In the past, I’ve likened the faith many fans in Chicago have that the Chicago Cubs will one day win the World Series to religious faith where you have to believe in things unseen. The Chicago Tribune reinforced this idea with their header on Wednesday’s front page that read “A New Cubs Theo-logy” to introduce coverage of the naming of Theo Epstein as director of baseball operations. Additionally, coverage of Epstein has occasionally hailed him as the “savior” of the Cubs.
This is another great example of how sports can be the functional equivalent of religion. Does it have rituals? Check – games and important moments that fans participate in or watch and then an ongoing lore of these moments. Does it provide meaning? Baseball, in particular, gives one something to do for 162 days of the year (and more with spring training, the playoffs, fan’s conventions). Does it have totems? Check – perhaps the Cubs “W” flag, perhaps the anti-totem of the silly Billy Goat curse or Steve Bartman. Does it have religious leaders? Check – people like Ron Santo and even stranger fans like Ronnie Woo-Woo. Does it require faith? One hundred and three years without a World Series win and counting. Does it have a sanctuary/religious space? The “Friendly Confines” of Wrigley Field and perhaps the neighborhood bars where fans go for post-service activities.
In the end, sports get discussed in all sorts of religious and moral language.