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Hook, Line and Sinker

By Tony Hooker
As anyone who subjects themselves to my musings on a regular basis knows, I often use this space as much for “writing therapy” as well as to try to be entertaining.  I think this might be one of those weeks as I try to work through some things regarding my relationship with sports teams.  I believe, however, that I’m not the only one going through this right now, and perhaps someone else can find peace in my ramblings.  

53-13.  Really?

For those who don’t follow Illinois sports, that’s how much the Men’s basketball team outscored Northwestern by in the second half of their 81-56 beat down of the Wildcats earlier this week.  

Of course, I wouldn’t know how it happened, because I was so disgusted by the Illini performance in the first half that I changed the channel and watched CSI reruns.  (Spoiler alert:  Horatio catches that Mala Noche punk)  After being behind 43-28 at halftime, the beloved allowed just two baskets in the second half and won the game going away.

It was a great win, but it also was the cause of my angst later that night. Why?  Why am I so quick to bail on my team, even when I made a New Year’s resolution for the 40th year in a row not to take the game results so personally?  According to Google, between 80 and 90 percent of all resolutions fail by mid-February, so I guess I’m ahead of the curve since I caved in six days.  

Statistically, it’s absolutely no surprise that I failed, but that doesn’t quench my thirst for explaining why it was so easy to give up on this, what is clearly the best Illinois squad in recent memory.  As is my wont, I overthought things until I reached the conclusion that the poor play of my beloved alma mater in both football and basketball for the bigger part of the past two decades has conditioned me to expect the worst.  Not really ground-breaking stuff here, I mean Pavlov and his dog proved that there is such a thing as a conditioned response over a hundred and twenty years ago.  For those of you who have forgotten Psych 101, Pavlov, while studying the salivation habits of dogs in Russia in the late 1890’s discovered that after time, the doggies would begin to salivate upon the approach of the person who normally brought them food, not waiting for the food itself to be present to start drooling.  

In much the same way, after two decades of Lucy pulling the football or basketball from my Illini, I’ve become conditioned to expect it to happen again with the current basketball squad even though recency suggests that the results won’t be the same.  

Now the question has become how I can overcome the past twenty years of mostly negative reinforcement. Once again, I turned to psych 101 (I’m still miffed that Mrs. HLS and Baby Girl HLS both got A’s, and I got a B)  for a possible treatment, and our old friend B.F. Skinner showed a possible path from the darkness of negative expectations through something called extinction. Basically, I just have to starve myself of conditioned stimuli.  In this case, I suppose I’ll have to keep watching the team without any expectation regarding the outcome.  I think it’s ok to be sad when we lose, and to celebrate when we win, but I shouldn’t have any preconceived notions.  I certainly shouldn’t let those results ruin my mood, either.  Tough to do, but I think I need to put my faith in these athletes and enjoy the ride.

As those famed early twenty first century philosophers Fat Joe, Ashanti and Ja Rule stated, “it should be about us, it should be about trust.”  Sports are supposed to be one of my stress releases, and I need to start treating them as such.  I feel so much better now after those 650 words of therapy.  I hope it helped you as much as it helped me.

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