The Five Stages of Sports Grief

David Simon Cowell and I, the authors of this blog, have several things in common:

  • Underachievement
  • A crippling inability to deal with life without chemicals
  • We have both now posted to this blog in 2011
  • We both watched our football teams suffer brutal losses one game before the Super Bowl

So, as DSC dealt with his trauma through blogging, so shall I.

For any passionate but sane sports fan, it’s difficult to process and compartmentalize the pain that comes with bad losses. It hurts like hell, but it’s not like anyone died (well, except for the times that someone does die). Therefore, it’s hard to allow yourself to feel as terrible as you want to feel without also feeling like a self-pitying schmuck with first-world problems. Your brain wants to wallow, to sink into a weeks-long depression, but conscience and society don’t allow that to happen.

A lot of people have compared the pain following a sports loss to the five Kübler-Ross stages of grief, but that’s bullshit because a) dealing with a sports defeat is not comparable to dealing with death, a breakup, etc. and b) those five stages of grief are wrong and outdated. I mean…bargaining? Does anyone actually do that? Maybe back when everyone believed in God…

The five stages of sports grief, as experienced most recently by Jets and Bears fans:

1) Diabetic Shock — In honor of Iron Jay Cutler. After an awful loss, you’re left with that sick feeling that you can’t believe you actually watched that just happen. You can’t believe you ever thought things might turn out well for you and your team. You can’t believe you just endured a 16-game or 162-game season for nothing. According to some medical website that may or may not be reliable, symptoms of diabetic shock include “fatigue, light-headedness or fainting, and often reddening of the skin if the patient is Caucasian.” Sounds about right.

2) Rationalization — The most crucial stage of grief. The sports fan’s sanity depends on being successfully able to talk themselves into their own ability to cope with the loss. Pertinent example: after the Bears lost to their hated rivals in the NFC championship game, David Simon Cowell said it didn’t hurt that much “because it was such a weird game” and “we obviously just weren’t that good.” Your brain needs to find a way to explain what just happened, to put it in context, and to figure out why it doesn’t really hurt. Of course, your brain is a fucking liar.

3) The Search for the Silver Lining — After you manage to (falsely) figure out why the loss doesn’t hurt that badly, you begin to seek out the positive.  You need something good to come out of your misery. You need it not to have all been for nothing. Pertinent example: after the Jets lost one game short of the Super Bowl for the second straight season, I said “At least they beat the Patriots,” and “At least the Sanchise looks like a legitimate quarterback,” and “At least they showed some guts in the second half.” I even thought to myself that, as a sports fan, you need to experience agonizing disappointment to make the rare victories more special. Yeah, great. That will be swell consolation when I’m sobbing into my Jets Snuggie alone the night of the Super Bowl.

4) Self-Pity — The least attractive of the stages. Also known as the Boston Fan stage. Why me? It’s not fair! Why do those assholes in Pittsburgh and Green Bay get to experience another Super Bowl? Couldn’t the Jets just make it to the game once in my lifetime? This is an ugly time, and the quicker you can get through it and realize you’re being a morose prick, the better.

5) Unrest — There is no acceptance. There’s no relief. Sports fans don’t ever truly get over the most painful losses. Look at how Red Sox fans still complain about Bill Buckner even after 2004 and 2007. Winning later on doesn’t even help you get over it. Time doesn’t help. All that remains after your heart’s been torn out is an unsettling cognitive dissonance: the realization that you ought to be getting over the game, but you can’t, and that makes you an ungrateful asshole. The realization that this is a much bigger deal to you than it should be.

Two days after the conference championship games, I’m already firmly in stage five. Anyone who hates Boston fans as much as I do can’t last long in the self-pity stage and still look themselves in the mirror. No one pities a New York sports fan, so I can’t pity myself. And I don’t wonder why I even bother, because the answer’s obvious — it’s worth it. Even if your team never wins a championship, it’s worth it for the smaller victories and the tension and the community spirit. It’s worth it. Right?


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Filed under Sports Has AIDS, The Dilemma

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