Here's a question you've probably asked yourself at least once this winter: Why are we still here? I hope I'm not breaking anyone's heart when I say the 2016 Milwaukee Brewers are unlikely to contend for anything but a high draft pick, and that's hardly unusual over the 34-year span since their last World Series appearance. So why do we keep doing this to ourselves?
That's a question L. Jon Wertheim (of Sports Illustrated) and Sam Sommers (Tufts University experimental psychologist) tackle in their new book This Is Your Brain on Sports, and they do so by comparing your fandom to a piece of IKEA furniture. It's one of several compelling arguments I found over 20 chapters and 240-plus pages discussing how psychology and biology impact the way we behave as fans and the way our favorite (and least favorite) athletes conduct themselves on the field.
I've been writing for BCB long enough to read cries for the firing of three different Brewers managers (Yost, Macha and Roenicke), and I'll probably still be around in some capacity when that tide eventually turns on Craig Counsell as well. There's a chapter in here about why coaches' seats are always hot, and why it feels good to make a change even though statistics suggest teams are likely worse off after doing so.
There's also a lot in here about rivalry and how it impacts both fans and players, and another chapter about why we find it so easy to turn the disdain we feel towards a player off once that player joins our favorite team*. There isn't much in here specifically about the Brewers (the index lists just one mention of the team and two of Ryan Braun, both in passing), but in my favorite chapters I found it pretty easy to substitute the Brewers for the examples in play and nod along.
As I mentioned before, the book covers 20 topics over 20 chapters and some are clearly better than others. I could have done without, for example, a venture into the tired debate of participation trophies in youth sports. Another topic features a long quote from polarizing radio host Colin Cowherd: When you're covering a topic Cowherd has already discussed at length, it's usually a good sign that your issue has been debated near or beyond ad nauseam.
So there are some rough patches, and at least a few of them are clustered pretty early in the book. Within a few pages in the earlygoing I scribbled down notes on:
- A journalistic ethics issue that might matter to me more than the average reader, featuring a long borrowed story from a tennis player's autobiography and a failure to name either the player or the book quoted from.
- A pretty blatant stereotypical cheap shot against NBA players, suggesting that getting their cars washed for free might make them more inclined to play defense.
- A regional bias towards the northeastern US that carries on throughout the book.
* - In a related note, today is the anniversary of the Brewers signing longtime Cardinal and fan hatred lightning rod Jim Edmonds back in 2010.