6 reasons I like Sportsball

Among the people I spend time with, referring to a game is as likely to be about 7 Wonders or Fate as it is to be about baseball, or basketball. In fact, depending on the precise people, it’s considerably more likely. During March Madness, all my office could talk about was Google’s AI going 4 of 5 against a Go champion. Sometimes, friends or acquaintances of mine disparagingly (or bemusedly) refer to whatever big sporting event that’s going on as sportsball, they seem so indistinguishable.

I’m not an obvious target for breaking from this culture, and liking sports. My favorite kinds of music are mid-century American folk, pre-baroque early music, and opera. I read science fiction and fantasy primarily. I have a 15 year career in software. I got my degree in medieval studies. This is not a profile that screams “I can correctly identify offsides before I see the flag go up”.*

But here it is, Sunday night. Game of Thrones is on, but I’m 100% tuned in to the Copa America finals, really hoping to see Lionel Messi do to Chile what he did to the US in the semis. I’ve loved the summer of soccer, although I admittedly only really watch the international tournaments. I listen to or watch at least parts of probably 80 baseball games a year. For the last several years, I’ve watched almost every Pats** game, and as many Seahawks games as I could catch. And it’s not because I love my husband who loves sports. In fact, he doesn’t like anything but soccer. He calls the baseball broadcasts “the voices in my head” and only goes to a game in person because he likes the hot dogs.

So why do I like sports? What makes it worth spending two or three hours on the couch?

1) You can connect with so many people
I started my sports interest in 1995, with the amazing Seattle Mariners team. Everyone around me was talking about the Mariners. Very few people were interested in talking about Seattle Opera’s superb staging of Wagner’s Ring Cycle, which is what I was excited about that summer. As a supercilious 16 year old, I did of course feel superiorly artistic. But also a bit lonely. At some point, I decided I would open-mindedly investigate this whole “baseball” thing to see what it was all about. And it was amazing! Suddenly, these people with whom I felt like I had nothing in common became friends. I could say, “Did you catch the game last night?” and then we could talk about the game last night. It opened up this huge point of connection, which was my primary goal. It was almost heady, how being interested in what other people were interested in made them more likely to talk to me… or even to like me.

2) It turns out sports are interesting
Chances are good you have one of two reactions to that statement.

    a) Well duh
    b) I doubt it

But the reason that millions of people spend time, money, energy, passion and attention on sports is because they’re fascinating. I think of them like the best poetry. The form is known – like a sonnet. You know that a sonnet will be ABABCDCDEFEFGG. You know the form so well you don’t even have to think about it. But like poetry, each expression of that form is profoundly unique. All the best sports have uncertain outcomes. The only way to know what will happen is to watch the game, even if probabilities and prognostication seem to point to certainty. It’s like poetry of human accomplishment, in opposition to other striving humans, written out for you in real time.

3) You get to feel strong, conclusive feelings
You can be dumped in the pit of despair, but no one actually died. You can exult in the height of exultation. (But you did not actually win the lottery.) You can have aching, edge-of-seat uncertainty for an hour or two, when you wonder if you have any underlying heart conditions. That uncertainty is always resolved at the end. Most entertainment is designed to help us feel things we don’t usually get to feel (and often don’t want to feel) in the day to day course of our lives. Movies make us feel, love, admiration, fear, joy, terror and disgust. Sports can do the same, but in a way that seems less scripted or constructed. We do not feel those emotions on behalf of others, but rather for our own selves, and in community with those around us. No one knows ahead of time which feelings they’ll feel. That’s a powerful catharsis, with a firm and absolute ending point.

4) You join the shared memory
We’ve had to redefine communal memory several times in the last few generations. For the generation prior, it was the shared tv shows on the few networks. Before that, the radio shows. Before that, it was likely more fragmented with stories being told in communities about those communities, that people would share and retell across time with other people who remembered them as well. In an increasingly fragmented world, where we have neither shared history nor shared media, the biggest sporting events are something of a touchpoint. In Boston, “Where were you when the Sox won the World Series?” is likely to get as many stories (well rehearsed, usually) as the still-annual “Where were you when the towers fell?” They make you feel like you belong.

5) It provides a brief break from reality
Do you know what word WASN’T spoken during the broadcast tonight? Brexit. I work hard to stay well informed. I read and listen to a reasonable amount of news. But sometimes I like to have media that allows me to dip in and out (so not a gripping novel), that involves people talking, and that isn’t as depressing as the Dead Sea.

6) Legitimate excuse to sit on the couch
Maybe this is just me, but if I can do something “later” I often don’t do it “at all”. But with sporting events, it’s really really best if you watch it when it’s live. And that means I get to sit still and relax. I don’t live a life conducive to relaxing. If I wasn’t watching the Copa America*** tonight I probably would’ve done the dishes, worked on the attic project, cleaned the living room and then fallen into bed exhausted. Instead, I got to sit with a friend on the couch with no demands. It was brilliant.


What about you? Do you love some sports? All sports? No sports? Do you think sports are silly? Do you follow them passionately? Have you learned over time to see the point in them?

*New skill. Won’t lie. I just figured that one out this summer.
**Having acquired the skills and background in just the last few years to find American Football really interesting, I have decided it’s not a sport I can feel really good about watching. The recent findings about the way football destroys both mind and body of so many of the players makes it feel too much like a blood sport – like I’m a Roman in the coliseum. I’ll still come watch with you if you invite me (and I’ll probably enjoy it), but I decided to take it off my calendar as an event I’ll pursue of my own interests.
***I still can’t BELIEVE that ending!

Blogger/Reader conference

Last night was my first ever “Parent Teacher Conference” with my sons’ teachers. Grey’s held few surprises. His teacher hadn’t managed to peg his reading level, but stumped him on ‘refridgerator’. Since Grey self-reports well, it was nice but not groundbreaking. I was more curious about Thane’s. While he talks a ton for a not-quite-two-year-old, it doesn’t involve a very good answer to “How was your day?” (Thane’s reply: “BU CAR! BU CAR VROOM! Thane’s BU CAR! My turn!”) The funniest moment’s of Thane’s were the note that Thane does not accept correction. For example, he will misidentify a color “Bu Car!”. You will correct him, “No, that is actually a black car.” “No! BU! CAR!”. He will wear you down until you give up, and he will never admit that it was indeed a black car. This is SO TRUE.

Anyway, afterwards I had a phone conversation with my sister where I updated her on some of the stuff I’m doing, and she was surprised. How can anyone be surprised about my life? I have a blog, which OBVIOUSLY everyone reads with bated breath! (Or not…) So I thought I’d give you an update on what’s been going on with me lately.

1) I’m thinking about running a 5k. (My sister’s response “What, did you fall on your head recently?”) I’ve been working out more often than I have since, hmmm… well, maybe since the summer before my wedding? Or maybe since I managed to lose my baby weight from Grey (a feat I have not yet managed with Thane’s baby weight). Anyway, I’ve been doing this two mile loop, and I’m getting faster and better. Like after I’m done now, I feel good, instead of feeling like I just got out of the tumble dry cycle. And I don’t wish I was dead at the 1.2 mile mark any more. There’s a 5K in Melrose that Grey has been BEGGING to go to… and I think I might try it. Crazy, no?

2) We fixed stuff on the house. Four days of Mr. Handyman’s time and all our window sills are hardened, caulked, repaired and painted. So is the rotting wood on the porch I totally didn’t know about and the basement window cover that was caving in. My husband finally fixed the overhead light in the living room. (Seriously, remote controls for lights? I bet it sounds brilliant when you’re 70 but what a PITA when you have small children. And when you lose the remote, and your light mysteriously turns off, your husband spends his ENTIRE Columbus Day trying to figure it out to no avail. Then you finally go buy a new light fixture, because it is getting dark these days ya know. Then while your poor, put upon husband is taking down the old light fixture and putting up the new one, he finds the little bit of wiring that connected to the remote control you lost two years ago, and now the light works FINE. And you have the new one on your dining room table, but it doesn’t quite fit back in its box. But hey, LET THERE BE LIGHT.

But hey! Our window are no longer rotting! The porch has been structurally rescued from water damage! I won’t have a guilty pang at the basement window every time I walk past! And I have a light in my living room again!

Next up: bats in the attic. At least Mr. Handyman put up the bat house I bought, so I won’t feel quite so horrible evicting them.

3) I got a promotion at work. I’m now a Business Analyst. I’m actually very excited about this, since it is really what I’ve been trying to articulate as the perfect job for me for the last several years. Who knew there was a job title (if a generic sounding one) that means that?! And like books and certification and stuff. I mean, it’s almost like a real job! I like my new boss. I like my new job description. There’s still tons of uncertainty during the reoganization, but my brain is fully engaged at work, and I like it. (I’m also pictured in this year’s benefits package. The picture tells me I badly need a new haircut.)

4) My husband has talked me into doing a solo-player RPG. He let me pick the system, so we’re playing Pendragon. I think it’ll be a lot of fun — I’ve never played a generational game before. He’s been reading this blog non-stop in his free time, which has inspired him greatly. (He says I shouldn’t read it because it’s spoilery.)

In related news, I’m trying an MMORP (LOTR) for the first time with a fellow gamer-parent. Because I need to have fun, that’s why. How bad could it be? I mean, MMORPGs aren’t addictive, right? Right? (If this paragraph didn’t make any sense to you at all, don’t worry. Go read this and feel comforted.)

5) I’ve started wearing makeup. Woooooo. OK, this is actually more of a big deal than you might think. Given #3, and another significant number (32), I have decided it’s time to figure out what level of makeup I can live with every day. That’s the danger of makeup. You start to get used to seeing yourself like that, and then it’s hard NOT to wear it or you look bad. And given #1, I will often have to apply said makeup twice a day. But I think I’ve gotten it to a level I’m comfortable with and I think it does help me look more grownup.

6) Possibly in rebellion to #5, I’ve decided to start liking football this year. You may not think that’s how it’s done… who DECIDES they’re going to like something? But that’s exactly what I did with baseball and it turned out wonderfully, thankyouverymuch. So you may now feel free to invite me to your football watching parties because I’m game. I’ll cheer with the best of them when the Patriots get their first downs, and marvel at their tight ends, and, um, stuff. OK, so maybe I still have a lot to learn….

So that’s what’s up with me. What’s up with you?