Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Why Should I Care About Sports?

Yesterday morning I glanced at the Bathroom Bible (aka Reader’s Digest), splayed open on a horizontal surface adjacent to the commode so that both the front and rear covers were visible. The rear cover of the current edition, like most others over the past several years, features an illustration by C.F. Payne.

Payne is famous for his distinctive style that over-emphasizes certain human features, often in a comical way that drives home a certain point. (See some of his RD cover illustrations.) Some think of him as the latter-day Norman Rockwell, whose popular illustrations of Americana graced the cover of the Saturday Evening Post for more than four decades. While both artists’ works demonstrate a knack for capturing features and emotions that strike close to home for Americans, Rockwell is known for his realistic portrayals, while Payne works in caricatures and excels at good-natured lampooning.

The illustration I saw on the magazine yesterday morning is entitled Odd Man Out. Centrally and prominently featured in a crowded subway car is an arrogant-looking young man wearing a Boston Red Sox jersey and hat. He is broadly smiling like the cat that just ate the mouse. He is surrounded by a variety of dour looking New York Yankees fans. This plays on the renowned long-standing bitter rivalry between the two teams. I guess the assertion is that Boston is perceived to be on top of the rivalry at the moment.

My take on this is; so what? I’ve made it clear before that I’m not a sports guy. I watch sports when one of my kids is involved. Occasionally I see some event for the sheer spectacle of people trying to do their athletic best. I prefer individual or small team sports where contest results are clear. For example, there’s nothing quite like those people that fly off the end of a ski jump and sail through the air further than the length of a football field. It is immediately apparent who is winning.

Similarly, I can enjoy many track events (not long distance runs), rowing, luge, bobsled, cycle races (shorter ones), skeleton (you’ve got to be insane to do that), etc. When I see stuff like this, I want each participant to do his/her best. I want each team to do its best. I enjoy a good performance, regardless of which person or team accomplishes it.

But I’m not personally invested in the success or failure of these people. In fact, it’s very difficult for me to comprehend investing oneself in the performance of a sports team, especially a professional sports team, unless I have a personal relationship with one of the players. I mean, why should I care whether the Utah Jazz wins a game? Already I hear people answering, “Because it helps bring economic development to Utah.” You can argue that line all you want, but let’s be real: that’s not the reason you’re sitting on the couch and cheering during a Jazz game. And why should I care who wins between BYU and Utah, which so many people around here seem to care about with such religious zeal?

Seriously, folks, why should I give one hoot in a holler about the performance of any professional sports team — or college team for that matter? Most of the players are recruited from outside of the area, so I don’t even understand thinking of them as my hometown (or home state) representatives. Why should my self worth be tied to the performance of any sports team? Why should any sports team command my allegiance?

Perhaps this is something genetically ingrained. In junior high and high school, I avoided school sports events, except for when I attended as a member of the school band. Even then, I didn’t really pay attention to the game, nor did I much care who won or lost. It just didn’t matter to me.

I have family members that are die-hard sports fans. I grew up with this sentiment all around me. But I didn’t understand it then and still don’t understand it. My wife has always known that my schedule was never beholden to “the game.” Heck, when guys in the office talk about “the game,” I usually don’t know what teams they are talking about, and I am only remotely aware of what sports season it is. I know basically nothing about the individual players.

Even when I watch my kids play sports, I’m not that enamored of a win, nor am I very disappointed at a loss. I want my kids to do their best and to demonstrate good sportsmanship. I want them to win only if they earn it. I want them to pay the price to win. If they play lousy, I would prefer that they lose. Those are good lessons to learn early in life.

But my interest in sports diminishes substantially if my kids aren’t involved. And it diminishes even further when it involves a bunch of adults that play a children’s game as their profession. I understand that these people are all very talented and have all made significant sacrifices to get where they’re at. But frankly, I work with people who are talented and have made many sacrifices to perform fantastically in their professional lives. And they don’t promote a bad-boy culture or entice my kids to engage in risky behaviors. Talent and hard work should be appreciated in any ethical pursuit. Our society goes way overboard in focusing on sports figures.

I’m sorry if you sports fans out there think I’m criticizing you. All I am saying is that I don’t understand what drives you to be sports fans. And because I don’t understand that, I don’t find personal value in it and I live my life accordingly. It's kind of like being on the outside of a tent revival looking in. I can see all of the excitement, but it just doesn't do anything for me.

I realize that sports is a huge business, not only in the U.S., but throughout the world. I’m very likely in the minority in my non-sports orientation. I’ve come to accept that I just don’t get it when it comes to sports and that I likely never will. I’m fine with that.


Charles D said...

I'm glad to see we agree on something!

Cameron said...

I really like sports. I went to the Jazz's lone win against the Spurs in last season's playoffs and it was enormously fun. I enjoy going to BYU football games, so I usually try to go to at least one per season. We're planning on going to USU's homecoming game and festivities this weekend. I find sports exciting and competitive.

I like to play much more than I like to watch though. I played basketball a little in school, and on our church team. I loved it. However, I am not one that spends all weekend watching games on TV. Frankly, it's just too time consuming. The NFL seems tailor made to mess with Mormons, as most games are played on Sunday or Monday nights.

Though I truly enjoy sports, I do not care for the fanatical fan. A number of years ago as a student at USU I went to the BYU-USU game and sat in the student section. The stadium was overflowing with cougar fans, and I had the privilege of sitting right next to one. He was obnoxious. USU has long been the little brother in Utah football, and that game was no different. Despite the lopsided score, this "fan" was yelling at the refs and making an idiot of himself.

The other day we were at a park with our kids and a local kids football team was having a practice. I couldn't get over the impression that the whole thing was more for the adult coaches than it was for the kids. I didn't care for the atmosphere of the thing, and it's made me really start to think about youth sports, football in particular.

Alienated Wannabe said...

I love to follow certain sports, but I think that such love can get out of hand. Be thankful that you don't get it, friend. It saves you time and treasure.

SentrionX said...

I work in sales and I've learned over the years that small talk is really important. The content has NO value but the small-talk is an ice breaker. My problem has always been a total disinterest in spectator sports. Never much of an interest in the biggest team sports (least interested in football, not much interested in basketball, baseball, or hockey). Soccer is more interesting, but all sports get boring to watch after about 10 minutes, especially Nascar (round and round and round). I'd rather play than watch a sport. I used to really enjoy Taekwondo as a kid. I guess I'm also more excited about the novelty of new things. I've never been the sentimental type, have no "favorite color", my "favorite" food, movie, or song is always changing with new experiences. I have no "heros", though I will admit respect for some notable figures, but only after they're dead. I have more interest in the action and outcome than the person. Naturally, I've had a hard time answering "which historical figure do you admire most and why".

I've always been nervous when a conversation turned to sports because as a middle-school and high-school kid, responding with "I didn't see the game" or worse "I don't follow sports" will leave everyone making comments about your sexual orientation. I used to try to avoid the issue or nod my head when others were conversing about a game or team.

What's worse is this culture is so institutionalized. It is expected. Nobody asks "do you follow sports?" No, it's "did you see the game?" How many times were classes cancelled so everyone could attend the mandatory pep rally? Years ago my parents MADE me watch the superbowl and told me I would learn to like it. Didn't work.

Nowadays, however, I've started to just be honest about my views and I've been surprised how many others feel the way I do.

Of course it's not just a lack of interest in sports. I really don't like to make a big deal about things that may be entertaining but have no real meaning, though I do enjoy sharing jokes and humor. I don't have a collection of anything, I'm not a "fan" of any actor or musician, though I can give you a list of artists that I prefer over others. Generally I have a disdain for discussion of art as well. If I listen to music, it's usually just because I happen to be driving and prefer music to silence, except when I'm thinking. The lyrics to most songs are so vague, cryptic, or nonsensical that they really don't have any "meaning" to me except for perhaps just two or three songs. I see no point to attending a live concert when most of the time the music sounds better after it is mixed and edited. If I spend time watching a movie, listening to music or an audio book, or playing a game, it is to relax and unwind after working hard for a long time, or in some cases to liven up a day that has been duled by monotany. For the most part, going into detailed commentary about such matters is not entertaining at all, and for me at least, defeats the purpose of enjoying the art in the first place. It's like getting a message to relax and instead being hounded in the waiting room by a sales person to sign up for a membership. It defeats the purpose.