Sports | Keeping the faith

For many, sports are a religious experience

In secular societies, sports teams are the subjects of near-religious following. The term faith is most commonly used in reference to spirituality, but it can also refer to a belief in something unproven. Sports fans, in particular, believe in and have loyalty toward their team; the best players are gods, the worst are unworthy, and rooting for your team can be a religious experience. Optimists for teams of all calibres have a firm belief in their team’s impending success in spite of past performance or disparate talent levels. Regardless of one’s religious beliefs, faith in sports is a major part of the fan experience.

Faith is an integral aspect of religion – without it, people would question the existence of a higher power without reservations. For many, religious faith is an order of belief in something unseen and unfelt. The difference between religious and sports-inspired faith lies first and foremost in their contradictory avenues of scripture. Religious writing is set in stone for most popular organized religions. Every action and moment that matters to the history of a given religion has, for all intents and purposes, come and gone – at least until the Rapture. Sports are an opportunity to invest those hopes and volitions in a visible, if not tangible, result. The presence of subjects of sports-based faith is indisputable – their faces, actions, and even salaries are all accessible. The allure of sports, for those with a vested interest in the outcome, is the opportunity to experience the range of emotions as history writes itself before your eyes. Faith is validated or proven futile in a matter of seconds.

Having a team to fervently cheer on adds to the sports experience, but is certainly not vital to it. One of the simpler pleasures is watching a highly-contested competition, regardless of the sport, without a favoured team or individual involved. The absence of faith alleviates the anxieties natural to a die-hard fan. Indeed, that’s how fandom starts for many people – but after a while, it’s hard not to pick a team to associate with. It’s a quality that makes the narratives of sports that much more compelling.

The return of a player once deified by a fan base only to turn his back on them, for example, is a recurring storyline in sports. This particular situation manifested itself again on November 20 in Montreal when former Canadien Mike Komisarek – who channelled Judas in spurning the team to sign with Toronto two off-seasons ago – continued the Sisyphean start to his Leafs career. With his new team down 1-0 in the third period, Komisarek gave away the puck to Michael Cammalleri, Montreal’s new saviour, whose signing was made possible in part by Komisarek’s departure. In poetic fashion, Cammalleri received Komisarek’s tape-to-tape gaffe and rifled it into the top right corner to ensure Montreal’s victory. Cammalleri proved his mettle again while the once-prodigal son was left to fume, chewing on his mouth guard under a torrent of jeers.

In the end, faith is a facet: one which religions use for growth, but also one from which people can find comfort. Faith is also the catalyst for myriad emotions. The strongest positive feelings arise when one’s faith has been rewarded. When it is abused, it causes one to abandon faith, in addition to generating a stark sense of betrayal. Faith in sports, however, just makes the process more engaging. Being a sports fan is often about the highs and lows of emotions in fandom, which is only accentuated by ardent faith in a team. And the good news is that you can’t go to hell for being a sports fan.