“If you want to totally misunderstand why something is supposedly important, find the biggest fan of that particular thing and ask him for an explanation. He will tell you everything that doesn’t matter to anyone who isn’t him. He will describe paradoxical details and share deeply personal anecdotes, and it will all be autobiography; he will simply be explaining who he is by discussing something completely unrelated to his life.” –Chuck Klosterman
I have never been outwardly, insanely enthusiastic about sports. My grandpa was a coach who pressured my mom into sports and as a result, although I was enrolled in various activities that could fall under that category, it was never a priority. My childhood experience was not a positive one for the same reason that I always check a box whenever I take personality quizzes–I am not a team player by nature. Gym class or whatever popular passing energy dispersion happened during recess were more commonly observed by me. I’m a frequently confused, slow-moving magnet for sports equipment. I was always picked last, I’m useless in Red Rover, and I was the bait whenever we played Capture the Flag. At first, I resisted and then eventually volunteered by the time I began to accept my fate. I enjoyed games where I could end up “out,” and then hang out in “jail,” a terrible term that penalizes children for something which ultimately turns them to sports villainy so they don’t have to run and show-off how terrible they are.
I learned that my place in this particular venue was as a “distraction.” I was never the basketball star, but I was the spazz that confused the other players while my fellow teammates performed lay-ups and 3-pointers. My coach once yelled for me to head to the opposite end of the court during a game, and I yelled back, “What’s the point? They’re going to end up back on this side anyway.” Part of it is that I am a rebellious only child, and part of it is that I an unable to sparkle in this area. I enjoyed playing tennis (it felt leisurely and was more individualized or partnered at most) and I enjoyed baseball when it was just me pitching to myself, so really, what did I need the actual thing for? I didn’t run, I didn’t catch.
Yet, as an adult, I’ve found myself becoming a sports fan.
It took awhile. For about a decade, I abhorred watching sports; I had flashbacks of humiliation, poor performances, and a general feeling of lacking. At best, I felt bored by games. Yet, other people were fascinated by them. They were drawn to them. I once went to a friend’s house, and he was all dressed up in color coordinated outfit yelling and fist pumping in a room by himself with the tv. I was missing a key component of life, and I wanted to comprehend it even if I didn’t share it.
What drew me in initially was Caleb. Every winter, he watched football. He had a jersey and could sit in almost a zen-like state and watch the games from start to finish. I asked him, “Why do you watch it? What do you see when you do?” He explained that he and his father didn’t have a lot in common. His dad traveled most of the year for work, and so he wasn’t around often. “When he was home, he watched football every Sunday. I joined him. He taught me the game. I’m more like my mom. I don’t understand why he does the things he does. They got divorced, and it didn’t phase me. Football was something we could do together. It was the only thing we had.”
That was the first thing I noticed, and it was especially true for communities. People were rich, poor, black, white. Yet, when it started, they all became one. Even different teams came together in stadiums. Folks that had nothing in common united.
For many, there’s adrenaline. Will they or won’t they win? All the movies from this genre are about the underdog. Going against the odds. Bringing people together. Conquering the unknown. Talented individuals who have to put aside differences for a single goal.
What ended up sealing it for me was the last element. It took growing up, working at a job day in and out to finalize it. The reason people watched sports. Hope. To hang your dream on something that is not you. The overcoming desire to believe in something bigger than yourself. I’ve argued with others about this for a long time, but I believe that this is the single biggest reason that we continue to have children. Part of that is undoubtedly political/religious beliefs, ingrained societal/cultural duties, and a hankering to play teacher to a limited audience, but I still maintain that children are something we can channel our energy, time, and focus into regardless of the return (not unlike sports).
But the above is not what made others’ love of sports interesting to me. What made it interesting was Chuck Klosterman, a writer who has the uncanny ability to make me care about things I didn’t know I could care about. Hair metal from the 80’s and 90’s. Instilling curiosity in me about Lost, a program I showered with hatred of the unknown until, of course, I watched it. And sports. He even made me realize a connection between religion and sports. In his article about Tim Tebow, Klosterman writes:
“The only time ‘faith’ seems negative is when it’s prefaced by the word ‘blind.’ But blind faith is the only kind of faith there is. In order for someone’s faith to be meaningful, it has to be blind. Anyone can believe a hard fact that everyone already accepts. That’s easy. If you can see something, you don’t need faith. Faith in the seeable is meaningless.”
Klosterman’s essay about the Celtics combined with my peers getting together for a Celtics play-offs game made me agree to watch it. I still don’t love sports, but I find myself much more interested and involved than I ever was before. When someone makes a basket or a touchdown, I turn to my husband and we high-five and yell and share someone else’s accomplishment with all of our friends who have also witnessed it. Being part of someone else’s scientific approach fueled by talent-in-action is a beautiful thing to witness. There’s also the relief in knowing that no one is making me play.