Sports Heartbreak

By Jonah Koleske

Sports heartbreak. It’s something that every sports fan has felt before, diehard sports fans more so than casual ones. The more you become invested in a sports team, whether that be at a professional or amateur level, the more likely you are to experience the heartbreak that follows after a big loss, akin to a tough breakup with a loved one. To those who are not invested in a sports team much, it may sound silly to grieve over something that in the grand scheme of life is “insignificant.” However, I’m here to tell you that while having experienced both a tough breakup and a significant loss for the Green Bay Packers, I can vouch that these depressive-like feelings  are similar in both situations.

Luckily, I was able to witness firsthand both a breakup with a loved one as well as an important loss for Green Bay both in the span of about a month. The researcher in me took the opportunity to compare and contrast some of the feelings and emotions that I went through following each event. I concluded that if I created a chart comparing the two events and my feelings following them, that the middle intersection of the two would have an overflow, meaning most of my feelings and emotions that followed the Packers loss were very similar to my breakup.

Introduced first by Elizabeth Kübler-Ross, the five stages of grief are as follows: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. As we know, everyone is different and can experience these stages in different ways. Additionally, it’s important to know that while these are the general stages for grief, an individual may go through only some of the five stages, or in a different order than others, etc. Sometimes (as in my situation), an individual might cycle through the stages, constantly regressing and progressing.

The first stage is denial

The first stage of grief is denial, which usually is what immediately follows a loss. After a breakup, many people feel a sense of disbelief, and a refusal to acknowledge what actually happened. Similarly, when the Packers lost their home game against the 49ers in the playoffs, many fans just sat there and refused to believe what they had just witnessed. I was at the game, and the general conclusion for many fans was, “That did not just happen” (followed by many, many choice words). 

In breakups, people can sometimes find themselves in the stage of denial where it seems almost surreal that you are no longer with the person that you have shared countless hours with throughout your time together. Some people say that their stage of denial usually lasts a couple of days in a breakup, and is worse in the morning than the evening. You wake up and think, “Oh, it was just a bad dream” but then slowly start to realize that the bad dream is actually a reality. Similar things happen when your favorite team loses. You may find yourself waking up the next morning in complete disbelief that they lost.

The next stage of grief is the feeling of pain and guilt.

According to an article on Bleacher Report, the next stage of sports grief is the feeling of pain and guilt. This stage could be seen in between Kübler’s denial and anger stages. You may think that you did something wrong to cause your team to lose. This reasoning is absolutely ludicrous, but many sports fans can agree that there has been at least one instance where they actually blamed the loss on themselves. This stage of grief is very applicable to breakups as well. Often, people will blame themselves for a breakup, thinking that they could have done something better, when in reality, they did as best as they could. For sports, you might think that your team lost because you didn’t wear your lucky socks, whereas with a breakup, forgetting your lucky socks could equate to the feeling of not being “enough” for someone.

Following pain and grief is the anger stage.

 Greg Miller, M.A. and licensed Professional Counselor, would define this stage of grief as “acute grief”. Acute grief is the short span of time that is usually accompanied by crying, anger, and frustration. Often in sports, the loss is attributed to either the referees’ inherent inability to officiate a fair game or a specific player’s detriment to the team. For the Packers and 49ers game, many fans were pointing to the Special Teams unit, saying rather nasty things towards specific players and/or coaching staff.

In some breakups, people will often blame the cause of the break on external factors that are wholly out of their control. For example, if a couple ends up moving away from each other for a period of time and attempts to work on a long distance relationship, a breakup between the two is sometimes blamed on the long distance nature. Furthering the sports analogy, the long distance nature of the relationship can be compared to biased referees in a football game. Are they really as biased as we think? Or are they calling a fair game, and it’s the fact that we’re supporting the home team that makes us think they are being biased? More likely it is the latter.

The final stage of grief (before acceptance) comes with feelings of depression and loneliness. After a tough loss, whether that be in sports or in life, it is often followed by some degree of depression and loneliness. I remember the days following the Packer’s loss, I felt isolated, anxious, and just an overall lack of energy and will to do things I used to love. Hearing the word “Packers” gave me a sick-stomach feeling. Obviously this may sound silly to those who do not support a sports team, but according to Greg Miller, it makes sense that we feel depressed after our sports team loses for a few reasons. For one, a team is something that we are often extremely invested in, whether that be time, or financially invested. Secondly, we usually feel a strong emotional attachment to a specific season. If the season suddenly ends, we lose that strong emotional attachment, and it is almost equivalent to losing a loved one. And finally, we begin to get used to watching our sports team play. We get in the habit of watching the Packers play every Sunday, so when they stop playing, the habit breaks and it is unusual to us. We do not like unusual things!

The list of things you can do to try to get over sports depression:

For my final remarks, I will go over the list of things that Greg Miller suggested to do when trying to get over sports related depression, because there has to be a way out, right? It turns out that most of these are applicable to getting over a breakup as well:

  1. Go do literally anything else
  2. Find something else you enjoy (there has to be something!)
  3. Step away from sports (or dating life in the case of a breakup)
  4. Give yourself emotional distance
  5. Get yourself onto a path to move forward (accept it, and move on eventually)
  6. Let it take time (nothing heals instantly)

Whatever depression you’re going through, just know that it will get better and that sometimes all you need is time. Good luck out there sports fans (and lovers), it’s a risky business!