Why Is It So Hard To Love Sports?
For those of us who care deeply about sports, the medium serves not only as a deep-seeded fuel for a competitive nature long-since dormant in us (or those of us who gained 60 pounds in college and now can’t jump over an especially sizable edition of the Sunday paper), but also takes us back to simpler times. Before we understood what code phrases like “labor strife”, “Notice of Allegations” or “drunkenly attacked his IHOP waitress” signified, sports were just sports. You got into it because your friends did, or your dad was a fan, or the cute girl down the street was a cheerleader, or whatever. Point is, for whatever reason in your formative years, you gravitated towards sports.
It started innocently; you played t-ball or football or playground basketball. When you got older, you joined the leagues. As the years went by, depending on either A.) the size of your school, B.) your skill level or C.) your physical size, the end of the line came. The lucky one’s played through high school, the gifted went on to college and the true talents went on to the big time, even if the big-time was never advancing past A ball in the minors.
No matter when your active ‘career’ in sports ended, you remain a fan on some level, whether casual (knows when the game is), slightly attached (may have money on the game), and borderline homicidal nutjobs (sadly, this group includes me and most of the people I know). If you’ve made it through the first three paragraphs of this blog/write-up/exercise in futility, you probably fall into one of these three categories of fandom.
Think back on the athletes and teams that affected you in your formative years. How many of those memories have been erased or altered in a negative way by an athlete who was a prick, or a GM who gave away your favorite player for a prospect who never panned out, or a star who decided he’d rather snort cocaine off a hooker’s ass than practice? My guess is a lot, and what’s more, I’m guessing you didn’t bat an eyelash when it happened. We’ve been conditioned to expect the worst out of the people we cheer for in all areas of athletics.
Don’t worry, this doesn’t make us bad people for caring about this stuff, especially those of us who would sooner commit a crime than have the cable go out during a meaningless Mavs-Blazers round one play-off game. When you love something, you make excuses for why it sucks. It’s just human nature.
One of my all-time favorite athletes is Braves third baseman Chipper Jones. He came up in 1995 with the Braves; he was as important to the summer’s of my youth as lemonade, beer, bikini’s and fishing. I will cheer for this guy when he’s 82 years old, pooping in a bag and throwing out a first pitch that doesn’t make it halfway to the plate. I can’t help it, and I don’t want to.
I also know his unsavory side. Can be surly with the media. Insists on staying an everyday player at third…but he can’t play even an above-average hot corner anymore, and it pains me to say that. Oh, and there was that messy “18 month affair, child out of wedlock” thing. But hey, who doesn’t have that? No worse than any other athlete, right?
Did everyone enjoy my bout of rationalization? If one of your friends had an 18-month affair that eventually spawned a child, which said friends spouse knew nothing about, you would tell that friend to quit destroying his life, and if ignored, you’d distance yourself from the whole situation because you wouldn’t want to associate with such an unsavory character. You would, I would and so would most people we know. So why will I root for someone I wouldn’t want my (future) children to emulate?
Look, I don’t know. I watch the stuff all the time. I pay attention to everything, whether it’s athletic or off the field, and I probably always will. It’s in my DNA. It’s how I communicate, to be honest. The last time I had a conversation that didn’t touch on sports in some way, I think I was probably in middle school. But why are we so invested in all the aspects (labor problems, police blotters, domestic struggles) that seem to make sports LESS fun to pay attention to?
One of my favorite talking heads is Gary Parrish at CBS Sports; he has a theory dubbed the Knucklehead Rule, loosely described as “Once a screw-up, always a screw-up”. And when a knucklehead screws up, we all get a laugh and Parrish and everyone else gets to fill their two hours on the radio. I’m as guilty as any; I LOVE sending people “Did you see what so-and-so did this time? What a dumbass!” text messages.
It’s part of sports these days. But how much of it is fun? When did we all become more interested in who the quarterback is dating than whether he can make the right read on third-and-eight? When did SportsCenter turn into Access Hollywood? Brandon Marshall’s wife using his stomach as puree practice is tragic, but ultimately, who cares?
Everyone…and no one. We’ve become saturated with the lives of people that aren’t us, while everyone seems to freely acknowledge that hey, this isn’t even that much fun.
For my part, I’m going to try to get back to liking sports because of my teams and my favorite players and not because it’s the most enjoyable trainwreck on TV every night other than whatever wholesome family programming VH1 is putting out these days. I hope everyone else wises up some day; we’ll all have more fun that way. Isn’t that what it’s all about?