JB on The NFL Today, and Mike Tomlin is hired as the third Steelers coach in nearly 40 years. To infinity and beyond! Thoughts?

Video: Santonio Holmes’s game-winning touchdown in Super Bowl XLIII. Ben was not throwing the ball away.

Siegel

I think you covered it. The only thing I would add is Pitt basketball’s chronic underachievement in March Madness. It happens every year.

Schiller

That’s true. Anyway, the list got me thinking about how you and I weren’t alive for most of this time, but how, when it comes to sports fandom, that doesn’t matter. Sports fans are allowed to inherit their teams’ history, which is probably the only aspect of fandom that has zero emotional/psychological consequences. Today’s Steelers are only as important as the legacy they carry on from the championship teams of the ‘70s; just because I’ve only watched contemporary Steelers teams doesn’t mean I can’t name everyone on the Steel Curtain and use them as evidence when stating my case for the Steelers as the (obviously) best NFL franchise of all-time while completely ignoring the irrelevant Steelers of the ‘80s (who don’t matter to me because I never had to watch Bubby Brister throw interceptions). What’s better than remembering the good moments and having the bad ones disappear down the memory hole? (And can you imagine if this applied to other walks of life, like jobs and relationships? Life wouldn’t necessarily be better, but it definitely wouldn’t be worse.)

But what’s interesting is that when I look at the timeline and encapsulate the full scope of Pittsburgh sports so as to extract the most important period, I block out all the good years and zoom in one short period: 1998-2002. It may seem like a blasé time, but I would argue that, more than any prolonged stretch of prosperity, these four years represent the most pivotal period of the last 50. Why? Because when you assess history, the middle of an era is never as significant (or as memorable) as what transpires between eras. Life may be more comfortable in a series of ongoing stable moments, even if those moments are marked by ailments and deficiencies. But poor conditions incite change, and change is dynamic and much more interesting.

So think about it: even though every Pittsburgh sports team was bad from ’98-‘02, those years represent a monumental “breaking from the past” transitional period. First of all, Three Rivers Stadium, which had been erected during the modern stadium craze of the ‘70s, when modernity meant a hideous and gigantic concrete bowl, was finally torn down for a parking lot flanked by two cozier state-of-the-art ballparks. When you take into account how the franchises fared in the subsequent years, the makeover seems like a symbolic gesture of modernization as much as an actual one: the Steelers were withstanding the Kordell Stewart/Tommy Maddox years to lay the foundation for the Roethlisberger era that would restore the glory of the ‘70s; the Pens were maxing out the Mario twilight to lay the foundation for the Crosby/Malkin resurgence; Pitt changed its uniforms, recruited Antonio Bryant and Larry Fitzgerald, and made a few real bowl games (though now it’s back to the good old days of 6-win seasons and consecutive BBVA Compass Bowl bids); and Pitt hoops was in the baby stages of emerging as a legitimate national powerhouse. If you exclude the Pirates (who might as well be excluded from Pittsburgh sports conversation amongst the 55-and-under demographic), you realize that at the turn of the millennium, a lot of good was about to come for Pittsburgh sports fans. At the time, however, we had no idea.

Video: Three Rivers Stadium imploding. Everyone cheers in Pittsburgh, except for the taxpayers.

Given that those four years directly coincide with our high school years, I’m almost nostalgic for them, even though I find them utterly ridiculous, considering how much sports meant to us at that time. I’d like to get into that, but before we do, I’m curious: do any memories of ’98-’02 stick out in particular? And do you buy into my argument for those years’ importance and thus recall them as fondly as I do? Or do you think that they comprise a stupid, irrelevant, and miserable time in Pittsburgh sports? I suppose that all you would have to do is type “Kent Graham” and I would be forced to admit defeat.

Siegel

Mike Tomczak.

But those were the down years for recent Pittsburgh sports. Given the prominent roles of the two aforementioned quarterbacks, I’ve deliberately eliminated those Steelers years from my memory (minus the overachieving 2001 squad), and I definitely can’t tell you anything that happened with the Pirates, except that I assume they had at least two 100-loss seasons.

That leaves the Pens, and that’s where my two favorite memories lay. The first is Mario’s comeback from cancer, which I think was on December 27, 2000. After over three years of retirement, the most talented hockey player who ever lived returned to the ice against the Maple Leafs and recorded an assist within the first minute of the game. He got another assist later on, but when he scored a goal off a feed from Jaromir Jagr . . . that was what led to my ensuing insanity. I happened to be visiting my grandparents in Florida, and since the goal was scored around 8:30 p.m., I undoubtedly disturbed them from their nightly slumber. By the end of the night, I was kind of in shock and close to tears of joy. Maybe that’s embarrassing, but Mario had been my hero throughout my life, and that deification hadn’t diminished by the time I was 17.

The other memory is certainly one that won’t surprise you. I am, of course, referring to the night we spent watching Game 6 of the Pens-Sabres second round playoff game with our biology textbooks on our laps, pretending to study for the AP biology exam we would take the next morning. There were no ramifications for our indifference toward the exam, because we already knew that we would write Wu-Tang lyrics for the essay questions and score a 1 (out of 5) yet still earn the A that our bio teacher had promised us on our class final exam in exchange for merely taking the AP exam. It should be noted that this was an advanced biology class, taught at the highest of three levels of scholastic aptitude. Man, I miss high school. Anyway, the Pens were trailing most of the game until Mario tied scored with literally one second remaining in regulation. And even though Darius Kasparaitis would win the series on a wrist shot in overtime two days later (and then slide across the ice on his belly), the most memorable part of the entire series was TV analyst Ed Olczyk’s (Eddie O’s) reaction after Mario’s goal: “WOO HOO HOOO!!!!!”

Video: The Kasparaitis goal. Afterward, Kevin Stevens said, “I haven’t seen Kaspar score a goal in practice, never mind in a game.”

So I suppose I disagree with your stance. I don’t recall those years fondly, save for the two memories I just mentioned and the Steelers’ one-season teaser, and so I don’t consider them to have nearly the significance that you ascribe to them, for this reason: nothing that happened between ’98 and ’02 directly led to the opportunity to select any of the players that turned around the teams. The key draft picks that helped the Steelers and the Penguins were Roethlisberger in ’05, Evgeni Malkin in ’04, and Sidney Crosby in ’05. Even integral players like Troy Polamalu and Marc-Andre Fleury were drafted in 2003, about which you need to keep in mind two things: 1. That the Steelers got Troy with the 16th overall pick only by trading up from the 27th following a rather successful 10-5-1 season (yes, there really was a tie that season; things could have been different, if only Plaxico Burress had a few pounds of muscle on his body to break a tackle); and 2. That although the dismal 2002 Pens season allowed them to select Fleury with the first overall pick, Fleury was not a consistently effective goaltender until the ’08-’09 championship season. In other words, 1998-2002 was just plain awful. Is that how Cleveland and Buffalo fans feel every year?

Sorry for swiftly debunking your entire case (though I do like the logic you applied in building it). I think, however, that you can make a much more cogent argument for 2003 as the most important year for the success these two teams are enjoying today. That year, the Steelers went 6-10, which allowed them to draft Ben with the 11th overall pick (they haven’t had a losing season since) and the Pens finished with worst record in the league, allowing them to draft Malkin and then Crosby, when the league awarded the Pens the top pick after winning the 2005 NHL Draft Lottery. (And it’s amazing to think how close they were to having Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin).

I remember rushing home from work on that 2005 summer day just in time to catch the “Sidney Crosby Sweepstakes.” Those 30 minutes turned out to be some of the most exciting and satisfying television I’ve ever witnessed. After it ended, I immediately called the only two people I could think of who might be similarly reveling in this excitement. The first call was to my father, who had no idea who Sidney Crosby was. The second was to our friend Seth, who, after listening to my passionate cries of joy, said, “Oh, you mean that Canadian kid? Cool.” Apparently, regarding this historic moment in Pittsburgh sports history, I didn’t know anyone at the time as prescient as myself: since 2006, when Crosby and Malkin first played together (remember how it took Malkin three years to sneak out of Russia?), the Pens have made the playoffs every year and played in two Stanley Cups. Last season, they seemed destined for the championship (but Crosby and Malkin both got injured), and as I write this, they’re near the top of the standings. It’s not a good time to be a Pittsburgh sports fan—it’s a great time (except, again, for Crosby’s fifteen concussions).

Video: The Pens win the 2009 Stanley Cup. No one knows it at the time, but it’s the last meaningful game of Crosby’s career.

Schiller

I like how you take credit for predicting the Sidney Crosby era. You’re aware that he’d been hailed as the next Gretzky since he was like fifteen, right? Anyway, the three things I take from your email are this:

1. How much more you like the Pens than I do. In Pittsburgh, there is a distinct split between how fans view the Pens and Steelers. This can best be explained using the first-born/baby child analogy.

The Steelers are the first-born. They’re loud and brash, and they lord over everyone and everything. Their omnipotence comes with responsibility, though, as we hold them to impossible (and unfair) standards: spoiled by their success in the ‘70s, we expect them to win the Super Bowl every year, and when they don’t, we get really pissed off. We criticize the unimaginative offense as it scores easy touchdowns on goofy plays, blast the aging defense as it yields 10 points per game, and lament the pathetic season that resulted in a 12-4 record. The week before we secure a playoff bye, we call Mark Madden to share our brilliantly progressive ideas, like getting Dennis Dixon more involved in the option and firing Tomlin and Bruce Arians following the inevitable AFC Championship loss. Finally, after the Super Bowl parade, we call back Madden to complain about how the team will never compete next season unless it drafts Terrelle Pryor. The reason this hatred comes out is because we have an unconditional love relationship with the team and with football. We consider the Rooneys family, so we assume we can treat their team however we want (you will always love your brother simply because he’s your brother). We’re also the region that bred Hall of Fame quarterbacks George Blanda, Johnny Unitas, Joe Namath, Joe Montana, Dan Marino, Jim Kelly, and Rod Rutherford. Football is in our blood. We love to rag on the Steelers in the most ridiculous of ways because, subconsciously, we know we could never, ever, ever stop loving them.

Video: The Steelers Renegade mix. It’s widely accepted among music historians that this montage ensured Styx’s immorality.

So how do the Pens fit in? Just like New York is a basketball town with a baseball kick, Boston is a baseball town with a basketball kick, Detroit is a hockey town with a football kick, New Orleans is a partying town with a fishing kick, and Indianapolis isn’t any kind of town at all, Pittsburgh is a football town with a hockey kick. The Pens, literally the last-born of the teams, are the baby brothers who can do no wrong. They sell out all their games, and the fans never boo them or criticize them as intensely as they do the Steelers. They get goopy love. And that’s it.

You and I both loved the Pens and Steelers equally as kids, but as we’ve grown up and have had less time/energy to devote to being sports fans, you gravitated more toward the Pens and I toward the Steelers. Why did we split in this way? Who knows? I just love watching pro football more than any other sport. But I imagine most Pittsburgh fans feel the same way—they love the Steelers and the Pens, but if you put a gun to their head, they’d gladly give up one to never lose the other.

2. How you didn’t mention either of the Pitt teams. This is another unique aspect of Pittsburgh sports: general and benevolent apathy toward nonprofessional sports. Pittsburghers enjoy the Panthers and high school football in the sense that they buy Pitt merchandise and watch “The Fedko Zone” on Friday nights, but the plight of those teams isn’t tied to their well being. I mean, the person you run into at a train station in rural France who’s decked out in Pittsburgh paraphernalia is going to be wearing an authentic Polamalu jersey, not a Carl Krauser shirt-jersey. Pro teams dominate the sports consciousness in big cities, whereas college athletics tend to thrive in small towns where communities are more likely to band around their homegrown athletes rather than hired transients. Pittsburgh might not have the square mileage or the population of New York or Chicago or even Atlanta, but, culturally, it has a whole more in common with those places than it does with State College or Tuscaloosa.

Remember the ESPN high school football reality series Bound for Glory, where it installed Dick Butkus as the “coach” of the Montour football team in an attempt to help restore the program to its glory days of the ‘50s and ‘60s? While everyone focused on the shady ESPN dealings (Bob Smizik wrote the definitive column), this obvious point was overlooked: why did the producers choose a school in Southwestern Pennsylvania? Because that area has produced a lot of NFL Hall of Famers? If you grew up reading the sports pages in Pennsylvania in the ‘90s, you knew that the only high school football teams that mattered were Central Catholic (consistently nationally ranked) and Central Bucks West (which went 52-0 every season). Unsurprisingly, Bound for Glory was unconvincing, especially in comparison to the weekly dramas of Coach Probst and Hoover High gang on MTV’s Two-A-Days. Those kids in Alabama, high school football was their life.

How could a Pittsburgher, with the Steelers to gripe about, the Pens to fawn over, and the Pirates to shake their head over, ever care about his or her college teams in the way Columbus goes crazy over the Buckeyes and towns in Texas derive their sense of self-worth from the high school football team? The Steelers’ four Super Bowls in the ‘70s mean everything to me. I never even think about Pitt football’s 1976 national championship.

3. How passionately you describe sports memories. Will we ever be able to care about sports the way we did when we were younger? No chance. Is this a good thing, bad thing, or a thing at all? I don’t know. I just think it’s interesting.

Video: Mario’s most absurd goal. He was obviously better than Gretzky. 

Growing up in Pittsburgh in the ‘90s, we were conditioned to be ultra-cynical sports fans. How many times did we watch a Steelers quarterback (Kordell Stewart, Neil O’Donnell, Tommy “The T-Gun” Maddox) ruin a season with a pass into triple-coverage? How many times did the Pens prove to be just not good enough to make the Stanley Cup? How often did Kevin McClatchy and David Littlefield spin Pirates fans the same bullshit about “five-year plans”? If this stuff had happened now, during my adult life, I would be saying, “Ah, whatever, it’s just sports,” and then I’d go back to worrying about something important, like paying my bills. But my growing years coincided with a 14-year Pittsburgh sports title drought, and so I spent much of my sports fan childhood assuming nothing good would ever happen to my teams. I also believed that this made me different from every other sports fan in the world.

It’s one of those silly notions of youth, of course, but it suggests something that I think is true of many young sports fans: that being a fan involves enjoying the outcomes of games far less than it involves managing your emotional state of being in relation to the outcomes. For instance, when we were in high school, if one of our teams won a game, it felt good in the way that getting an A on a test makes you happy. Conversely, if one of our teams lost, the entire world seemed to shrink and become oppressive. When I drove home from your house after the Steelers lost to the Patriots in the AFC Championship game (2001, the year of the Tuck Rule and Tom Brady’s first Super Bowl), the Steelers’ failure made every possible thing I could do on that Sunday irrelevant. How could I proceed with the normal routine of my day with the knowledge that the Patriots, a franchise with a fraction of the history of my Steelers, were going to the Super Bowl? They didn’t deserve to go, and no one would care. You and I had both assumed the Steelers had a right to win and therefore would win, and then we would meet our friends for pizza and neglect our responsibilities and spend the next two weeks basking in the media previews, and all would be well. Instead, I moped around in twenty-degree weather and contemplated the crime of having to wake up for school at 6:30 the next morning.

The reason for this feeling, I only sort of understood then, was that, for some reason, I put so much more stake in the outcome of that game than I did in my actual daily life. Even though I had homework to complete and piano music to study and friends to socialize with, I was able (and willing) to channel all my mental energy into a sporting event that I was not a part of and would never be a part of in anything other than abstraction (which holds true only if you recognize that fandom isn’t real). I had successfully convinced myself that the Steelers winning the Super Bowl would have meant more to me than if, say, my high school soccer team had won the state championship, a game for which I would have personally devoted endless hours of practice. How absurd! But how true.

Well, two weeks passed, and everyone forgot about that Steelers team. The Patriots upset the Rams in one of the most thrilling Super Bowls ever played, Tom Brady embarked on a career of superduper athletic stardom and Ugg boot salesmanship, and us Pittsburgh fans had to wait until the Pats stopped winning Super Bowls so that our Steelers could start winning them. And, you know, it’s funny: even though the Patriots have been one of the premier NFL franchises of the last ten years, even though I understand that they’re a business and nothing else, I still consider them “unworthy” of greater success than the Steelers. And whenever a team I feel is inferior to the Steelers is beating them, a vindictive feeling still boils up inside me. This happened when the Texans (the Texans!) beat them earlier this season, this happened last year when they almost lost to the Bills in overtime, and this happened during the ’08 Super Bowl, when I spent a good twenty minutes with my head in my hands, hyperventilating over how I could ever live another day in my life knowing the Steelers had lost a Super Bowl to the Cardinals.

Video: Steelers players hitting players on other teams. Posted for the hell of it.

But Siegel, don’t despair! I’m over it! Seriously! Sports fandom is constant battle between the rational and the irrational, and recently my rational perspective was able to convince me that if my happiness and overall health are at stake, I don’t truly care about the games and the people associated with the game. The players, coaches, owners, all of whom I often have a hard time as seeing as anything other than people who make ridiculous sums of money off of a sport—why let them affect my life? As an adult, I’m totally cognizant of the fact that professional sports exist in a world that bears no relation to my world. Why did it take me 28 years to figure this out? Don’t ask.

What level of intensity would you characterize your relationship to sports? More, less, or about the same as mine? And when we were young sports fans, did you ever become conscious of what those feelings meant/signified about yourself? In other words, can you explain why we thought there was something funny about joking about jumping off the Homestead Hi-Level Bridge because the Steelers lost to the Bengals in Week 6 on 480 receiving yards from Carl Pickens and Darnay Scott?

Siegel

You’re saying you don’t care about sports anymore? Do you by chance recall what you said to me in college after the Steelers lost to the Browns and all your Cleveland friends were harassing you? I won’t repeat it here. Someone reading this might call Western Psych.

But yeah, it’s crazy to think how immature we used to be about all of this sports stuff. I remember Steelers losses putting us in bad moods to the extent that it ruined our week, and our frustrations would even reveals themselves in interactions with others who obviously had no involvement in the outcome of the game. For example, hours, or even days, of harsh treatment towards my mother were often the result of a Steelers loss. There was also the hole in my bedroom wall that my fist created shortly after time expired in their 1994 AFC Championship loss to the Chargers.

Video: Steelers-Chargers, 1994. Siegel’s bedroom wall wishes someone had covered Alfred Pupunu.

On the other hand, wins would have the opposite effect and would lead to total immersion in all things Steelers throughout the week. This phenomenon is also known as “BIRGing,” or “basking in reflective glory” (sorry to drop the sport management terminology on you). In elementary school, this included everything from wearing my Bam Morris jersey all week (or the jerseys of non-incarcerated players), discussing the team with my friends at lunch, reenacting the best plays during recess, and watching as many Steelers highlights and discussions as I could find in the pre-Internet years. This continued in some form through high school, and it wasn’t really a problem, since we were somehow allowed to read SI during class without recourse. But surely in college this obsessive behavior had some negative impact on grades, social lives, and extracurricular activities. I remember that after Steelers wins, I would watch all of NFL Primetime on ESPN just to see the highlights and hear the opinions from Chris Berman and Tom Jackson about a game I just watched a few hours earlier. Ridiculous, right? What did they know that I didn’t? But, like everyone else, I liked the reinforcement that the authority of TV stars provided. Even worse, I would read all of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette articles throughout the week discussing the previous and upcoming games, plus any Steelers content that appeared in major national publications. If you can believe it, somehow this consumption of Steelers content dramatically increased after playoff victories. Needless to say, after they would win a playoff game, there were many more Steelers opinion pieces read than pages of my Corporate Finance textbook.

I can’t really figure out why all of this mattered so much to us. I suppose, especially in high school, it was because there wasn’t too much else that was important going on in our lives. We certainly didn’t need to spend that much time on academics to do well, and we hardly ever went out socially during the week, so there was ample time for Pittsburgh sports consumption. In college, I think the importance we placed on sports had to do with living away from home for the first time: Pittsburgh sports teams were a major part of our identity and, despite being spread across the country, represented a common thread between our friends.

Anyway, I still read articles about the Steelers when they appear in Sports Illustrated, but that’s about it. (Speaking of SI, do you remember when you wrote a letter Dr. Z (during our 12th grade calculus class, of course) because you were so upset with the logic he used for picking against the Steelers every week? Did that ever get published?) And when the Steelers beat the Seahawks to win the Super Bowl, it was undoubtedly one of the happiest moments of my life. After the victory, all our friends who were in Pittsburgh popped bottles of champagne and celebrated in the streets of Oakland . . . where we watched people overturn cars and set trashcans on fire until the Riot Patrol ended the celebration some three hours later. I never did understand how satisfaction was derived from damaging the property of others, especially during moments of joy. Like you said, how is it that a sporting achievement, to which none of these people contributed, could lead to this type of elation and behavior? Even you and I never went that far.

Video: Riots on the South Side after the Super Bowl. The logical way to celebrate sporting victories.

Within the last year or two, I’ve noticed that I consume a significantly lower amount of sports content. I sometimes still get lost in the moment of an exciting or “important” game, but the emotions don’t linger like they used to. You mentioned that this happened to you, so I’m wondering why this is?

Also, you mentioned absurdly paid athletes. Is it possible our newfound apathy stems from the knowledge that athletes still receive their millions regardless of any given win or loss, and for that reason perhaps they don’t care as much as many of their fans? This might seem obvious, but the labor disputes in the NFL and NBA, as well as the increasing usage of holding out as a means to a new contract, suggest that professional sports is essentially about money and nothing else. For me, this is certainly a turnoff and probably contributes to my diminished interest.