I know that there are some upset Red Sox fans out there this morning who have awoken to the realization that there won't be another championship to ram down all of our throats this year. (With any luck, today will also see the worst team a lot of money can buy confirming their tee times for next week.) Anyway, in light of the Red Sox demise, I found this article in the Financial Times interesting. In it, the writer uses Hunter S. Thompson's suicide note as the jumping off point for a discussion of the relationship between sports and suicide.
Frank Trovato, sociology professor at the University of Alberta, was among the first to link suicide with sport. He found that when the Montreal Canadiens ice hockey team was eliminated early from the playoffs between 1951 and 1992, Quebecois males aged 15 to 34 became more likely to kill themselves. Robert Fernquist, a sociologist at Central Missouri State University, went further. Studying 30 American metropolitan areas with at least one professional sports team from 1971 to 1990, he showed that fewer suicides occurred in cities whose teams made the playoffs more often. Routinely reaching the playoffs could reduce suicides by about 20 each year in a metropolitan area the size of Boston or Atlanta.
But, the article continues, it isn't simply losing that contributes to this spike in suicide rates. Instead, it is the resulting feeling that one no longer has a sense of belonging to a group, in this case a tightly knit group of fellow fanatics:
Joiner has gathered some of the strongest evidence yet that what protects fans is not winning matches but “pulling together”. It’s true that he found fewer suicides in Columbus, Ohio and Gainesville, Florida in the years when the local college football teams did well. But Joiner argues that this is because fans of winning teams “pull together” more: they wear the team shirt more often, watch games together in bars, talk about the team and so on. It’s the shared experience that matters, not the winning. Indeed, Joiner found fewer suicides nationally on Super Bowl Sundays than on other Sundays at that time of year, even though few of the Americans who watch the Super Bowl are passionate supporters of either team. What they get from the day’s parties is a sense of belonging.
While I can't say that I've ever experienced suicidal urges after one of the Braves monumental Fall collapses, it does take me a few days to get over the disappointment. In fact, after the 1991 World Series, when the worst-to-first Braves lost one of the tightest and most memorable series in history, I wasn't myself for a month. At the time, I chalked it up to a disappointing loss and the fact that they were so close to pulling off a miracle, but perhaps it was and is something else that leads to this. After all, the outcome has no direct bearing on my well-being, will not enhance my status on planet Earth, will bring me nothing more than the satisfaction of knowing that we Braves fans have bragging rights for a year, that our team was better than your team. Without that, we might as well be Mets fans, and we all know just why this could lead to depression.