OT - Simmons on "caring" about sports

Submitted by JeepinBen on June 8th, 2012 at 4:11 PM


I thought this was extremely well put together. I don't know the last time I cried over sports, but it's an interesting question.

My three big thoughts were: Being at the ND game last year, being at OSU. He does a great job of explaining the fan experience before games. When I think of going to games during undergrad it's not so much being in the stands, what happened on the field, but I definitely remember the sea of Maize and Blue on Hoover street. Thought 3 was how badly I want a sport to care about right now!

(Go Cubs! hahahaha, we're awful...)


swan flu

June 8th, 2012 at 4:17 PM ^

PBS NOVA did a good program about this a few years back.  Mirror neurons are responsible for the level of caring that we all understand and our wives don't understand (some do, mine doesn't).


Basically whether you smile or you witness someone smiling, your brain doesn't know the difference.  Mirror neurons fire either way.  So when we see Denard Robinson throws the winning touchdown in the national championship game next year, and the camera shows Coach Hoke turn into a gint pointer finger, we will all experience the same jubilation as him because of our mirror neurons.


June 8th, 2012 at 11:21 PM ^

(And I actually made a brief appearance in that NOVA segment!)

Your description of the mirror neuron story is mostly correct, but probably overstated.  We do think mirror neurons play a role in empathy, but they are not the whole story.  In fact I did a brain imaging study on the brains of sports fans recently; maybe I'll post a diary about the results when it is published.  

Fake Jim Harbaugh

June 8th, 2012 at 4:30 PM ^

I used to love his columns, especially his NFL columns.  I can barely read his stuff anymore.  It's hard to credibly reflect the working class underdog fan when you are sitting courtside at the Finals, chumming around with the former chairman of Disney on your podcast, or talking about your daughter's private school crush on Slash's kid.  Maybe it's just me.  

I miss the old Bill Simmons, the new one is talented and successful but a complete douche.


June 8th, 2012 at 4:39 PM ^

Simmons has always been a douche and he's always had money (grew up in both Wellesley, MA and Greenwich, CT).  I don't like the other ventures that he's taken on over the years besides writing about sports, but I think when he does get around to writing he is still pretty good at it.


June 8th, 2012 at 4:54 PM ^

It was pretty much his idea and he pitched it to the heads of ESPN http://www.grantland.com/story/_/id/7930049/another-30-films-subjects-stories-captured-our-attention

The idea for the series began with ESPN.com columnist Bill Simmons, who wanted feature filmmakers to recount the sports stories, people, and events from the past 3 decades which they (1) took a personal interest or involvement in, however great or small, and (2) felt hadn't been fully explored. Simmons and his team took special interest to "stories that resonated at the time but were eventually forgotten for whatever reason."[3] Simmons serves as 30 for 30's executive producer



June 8th, 2012 at 6:28 PM ^

I think you're discouting the role an executive producer plays too much.  There's a big, big difference between "lets do some documentaries" and doing what Simmons proposed.  EP's also go out and find the people to do the stories and oversee the process from start to finish.  So, he (along with others) had quite a bit to do with that series success.

dr eng1ish

June 8th, 2012 at 4:42 PM ^

It's true that he's not the same he used to be but he can still get it done when he's motivated. This column is an example of that. He was always at his best writing about the emotion of fans, particularly when their team loses. The parts about his daughter and her first gut-punch loss were quite moving and easy to relate to.

Did you actually read the column or just come to complain about Simmons? It's not like that's a particularly original thing to do in its own right. Finally, I don't think he ever claimed to represent the "working class underdog fan" but rather "the fan." You can still be a fan even if you're rich.

03 Blue 07

June 8th, 2012 at 5:09 PM ^

It's not just you; there are a lot of people who feel that way. I don't, really- I still enjoy him and read all of his columns- but I do think that, at some points, he's mailed in a column here and there in the last 5 years, so I get where people are coming from. Though I think they're overreacting and over-romanticizing his past writing. At the same time, what made him so good in the first place was that his take was unique for sports journalism at that time. Nowadays, his types of column- the one that mixes sports, pop culture, etc.- is far more prevalent, which may have something to do with his writing losing some of its "shine" in the public view. It's not all that unique anymore, though I still think he, generally does a better job than just about everyone out there who tries to imitate him (even if they don't know they're trying).



June 8th, 2012 at 7:48 PM ^

a really awesome column about the greatest WWE theme songs last summer. I don't normally read his stuff very often, but every once in awhile, he gives me something really amazing to read. I glided through this most recent story and was sad to finish the piece because it was so moving to read.


June 8th, 2012 at 11:23 PM ^

but nasuea inducing? That's a bit much. I still like his mailbags--to me, he's the only writer who ever actually pulled off a mailbag column. Even so, I think he needs to write more-- there were three things that Simmons could do: preview pieces, fan experience pieces, and mailbags. He doesn't do the first any more and the second have become pretty flat. I am thinking about doing a diary where I rank the best sports writers.... it would be fun to do, even if I don't think Joe Posanski is the best thing ever, ever. 


June 8th, 2012 at 6:22 PM ^

I used to like his stuff because it felt different from what you read in the papers and he tried to showcase ideas that were less "homerific" than you'd read in major publications.  Now, though, he'll alternate between good columns like this and a 5,000 word screed about how great the Celtics are because Kevin McHale made him a sweetheart trade and how whatever sport his favorite team(s) lost in is no longer relevant.  He's become the reactionary, cliche sports writer he used to rail against.

I remember last year when the Bruins made their run to the Cup, all of a sudden he started writing about hockey and saying he was a die-hard who stopped watching because he hated ownership.  Of course, since he hadn't really cared about the sport for 15-20 years, his knowledge and insights were incredibly simple and outdated, resulting in a couple of posts that people referred to as "pink hat fandom."  And his whining on twitter about how the refs were screwing over the Celtics against the Heat really bothered me, given his half-hearted attempts to convince others that he's an impartial sports fan.


June 11th, 2012 at 10:02 PM ^

This is late, but the issue was fine when he said he was the Boston Sports Guy.  But when you become as mainstream as he became, and when he wanted to be taken more seriously than a local blogger, and when he started to break major news on twitter, etc., then you have a responsibility to at least act somewhat unbiased.

Go Blue84

June 8th, 2012 at 4:59 PM ^

This really was a great read.  Losing is a much more relatable experience across fanbases, as some never really get to experience winning.  Simmons really nails it on this one, which is easily one of his best efforts since he started Grantland.


June 8th, 2012 at 5:10 PM ^

The last time I cried over anything sports related was when Bo died.


The last (and only) time I cried over the result of a game was right after the clock game in EL. I felt cheated, robbed, and helpless to do anything about it.


June 8th, 2012 at 5:26 PM ^

"Lurking underneath that surface, that's where all the good stuff is — the memories, the connections, the love, the fans, the layers that make sports what they are. "

This statement sort of made me think for a moment. I actually know someone whose primary interest in sports is statistical, and they have little emotional connection to the games themselves. To me, that's a bloody shame. It's one  thing to try and play the season on an Excel spreadsheet, but it is another to be there and - dare I say - risk the opportunity to be upset at the  outcome. 

There is so much more than the mathematics of the experience, if you will, or the raw reactions we have to different moments within the game or to the game itself. It is more about the fact that the emotions attached to these experiences - good or bad - are strong and enhance our memory of the experience. 

I also know where he is coming from when he talks about a spouse that doesn't quite understand. I have been asked numerous times by my wife on Sundays after Michigan has lost in football why I  look like I am depressed (she should get this at least intellectually by now, right? We have been married 8 years now), and it's hard to explain to someone who has not msde such connections how real the disappointment can feel, in those  case anyway. 


June 8th, 2012 at 6:00 PM ^


I actually know someone whose primary interest in sports is statistical, and they have little emotional connection to the games themselves.

I've heard more than one "Fantasy" sports fan say how their enjoyment of the game was fundamentally altered by focusing too closely on the numbers and what that meant to their "fantasy team." 

I know that's not necessarily the point you were making, but when I read your comment that's what came to mind.  I'm not sure I'd like my appreciation of Michigan football diminished in that way.


June 8th, 2012 at 5:29 PM ^

Reading that column, which he must have just whipped together on the plane back to LA last night, I marveled at his ability to capture the emotion of the sports fans' moment.  Perhaps he did this better earlier in his career, and I'm not going to bother reading his 2002 columns to have an informed opinion on the subject, but I look forward to reading all of his columns and think they are generally excellent.  Seeing this post about him being too rich and chummy with the rich and famous to write entertaining, thoughtful columns sort of pisses me off.  Too much complaining on this site.  Go start a complain about sports website or something. 


June 8th, 2012 at 5:31 PM ^

I had to struggle to get through the beginning, reading Bill Simmons try to talk about hockey is just painful. Plus the only heartbreaking thing about the 1993 playoffs was the Maple Leafs getting screwed so the NHL could have Gretzky and LA in the finals.

But other than the opening, it's a solid article


June 8th, 2012 at 5:43 PM ^

Simmons was so much better when all of his teams sucked, and he just bitched about the woes of being a cursed sports fan.  Hard to feel bad now that his teams have won 7 championships this decade.


June 8th, 2012 at 11:23 PM ^

There should have been more crying for the Celtics. They're in trouble. If a kid's not old enough to do the math that 3-1 is not losing in game 7, then they're not old enough to be taking up a seat from a real fan. Using the term "fan" loosely, when you're talking about LA hockey fans, which might be the most fair weather in the world. (Wait till she's a little older and she just likes the hockey team because the players are cute and non-threatening, like 90% of the female teen Wings fans). It's crushing that your ridiculous overconfidence for a sweep as a fanbase "kicks you in the gut" leaving you only 3 more tries to win the Cup. It disparages all true sport gut wrenching moments.

Of course, he kinda lost me at the "you can only have one sports team thing"....when we all know if the Clippers ever stop being the Clippers he'll be in the driver's seat of the band wagon. He should have just left it about the trip with his father.


June 8th, 2012 at 11:57 PM ^

I think the gut punch is more that she thought that would be the day she'd get to see The Cup, in person. It's the ultimate tease, to be so close only to lose i in the last 5 minutes. Now she probably won't get that huge celebration since the Kings will probably win in Jersey.

It's like the Iowa loss. In the scheme of things, it really didn't affect the outcome of the season, I dont even particularly dislike Iowa, and I realized that a couple weeks later, but damn it hurt at the time.


June 9th, 2012 at 12:28 AM ^

Against Iowa we still had dreams of Big Ten titles dashed and fears of season downturns around the corner. We couldn't know that it wouldn't matter if we won out because MSU was only going to lose once. This means they'll probably have to wait...one game.

And I'd feel worse on the former, if her dad didn't just go to a Kings playoff game, fly to Boston to go to a Boston playoff game, then flew right back. Her dad can afford to take her to Jersey if it was that heartbreaking. And I bet there are tickets to be had because I doubt Devils fans suddenly feel great about their chances. (Like he doesn't have the connections or $$$ to get them anyway)


June 8th, 2012 at 6:12 PM ^

I was crushed and cancelled the plans I had that night (Saturday night).  My older friends from back home "got it", but my newer friends where I live now (who I had plans with) were completely dumbfounded that something about sports could affect me in that manner.


June 8th, 2012 at 9:26 PM ^

We weren't a family that really went to very many sporting events.  We watched games, but I wouldn't classify my dad as a big sports fan or someone that kept up with all the Detroit teams.  But my dad did race cars as a hobby and Indy cars were a pretty big deal for us. 

In 1986, we got tickets to the Indy 500.  I was 9 and a HUGE Rick Mears fan.  The build-up to this is so intense, because Indy is a six-hour drive away.  You have to pack, the drive itself, etc.  It has the normal sports excitement coupled with the excitement of going on a vacation.

So we got down there and it's raining like hell.  My dad's races still went on when it was raining, so I didn't understand why this one didn't.  It got rained out entirely and we had to drive home.  Dad told me they'd probably race tomorrow (Monday), but we couldn't stay.  I was crushed.  As luck would have it, it got rained out on Memorial Day and they rescheduled for the next Saturday.  We would be able to drive down again and see it!  So back up the rollercoaster of emotion I went.

Rick Mears lead a majority of the race and was leading with 14 laps to go, but got passed by both Bobby Rahal and Kevin Cogan when a yellow came up with 6 laps to go.  They went green with 2 to go and he just couldn't pass them.  He finished 3rd.  I was SO disappointed and remember I had a hard time keeping it together.  Back down the rollercoaster I went.

The other event was fucking Kordell god damn Stewart.  I will never forget that play as long as I live.  My dad wasn't around that day and I got to sit in Dad's chair while my mom made me a steak.  It was glorious.  Then my mom said with 6 seconds to go -- "so they're going to win, right?"  BOOM.  I put the utensils down and just sat there in shock for at least 5 minutes.  I had really lost my appetite, but it was steak.  I sort of forced it down but didn't really didn't taste it because I was in such a traumatic haze. 


June 8th, 2012 at 10:14 PM ^

Like you and half a million others, I know! just after I graduated from high school. Living in Indy, I went to the track pretty often in May - on weekends, and also like most area seniors on skip day. But I only actually went to the 500 once, in 1986, with the family of a friend. My seat was in the infield, on the third turn, so I could see maybe 100 yards of track. I'll never forget the electricity in the crowd on that critical lap - the gap between Meers and Cogan was narrowing, and then the next time around both Cogan and Rahal had somehow passed both to take the lead. If you were a Mears fan, especially with the yellows, that would be a tough finish to endure.


June 9th, 2012 at 12:01 AM ^

I started going to the race in I believe 1990 (Emerson Fittipaldi's first win). The second year of the split (1997), Sunday was a complete rain-out. I was crushed because like you, we lived 5 hours away and this was the biggest vacation of the year. There's so much anticipation for the race that it truly rivals/rivaled Christmas in that regard (only with the rain, Christmas can get cancelled). Anyways, I was beyond disappointed and cried a bit over the fact that I wouldn't be able to see one of the high points of the year. my mom, probably seeing how devastated I was, said that we could go back in on Monday. They only ended up running 15 laps that day but it was enough after everything we went through. My mom was then rewarded with making the 5 hour drive home likely half asleep.


June 9th, 2012 at 12:25 AM ^

ehh I do not get too much into writers (internet generation) and having no actual affiliation with the school leads me to create my own deep memories from the moment at hand.

By sheer dumb luck, I've attended 4 of the top 10 recent instant classic Michigan moments and I can feel for the daughter in a fan sense, but I dont see how this article goes beyond the traditional "love my team. we lost" column that accompanies any big lose, especially among your first love.  


June 9th, 2012 at 11:24 AM ^

When you hug another guy you don't even know. That's what I did after Michigan's last TD in the UTL game. I was hugging everyone in the stands around me that I could reach. They were more than welcome to reciprocate.