Sports villains need apply

May 11, 2010

Steve Nash’s swollen right eye. Tim Clark finally tasting victory. The Montreal Canadiens’ continued Cinderella playoff run. Dallas Braden simply being perfect. Phoenix Suns guard Steve Nash follows through after taking a shot against the San Antonio Spurs in the second half of Game 4 of their NBA Western Conference semi-final playoff series in San Antonio, Texas May 9, 2010. REUTERS/Mike Stone

The past five days have been a microcosm to why sports are so compelling. It is the dramatic stories that draw fans in, the underdog prevailing against insurmountable odds, that has viewers sitting alone and screaming in ecstasy at the television just as loud as fans in attendance.

But without Tim Duncan’s elbow, Clark’s eight second place finishes, Stanley Cup favourites Washington and Pittsburgh, or the Tampa Bay Rays vaunted offense, these stories would have been quickly forgotten.

Just like any good fairy-tale, the hero needs a villain. David needs a Goliath. But unlike the stories we tell children, sometimes in sports the Wicked Witch of the West pries the ruby slippers away from Dorothy. Heck, the New York Yankees, aka the Evil Empire, have captured 27 championships.

What keeps viewers’ attention is knowing that in sports, good does not always triumph. In fact, it is the unknown that makes the improbable special.

What also makes these stories fascinating is not everyone is cheering for Dorothy to get back to the farm in Kansas. Washington and Pittsburgh are the second and third most purchased jerseys in the NHL. It is almost impossible to find someone who has a bad word to say about Duncan. And just two years ago, the Rays were the underdogs trying to write a Hollywood ending.

With financial turmoil encompassing the globe, oil being spilled into the ocean and volcanoes spewing ash into the sky, people need a diversion from everyday life. They need a good story, they need an escape.

But as famous movie critic Roger Ebert once said, “each film is only as good as its villain. Since the heroes and the gimmicks tend to repeat from film to film, only a great villain can transform a good try into a triumph.”

So next time you are looking to escape in the world of sports, look to see if the Yankees are playing. Then root against them.

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