By Nicholas Ethan F. Santiago
The Ateneo basketball game was a bit of an odd experience for me. I was not accustomed to the classic sports showdown that usually accompanies these heated school rivalries. While I have been to basketball games before, an Ateneo-La Salle game was something completely different. The only games I’ve been to before were the PBA games of Ginebra San Miguel and the crowds were rather one-sided. Ginebra fans are known as “Barangay Ginebra” for a damn good reason. I was told the place was going to be full house so I came in expecting a packed stadium and what I saw, though it came to no surprise, was still something very elating. The image that greeted me was that of massive throngs separating into two distinct seas of green and blue as the cheers on the opposing sides clashed into a heavy uproar. The drums resonating in the background as the cheering escalated once the game began.
I do have to admit that I did enjoy being caught up in all this universitarian fervor. I came from a high school whose triumphs in athletic competitions were nonexistent. So I often wonder what the appeal of watching school varsities compete was. One perspective may place the glory of winning as the drive to excel. Regardless of any form of material compensation, athletes persist in striving to be the best at what they’ve chosen to do. They are always granted venues to prove their mettle against one another and the winner takes the prize of wrought victory. Despite those ideals, what I found more interesting was the effect these athletes have on spectators. What does the audience have to gain as they watch the struggle of the bout? Mostly they gain nothing of material value in return for watching. In fact, they are the ones who must spend in order to spectate. Could the gain be determined by the composition of the audience?
One can then examine and compare the type of crowd at an Ateneo-La Salle game to that of Barangay Ginebra. Regarding the former, students of their respective schools would make up the majority of the audience while alumni and faculty members would be the rest. The latter is of a more diverse crowd; laborers, salary men, and families all from different backgrounds. Since PBA teams are named after their sponsors, favorite teams are determined by personal preference rather than scholastic loyalty. Furthermore, if the team is from private schools such as ADMU or DLSU then the students probably come from more affluent backgrounds.
Yet the ultimate gain for both crowds is to share the glory with their chosen teams. Humans have an inclination to seek for identifiable groups. By watching the spectacle of competition, the audience feels as if they can relate with the efforts of the players as if there was a sort of resonant feeling. Then once victory is achieved, that inclination to identify is stimulated to a degree of shared elation.
A rivalry would then add more to the thrill of spectating. To Ateneans, an Ateneo-UE game would not be as thrilling as an Ateneo-La Salle game. Even I understood the effect rivalries have on an audience. Spectators continue to indulge in that inclination and they revel in the excitement of competing against rivals; especially when the chosen team wins. Victory tends to be sweeter when an old foe is bested.
Yet I still wonder what caused the rivalry. Of course the teams that face-off in a match momentarily become rivals. That effect is further heightened during championships. So the more apt question is what perpetuates the rivalry? In this case I believe the profits are one factor. Ateneo-La Salle games tend to get larger media coverage compared to matches against other teams; it is one form advertisement. In 2008, when the championships were between Ateneo and La Salle, I recall there being a double page spread on the finals in one newspaper. In that same game, the crowds exceeded the fifteen-thousand seating capacity of Araneta Coliseum. Secondly, even if the exact root cause of the rivalry has long been forgotten or was of questionable veracity, the opposing sides continue to believe the rivalry to exist and so it does. Popular opinion does tend to influence the perception of many.
However, I do believe there is more to the rivalry that goes beyond what it adds to the gain. Witnessing this rivalry play out before my eyes reminded me of Roland’s Barthes essay “The World of Wrestling.” In the essay, Barthes’ argues that Wrestling is not a sport at all. True Wrestling as he calls it is a “spectacle of excess”. Just as in theatre the roles of wrestlers are clearly defined; there is the hero character and the bastard. Fairness is not expected in the bouts, but the outcome is usually that of the hero dispensing justice against the cheating bastard. That spectacle depicts a form idealism where the nature of things is clear; everything is black and white. As Barthes states, “it is the euphoria of men raised for a while above the constitutive ambiguity of everyday situations and placed before the panoramic view of a univocal Nature, in which signs at last correspond to causes, without obstacle, without evasion, without contradiction.”
Though the perceived rivalry does not literally portray that clarity, it does represent a sort of drama or an actual “spectacle of excess.” These games sell out not only because of the sportsmanship and skill displayed at times, but the exposition of a romantic struggle for glory as well. However, the efforts of the players do not solely constitute that perceived struggle. The bout is exalted by the spectators. The roar of the crowds becomes part of the struggle as the opposing sides compete in loudness. Through social media people express the emotions they felt during the game: contentment at the outcome; excitement felt while watching; and praise of sportsmanship witnessed. The inclination to identify causes people to no longer be content with merely relating with the struggle; they begin to add to it. The games become exactly what the public has expected it to be because they made it as such. Shared perception creates a homogenized experience that makes identifying with others easier; one effect of that inclination.
In its entirety the game could be viewed as a coalescence of various social dynamics; the basis of those dynamics being part of our nature as social beings. I believe the Ateneo-Lasalle game illustrates the power of our impulses have on shaping events even if this specific event borders on the sensational. Though the lasting importance of a UAAP game in a macro perspective is very questionable, there is always some merit in learning the layers of complexity beneath semblances of simplicity.