A timely topic considering both of your writers here at The Drive are die-hard 49ers fans that just experienced the hardest part of all sports – heart-breaking loss at the grandest of stages. Thus, for this week’s discussion we’ll take a look at what “defeat” is like for a fan and for an athlete.
As a die-hard sports fan, which one of the “Five Stages of Loss and Grief” (Denial and Isolation, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance) is the toughest to get through after your team takes the big loss?
DR: Let’s see, none of these stages are particular “fun” or “easy,” but I’ve got to say that the hardest thing of all to do is to finally let go of the loss and move on (i.e. acceptance). Often I feel that I cycle through the full five stages several times before finally breaking loose and truly accepting the loss. The night of, I’m angry, frustrated, sad, regretful, ready to point blame and yet I usually feel that I can come to some (temporary) acceptance by the time I go to bed (somehow my wife deals with me through all of this). However, as soon as I pick up my phone or open my laptop, my home page (ESPN) pops up with new headlines of “champion this” and “victory that” and I decline into another five stages. Thus, I hit a few “false” acceptance stages until I finally reach the point where I begin to look forward again, to the next season, to another sport or just to other areas of my life that are going pretty darn well. Only then do I feel like I finally have “run the course” of defeat as fan and can calmly reflect upon the game and the loss.
JR: Needless to say, every stage of grief is tough to get through…just ask Charlie Brown. But on a serious note, the stage that has given me the most trouble throughout my life has been bargaining. After a loss, there almost always other people who understand your pain, frustration or disappointment. Whether it’s your teammates, your friends or peers that suffered the same fate, going through the denial and anger stages are often more “acceptable” in your everyday life. Losing sucks, people get it. But when I get past the anger, it’s the mental games that failure plays with you that are truly daunting. You tend to question your actions and if you did one little thing differently whether it would produce a different result. What makes this stage the toughest for me is the fact that it’s the hardest for others to understand that did not have to go through the heartbreak of a loss. You’ll hear, “just get over it” or “it’s just a game.” But the reality is, the more you care about winning, the more it hurts when you don’t and the easier it is to second-guess the past.
As an athlete, what is the toughest part of the next 48 hours following a big loss (like the Super Bowl maybe)?
JR: For everyone that has played sports before, you’ve heard the cliché of “leave it all on the field.” Blood, sweat and tears put into one game, one match or one chance. So when all of that effort doesn’t result in a victory, the seconds, minutes and hours that follow are full of confusion. For me, the toughest part to wrap my head around was that I couldn’t merely restart that game or race. It had been a long road to get to that moment and now that I missed it, I would have to travel the same road just to get back to where I was before. Sure, if you believe that you gave the opportunity everything you possibly could have then it makes the acceptance a little more gradual. But there is no denying that the most trying time after a loss is the moment whenever it fully sinks in that this opportunity has come and gone.
DR: Got to be the immediate aftermath of the game, especially when it’s a championship game or a huge upset. The obligatory, good sportsmanship hand-shakes with the people who just crushed your dreams however humbly they were in doing so. The smiles, tears of joy and sighs of relief all around you filling your senses with immediate and constant reminders of what just transpired, of the pain that is still new. Even as you try to leave the premises as swiftly as possible, there’s confetti raining down on you so that ironically (and mockingly) you somehow shine and glitter like a victor. Even worse, if fans rush the court or the field, you might have the less than pleasurable experience of wading through fan after jeering fan to try to finally get out of the party that you suddenly realized you weren’t invited to. All that probably within 5-15 minutes after a stunning and heart-breaking loss. That is just rough.
Who do you think takes the losses harder, an athlete on the losing team or a die-hard fan of the losing team?
DR: Wow, very tough to answer and I don’t want to disrespect either group. Thus, I’ll go with my most political answer. As I alluded to in the previous question, I think the athlete definitely takes a big loss harder than any fan in the immediate aftermath (within 24-48 hours). The fan might have been there at the game, but he/she wasn’t there like the athlete. The fans weren’t on the field, in the trenches, looking eye to eye with the people who beat you. They didn’t feel the game slip out of their fingers and know that they could have done something, anything different to maybe, just maybe have changed the game around. Plus, the fans can at least leave, go home or turn off the TV and tune out the loss. Athletes can’t do that, this is their job. They have to wake up the next day and face it. And that’s where I think the tides begin to turn. As the days, weeks move along after a big loss, I think it is the fan that continues to take the loss hard, continues to say “what if” and continues to try to explain to his/her buddies that their team wins “9 out of 10.” In fact, this “hardship” might not leave the fan until the start of the next season. Conversely, the athlete can often begin to focus their energies back on improving themselves and their team for next season soon after a loss. They can relatively quickly start to make preparations and training plans to get another chance at glory.
JR: Oh man, this question is just trying to BAIT me into taking the fan’s side especially given the let-down of a week that 49ers supporters have just endured. But let’s think about this from a big picture perspective: As a fan, you have your hopes and dreams invested in your team winning. As an athlete, you carry your hopes and dreams as well as the hopes and dreams of every single one of your fans. That’s a big burden to carry around and after a loss, the weight of that burden seems to multiply exponentially. Without taking into account the completely unnecessary crazy people who levy threats against their favorite athletes after a loss, there is no doubt that an athlete is just as upset about disappointing others as they are about disappointing themselves.
Your Turn – tell us if you agree with our thoughts or if you’d answer the questions differently…