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A Tennessee emotion map

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Which kind of sad Vol is right for you?

Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images. Banner Society illustration.

Sports can make people emotional. Emotions are tricky things, especially sadness.

Happiness can come in only so many shades. Sadness, though? Sadness has a thousand variations, some so subtle they’re hard to tell from the other.

That can make deciding exactly how you feel a truly difficult thing. Fortunately, there is help. The words for exactly how you feel may escape you, but these photos of sad sports fans should help distinguish one kind of sad from another.

Point to the one that shows how you feel.

Now let’s discuss each.


The instant when sadness is realized. Sadness is not here yet, but you’re in the middle of the road, and it’s coming down the road without brakes.


Michael Shamburger

This is going to be bad, you say to yourself, all the while not fully feeling the bad thing’s full impact. Like going ankle-deep into into the pool of bad feelings, but understanding that things won’t get real-real until you have to get your shoulders under the water.


Michael Shamburger

The moment when, emotionally speaking, you get your shoulders under the waters of sorrow. The physical reality of the emotional disaster, as unavoidable as an onrushing defensive tackle seconds from sacking your quarterback. (Again.)


NCAA Football: Tennessee at Alabama Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

The sadness that makes you want to flee far from everything, even though you cannot. The precursor to alienation, shame is the bridge to divorcing yourself from the world. Shame says “I’d rather not be here, but there is still an I to think and feel these things, even if that I is wearing a paper bag over their head to hide.”


Tennessee v South Carolina Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Putting an entirely new face between yourself and the world. Shame is wearing a paper bag, because the paper bag says yes, this is a paper bag over my real face. Alienation is a step further, i.e. making a whole new self and walking around with it in the face of unimaginable sadness.


Georgia v Tennessee Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

The look on the right.

The colloquial way of putting this emotion: the exact instant someone realizes that someone else “ain’t shit” and will never redeem even a percentage of the hopeful checks you’ve written against their personal credit.

Disappointed forgives that. Embittered, though? Embittered spent a hundred bucks in gas and took off work early and paid for a suite at the Comfort Inn to get to the game for the noon kickoff. And dammit, it wants all that money back if you’re gonna do this against some knockoff West Virginia like Appalachian State. All of it, y’all.


Less a state of sadness than a defense against it, the panic room of the emotional home. However, spend too much time there, and it just becomes your new living room.

Please note that this feeling can be so extreme that you must place your hand on your head to a.) keep it from flying off from sadness and b.) verify that this sadness has not in fact destroyed you on the spot.

If you need another reference to check if this represents how you are feeling: are you a Nebraska fan? This has been you for the better part of 20 years now.


Is someone reading this aloud to you because you cannot take your hands off your eyes for fear of seeing the world still in front of you? You’re here at the apex of sorrow and pain.

You are inconsolable and want nothing more than to block out all inputs from the world. Just like your offensive line, blocking is something you cannot do. Is powerful emotion really the best pass rush? Yes, yes it is.


You can’t twist your head off, but losing to Florida by 26 points at home will make it feel like the only option.


Here we go. It’s here. There is no more before or after, only sadness, on all sides like a rising tide. That word choice might be intentional, and I’m not sorry about it.


When sadness leaves you feeling naked. The nude version of misery, basically.


Sep 15, 2012; Knoxville, TN, USA; Tennessee Volunteers fans react to their teams loosing to the Florida Gators during the second half at Neyland Stadium. Florida defeated Tennessee 37-20. Mandatory Credit: Jim Brown-US PRESSWIRE
Sep 15, 2012; Knoxville, TN, USA; Tennessee Volunteers fans react to their teams loosing to the Florida Gators during the second half at Neyland Stadium. Florida defeated Tennessee 37-20. Mandatory Credit: Jim Brown-US PRESSWIRE

Accompanied by a crossing of the arms to defend yourself from how the situation is making you feel. Displeasure, while unpleasant, is again still invested in the situation. It’s not happy about it, but it’s still part of a relationship. Differs from discontentment in that discontentment is ongoing and can be fended off, while everyone is defenseless from the instantaneous onset of displeasure.


Barely with the living. The urge to hide is almost animal. The need to respond to anything exterior, minimal at best.


The wave of anxiety flying over you like the beating wing of a huge hawk, hunting for something to use as an anchor point for its claws. This local man portrays the emotion perfectly: something might be wrong, and the possibility of the possibility is enough to upset his equilibrium.


When it’s too much and not going anywhere. If you’re suffering but using the industrial strength version of suffering — i.e. the intense, long-lasting version, bought in bulk from the sadness store — that’s misery.


Are you not sad, but on the lookout for things that could be sad? Overly worried by it, even, to the point of that worry ruining perfectly normal and good things? That is wary, as in “I am wary that this 17-point deficit to Alabama, which is bad, could get worse by double before the game ends.”


When the sadness is so powerful you simply cannot advance past the beginning and get the urge to pull your face off from the top of your skull.


A novel emotion, but a real one I think needs to be added to the lexicon. Elendfreude is a completely made-up German word meaning “misery-joy,” and it is the best way to come close to the feeling of seeing something awful happen to yourself, yet feeling a perverse joy in it.

Example one: Your team leads with a 1:26 left and has the other team at fourth-and-14 around midfield. The other team somehow throws for a game-tying TD on that fourth-and-14 and wins.

Example two: Any time on the internet when someone says “lol” accompanying an announcement of devastating personal news, like “Got cancer, this absolutely owns lol.”



When the normal mechanisms of humans comforting other humans cannot break the wave of sorrow, you have reached inconsolable. (The man here probably does not help by smelling like fear-sweat and Dickel, but the illustration stands.)


Just a long walk beneath a blanket of emotional permacloud, usually with regret and disappointment as outriders.


NCAA Football: Florida at Tennessee Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

If you’re disappointed, but also a little surprised, like when your team finds a novel and shocking way to lose in year 11 of an anticipated three-year rebuild. It’s not the sadness that stings the most. It’s how it got here in the first place.


The kind of sadness you clock into like it’s an hourly job, or a fandom worn proudly but with pain for years on end. Woes transcend troubles in that they are their own historical period and multiply with time.

Woes are the mortgage. They go nowhere, require payment and attention, and only disappear with the passage of decades.


When the badness hits before the sadness. Horror has to pass first, because horror is the body realizing it has seen something deeply wrong or against nature.


All this sadness just makes you tired.


Let the wisest elders show you the face of survival, the vision of the only way out of all these strains of anger and sadness.

The Buddha believed that life was pain, that accepting pain was the only way toward a truly whole life.

This fan embodies that. If life has given him four turnovers, he will take a fifth if it comes.