Playing Through

Spectator sports can crush our most ardent hopes and dreams, and that's a good thing

Playing Through

I sometimes think the thing I most like about spectator sports is their capacity to crush our most ardent hopes and dreams. We live in an age of contrivance, of spectacle, of what the historian Daniel Boorstin called the "pseudo-event," of what the French social theorist Jean Baudrillard described as "the subtle, maleficent, elusive twisting of meaning" – of our denying reality.

The Bush administration made a high art of this, but it wasn't alone. We've had an economy predicated on illusions of wealth, and until recently it seemed that as long we all bought in to those illusions, reality couldn't bite us in the ass.

Now, to be a sports fan is to be an incurable romantic, forever holding out hope that the Chicago Cubs will finally win the World Series, that Cleveland (the most vexed city in sports) will at long last get its groove back and win a championship, that after 31 years some gallant Thoroughbred will finally win a Triple Crown. Yet, paradoxically, sports fans are also realists. We dream improbable dreams, but we understand that reality bats last.

A few recent examples come to mind. A couple Sundays ago at the U.S. Open Championship, the sportswriters sat at their keyboards with bated breath, itching to write one of two storybook narratives. In the first, we had the always likable Phil Mickelson, whose wife, Amy, had recently been diagnosed with breast cancer. In the second, we had the tortured David Duval, once the best golfer in the world, now ranked 882nd, tied for the lead on the penultimate hole. The heartwarming, overcoming-adversity stories were practically writing themselves. But then Mickelson bogeyed the 15th and 17th holes, Duval lipped out a par putt on 17, and the two tied for second to, um, Lucas Glover. For all I know, Glover is a pimped-out mack daddy off the course, complex and charismatic, but on it, he looks like an Amway salesman, without a compelling bone in his body.

But you know what? Good for Glover – for not accommodating our sentimental longings. Good for Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic for ruining the marketers' dreams of a LeBron James and Kobe Bryant matchup in the NBA championship. Good for jockey Kent Desormeaux for dashing fellow Cajun Calvin Borel's quest to win the Triple Crown. And as much as I don't like it, good even for Brazil for coming back from a 2-0 halftime deficit to put the upstart United States squad in its place, 3-2, in the final of the Confederations Cup.

Don't get me wrong. I'm as sentimental as the next guy. I was pulling for Mickelson and Duval, LeBron and Borel, U.S. soccer's Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan, just as I was pulling for Augie Garrido and the Texas Longhorns baseball team in the College World Series. It's just that when our sports dreams do come true, it's nice to know that, unlike so many other things in life, the victories haven't been contrived.

Please write Mr. Hackett at

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Daniel Boorstin, Jean Baudrillard, Phil Mickelson, David Duval, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Kent Desormeaux, Calvin Borel, Augie Garrido, Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan

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