Recently a co-worker and I crossed paths leaving at the end of the day. In the interest of small talk (not my strong suit admittedly) he started sharing a reference to recent sports news. I shared with him that I did not follow sports and he stopped. Then he quizzically responded, “Well, what do you talk about then?” Then I stopped. “Wait, what?”, I thought. Just to make sure I checked and yes, he was serious. What do I talk about? Anyone who knows me knows that I do not suffer from a shortage of things to talk about. Heck, I started this blog to give my loving and exceedingly patient wife a break from my endless random discussions out of the middle of nowhere. What started as the constant brooding and pondering of an only child had turned in to an incessant chatfest once I secured a lifelong foil. Never one to complain aside from the rare uttering of the ‘No lace’, “Pride and prejudice” reference, when she had reached her fill I took the blog on as a public service to one. I digress. Before I explain my beginning to understand why someone would be a fanatic of sports let me back up and list some barely related anecdotes and unproven theories rooted in a long history of brooding. The same brooding that led me to not drinking. Another item that elicits bafflement at times. No moral superiority shtick. I have no issue with others imbibing. In fact I had no issue with being LDD in college, or lifetime designated driver, when need be. Drinking just never made sense to me personally, but that is a ramble for another day.
Disclaimer: I am attention span hobbled and would much rather do something than watch something any day. I once left a superbowl game gathering to play the same teams against each other on Madden NFL. Admittedly still doing nothing really, but a slightly more involved nothing. Pretty much have not watched a superbowl since.
- I cannot fathom emotional allegiances to for profit entities which is all of sports even at a collegiate level. Root for? Yes. Register a wide span of emotions over? Pass.
- Dad, the Steelers and I: My father and I were Steelers (Steel Curtain Era) fans waaaay back in the day. More accurately we were fans of what seemed to be an affable and talented group of fellows (Franco Harris, Lynn Swann, Mean Joe Greene, Terry Bradshaw, L.C. Greenwood and them). They were fun to watch, talk about, and generally bond over. But as the players moved on so did we and that was that. There was plenty else for my father and I to bond over that did not require our hindparts being pinned to a couch. I have nothing against the current Steelers’ roster, whoever they might be, but carrying on my allegiance to them based on a decades old interest in a wholly unrelated, other than the colors they wear on the field, group of players makes no sense to me.
- Ok, I’ll admit it. I think some, a few perhaps but not all or even most, sports fans are kinda’ nuts at times. There was a walkway at GE Schenectady, my 1st post college gig as an Engineer before going to the IT side, that overlooked the Steam Turbine production floor. Stories up in fact. I happened to be wearing a Georgetown T-shirt as an undershirt. Their coach at the time seemed a decent fellow so I spent a Saturday or two muttering nonsensically at a TV on their behalf before losing interest. Plus the colors matched the shirt I wore that day. Enter co-worker who took this as impetus for launching a Syracuse is better than Georgetown debate. Though I was woefully ill armed to hold up my end of such a debate convincingly I thought, “Hey why not. I have a few free moments.” We went back and forth once or twice, and since this was before 2003 (Thank you Wikipedia) I then said this, “Well at least Georgetown has won a championship…” Good gravy. We were indoors, but I am almost certain storm clouds flew in overhead. Unwittingly I may have escalated this verbal conflict prematurely because the man’s eyes went dark and his pupils twitched. Then I remember that we were leaning on a railing several floors up from heavy machinery and promptly excused myself while reassuring him that the Orange-persons would surely come through for him soon. Eesh.
- For this bullet I simply contend that sports and other artificial constructs of relevance are watch the dancing bear affairs. Essentially the modern equivalent of Rome’s “bread and circuses” political tactic as outlined by Juvenal, the Roman satirist not to be confused with the rapper. He stated, “…Already long ago, from when we sold our vote to no man, the People have abdicated our duties; for the People who once upon a time handed out military command, high civil office, legions — everything, now restrains itself and anxiously hopes for just two things: bread and circuses” (Juvenal, Satire 10.77–81). Should sound familiar to anyone paying attention. There is nothing new under the sun.
- I am utterly baffled by the process of choosing “my team”. I have known people who will nearly go to blows on behalf of a team where they have not stepped foot in their stadium (or even state in some instances), have not ever matriculated at their affiliated institution, have not known or even met one single team player or staff person. But, they have no issue plunking down absurd amounts on their paraphernalia and whatnot before questioning my unwillingness to do the same. Ok.
- Since childhood I have had issue with watching individuals put themselves in harms way for profit and my entertainment. It hit me as a child while watching Ali get picked apart late in his career by Larry Holmes and it never left me. We watched in near silence, stunned and even though I was a child I knew no one really won that night except the promoters. More recently there are the events surrounding many NFL retirees suffering from C.T.E. and some committing suicide. I cannot ignore the fact that by watching I am, even if passively, participating in this.
- Be a good little player: I tire of the rabid fans who insist that players be their physical, unthinking minions or surrogates. These fans become ‘outraged’ when one of their surrogates dares to express a personal opinion contrary to their own. Even going as far as demanding that they apologize while simultaneously questioning their intellectual fortitude even though that hulk of a man on the field is quite possibly more educated than the person calling their intellect in to question. And apologize for what exactly? Be punished for what exactly? So free speech does not extend to the playing field? Calm down.
- This whole upset over a player leaving early for a draft thing gives me agita. Leaving college early is simply an individual business strategy. The real issue is that it upsets the corporate profit center or the team. And let us not delude ourselves these colleges are for profit entities. These players were not given scholarships out of the goodness of these colleges’ hearts. They were given scholarships so that the school could make millions. I can understand why the school gets upset, but any observant individual should be able to piece together the simple strategy of striking while the iron is hot. Or more accurately striking before the player is stricken with a career limiting or ending injury.
- While we are on the draft process… A group of men are gathered, many who happen to be individuals of color, then bid upon and strutted across a stage with their new team owners, who happen to mostly not be individuals of color, while wearing a cap or jersey emblazoned with their new owner’s colors. Often times many are traded and resold before the day is out so that the owner’s fields are peopled with the best human specimens possible in order to maximize profit. Oh, and if one is injured, does not work out, is perhaps too rebellious or is kept on past their prime they are summarily and unceremoniously brushed aside, barely to be heard from again, in order to make room out on the fields for the newly purchased talent… Moving on.
- Take me out to the ballgame! I have attended a baseball game or two or three in my day, but with the exception of recent stints singing the National Anthem for the Durham Bulls with 100 Men In Black I am always left wondering, “Why did I do this again?” Or “There has got to be a better way to get uncomfortable seats and overpiced beverages and hot dogs.” Granted even for the Durham Bulls games I wander off to take pictures ultimately. Admittedly a church bus trip to a Canada MLB game (Blu Jays I think?) as a child may have ruined the whole thing for me. a) Should have been tipped by my parents bowing out. My Grandma was a huge baseball fan. b) Lit church members like to sing ‘Rock the Boat’ on a bus trip repeatedly evidently. c) Turns out you can hear ‘Rock the Boat’ too many times for a lifetime in one day. Still have flashbacks. d) Church bought seats just shy of the moon in the stands. Would have had about the same chance of catching a fly ball in my living room in Colonie (an Albany hamlet). e) Round trip the trip took about 3 months or so it seemed. Many years later another trip chaperoning church youths to a Yankee home game was more interesting, but that was a very low bar to cross and plenty a nap was had between reflexively clapping and yelling while asking what just happened. See attention span deficiency reference above.
- Is it not ultimately grown men dressing up and playing games? They are celebrities because enough citizens deign their on field accomplishments worthy of them being celebrated widely and even listened to regarding matters having nothing to do with sports (with mixed results) unless this same countless many no longer deigns them worthy of adulation.
I am not averse to the human stories within any construct and as such I had a subscription to Sports Illustrated for a couple of years. But, as with any worthwhile publication or topic, I was more drawn to the well written stories about the human condition and the amazing photographs that accompanied the stories than to the sports that these stories sprung from. The human element part I get and I am a bit of a photography nerd to boot. The line drawn is between appreciation and fandom or fanaticism. I like VWs, and have owned a few, but even as much as I like to talk about cars (it is why I pursued an Engineering degree) there was a guy years ago who loved VWs so that his entry in to a room would send me scrambling for the exits. Same can be said for video games, technology, photography, etc. I love cameras, but debates like Nikon vs. Canon or the like cause me to glaze over before running in the other direction. The implement of choice is of less significance than the craft itself. Choose one and enjoy.
Ok. Now that I have cataloged some of the reasons sports fanaticism baffles me I will move on to my new found understanding of sports (or any) fanaticism.
Theory: A bonding and conversational safe haven.
At first my co-workers response of, “Well, what do you talk about then?” made absolutely no sense to me. From my viewpoint sports is quite low on a long list of things to talk about. Located somewhere well ahead of celebrity news and below basket weaving, some of which are very ornate and complex I understand. But for others perhaps sports was one of many conversational safe havens where ultimately nothing really mattered. Perhaps this is why some became so agitated when real social issues were being addressed in their artificial playground by their athletic surrogates? With sports you could have long conversations where in the end the discussion would have no bearing on any outcome at all. Literally nothing will be impacted by these discussions over wings and beverages. No outcome, no responsibility, no follow up or action required. Talk away, it is all meaningless in the end. Not one action on the field or court will be impacted in any way. Even if it was impacted, in theory, it is still safely within the confines of a relevancy artificial construct so no harm done. The perfectly crafted intellectual sandbox. Minds whizzing away discussing and dissecting statistical minutiae that in the end do not hold one scintilla of significance with regards to the real real world. The problem is what happens when the occasional distraction from reality takes on the role of reality? What if more people tune in on Sunday afternoon than tune in to real issue of legalized political corruption, regardless of party, running rampant nowadays? What happens when more people turn up at the ticket booth turnstiles (or shopping malls on black Friday for that matter) than turn up at the voting booths election night? What if people spend more time researching RBIs and season interception statistics than diligently researching the voracity of claims made on the news as entertainment channels so they can hold their feet to the fire if need be? What if social issues requiring real discussion and real solutions are dumbed down to mimic Sunday football halftime chatter, or movie night/serial television good guy vs. bad guy narratives to try and hold the electorate’s waning attention spans? What would happen if we were more worried about false statistics being posted for athletes than when electoral discussions drift to meaningless percentages rather than the electoral college to drum up drama and viewership numbers to sell to advertisers? What if people start discussing politics with my blue or red team against your team narratives leaving the good citizenry to squabble over crumbs while the corporations run off with the cake? Indeed. What if? I am sure none of that could ever really happen. -ELW