barbershop talk

Grief, Pain, and Sports fandom.

The unique relationship between sports and fans and how the outcome of a particular game or season can affect one’s life is something to behold. It might be hard to truly understand for those who take no interest in sports or even the casual sports fan. And to be quite honest, it’s kind of hard to explain. However, I know that sports, in many ways, represent some beacon of hope. In the face of some of our most dire times, when your team doesn’t come through, the heartbreak cuts deep. It’s like when a whole city roots for a team after a natural disaster. As we experience our personal hurricane Katrinas, you hope that your team will rally, win the championship to bring some joy as a sign for better days ahead. Yet for most, in the wake of whatever the loss in your life, reality hits, and the great sports ending just isn’t written in the stars. At least not if you’re a clipper fan. Or me.

Since I was a little girl, sports have always been at the center of my life as I’ve known it. Whether it was my own pursuits, that of my brother and cousins, or just the allure of fandom, I can’t remember a time in my life where sports didn’t have an impact on how it was lived. As a kid, it was how I planned my days to include practices and games, be them mine or my brothers. My brother mostly shaped my rooting interests. He’s a big 49ers and Clippers fan, and so those were to be my teams, tho I admit when it comes to basketball, I tend to be a player fan as well, so there was an Eddie Jones lovefest that had me rooting for the Lakers before Kobe came and took his spot. Then there was Chris Webber, Rasheed Wallace, and a wave of young teams that would give us the likes of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, to name a few. Then, Mr. LeBron James stepped on the scene, and if you know me, you know how hard my standom goes. Ultimately though, I think it was in my brother’s direct defiance of my Laker loving daddy that he picked the Clippers, and the ultimate kid sister in me has been down for the ride ever since. As a teenager, my focus shifted to acting for my career choice, but my passion for sports grew deeper. It was no longer that I was just the fan of teams that my big brother loved, but I’d now grown to love them for my own reasons. From TO and Steve Young to the Kapernick/Harbaugh error, from the knucklehead crew to lob city, and enter the Los Angeles Dodgers led by the Kershaw era; all had special places in my heart. All gave me a reason to believe in something even when my belief in myself was waning, all left me pieces of a broken heart in their various ways. As an adult, I’d plan my schedule around playoff games, develop superstitions, and thoroughly understand how outcomes can alter your whole mood. Much like my beloved teams, I’ve felt like I’ve been in a perpetual state of “close but no cigar.” My life’s ups and downs have left me with a few really great highs and yes’ that can mirror the championship glory that both my Dodgers and 49ers have seen in its days. And reflected the utter heartbreak of doors closed and no’s just as the harsh reality of back to back World Series loses, Superbowl failures, and well…the Clippers. And then 2020 hit and well, the heartbreaking tragedy of losing Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gigi and the rest of the people on that plane set an eerie tone for what now 9 months into it would be one of the darkest years of my life. Not too long after, my 9ers would make it to the Super Bowl, and with a 10 point lead in the fourth quarter, they’d blow it. I watched in complete dismay as I’d seen so much of my own potential in my team. I’d had a few projects that were very close to being pushed through to the yes’ that would change my life and career. Many years of hard work to get to this point, and for the first time in a long time, it finally felt like it was happening. But just as with my 9ers, I slowly saw my lead slip away as the gentle rejections started to supersede the hope for an opportunity to tell my stories. As I moved past the disappointment of both my fan expectations and my own personal shortcomings, another set of blows would follow. COVID 19 changed the world as we know it forever, and everything shuts down. Grappling with it all with not much to be done about it, my dreams were also put on hold. And even worse, a different kind of heartbreak would force me to make a difficult but necessary life decision. From there, I could only turn my attention to the hope of one thing, sports. Once again, the promise of another championship season could do just the trick to pull me out of my funk. However, as the announcement trickled down that the NBA would suspend its season on March 11th, it was beginning to become clearer that 2020 would wreak havoc, and the Clippers curse may very well still be alive. It’s a funny thing when you think of it, the outcome of any given game or seasons seemingly has zero direct impact on our lives. As fans, unless you’re betting, it doesn’t affect our income, change our lifestyles or do anything for us, but either smacks us with a wave of sadness or gifts us the pure feelings of joy. And at the end of every season, out of the varied number of teams in each league, there is only one fan base that will feel the euphoric excitement of seeing their team hoist the trophy. Although the odds are stacked against us, every season, we come back with some sort of hope renewed or an unyielding loyalty that causes us to root, watch, and believe that maybe this could be the year. I’d hope this would be the year for turn around in my personal life, for breath through, success, and happiness. I’d hope that my teams would win, and so would I, and so far, I’ve been met with more heartbreak, bleak outlooks, and disappointments. In a way, I think we turn to our favorite teams in the darkest times because it’s one of the few times when there is a collective of people, all rooting for the same thing, and even if it’s for a moment, you aren’t alone. For me, it’s almost like if they can break through, then so can I. If it’s their time, then clearly, it can be mine. The NBA season would resume as did my own goals and aspirations. In the face of the disheartening realities of being a Black woman in America, I too forged ahead with the hope of making an impact of change with the opportunities that I am hopeful to be given. Much like my Clippers, the restart of my happiness pursuits has been disjointed, but the hope still there. I’ve found myself inching closer to the healing I’ve needed and seeing some lights reemerge at the end of the long tunnel, and just as with the possibilities for the Clippers, I began to believe again. Muttering “just 1 win, Lord” to myself as I’d pray for a sign that things can happen for me. And then the Clippers happened. I watched like everyone else while my team took a 3-1 lead against the Denver Nuggets and then slowly set fire to all that promise, as they literally tricked it away. I filled my glass with wine, ordered junk food, and laughed to keep from crying as a lackluster team with zero sense of urgency chose bust over the championship.

Much like 2020 in and of itself, my sports fandom year has been one crushing blow after another. It’s hard to explain the continuous practice of looking to strangers to lighten the mood when the world is literally caving in around us. My state is literally on fire as the country figuratively burns. My livelihood is in question every day that I exist because of the color of my skin. A democracy that never intended to be for my people’s benefit, to begin with, is threatened to end. A pandemic rages on despite the mindblowing willingness of so many to ignore it. It’s like a perfect storm of all the things that could possibly go wrong, and here we sit. In a time where there isn’t hope for much, at least we have our sports. I struggle with even saying as that as the selfishness drips from my innocent sentiment. To ask these players to put aside their humanity to give me a sense of belief in my own. Though as entertainers, it’s what we’ve signed up for, in this particular climate, the realities of the difficult decision as to whether or not to play or the distraction or not debate looms large. In any case, for several reasons, they’ve decided to play. A decision I respect, which I would have had they chose not to, and appreciate.

I forge ahead with my own commitment to honoring myself, my needs, and my desires; I do so with a sense that I have to be okay with the long and hard road ahead to achieve my goals. I do so alongside an already broken down and injured 49ers team and a peaking Dodgers squad as they head into the playoff with another chance to bring joy to a whole city in desperate need of something to cheer for. Or at least to this little girl from an unincorporated neighborhood in Los Angeles, who can see the mix of being broken down and wombed but yet still primed and ready to reach my goals in the paralleled journey with my teams. Even with the Clipper’s collapse, all hope is not lost. The chemistry they so desperately lacked is building even in defeat, and their potential still remains even in the face of disappointment. This year has not gone as I nor many of us expected, but all is not lost with the losses that have occurred. I always sit in great admiration whenever an athlete can come back from a bad injury and still play at a high level. Or for them to take on the difficulties in their own lives and still perform. I have been battered and bruised, but I’m still standing with a chance to take it all the way to the highest place of my own personal goals of success, happiness, freedom, and healthy living. A dream that extends beyond my own wants, but spreads to my people’s needs in particular and the world. So, sign me up again for another playoff run and season. For another reason to believe that despite all the terrible things happening in the world, this is somehow going to be our year. Through the grief of losing both personal and in sport, through the pain of falling short both in my own goals and for my teams, sports fandom is one of those unique experiences that brings people from many walks of life together and shows what we could be if we all had the same hopes for each other. No matter our race, creed, religions, sexual orientation, or who we love, we all deserve to win. I’ll push for that reality to be our truth as a nation and people for as long as I live, and I’ll bleed blue, rep niner gang, and proclaim Clipper Nation, proudly, forever!

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