My Life Outside Sports

Here’s a cute little story: One day, when I was five years old, I commented to one of my kindergarten peers that playing sports was a good pastime for people who weren’t smart enough to read books or add numbers. In related news, that was also the day I spent around a half-hour trapped in a Rubbermaid garbage can. My classmate, it turned out, was a fledgling linebacker.

All these years later, I know my statement was rude. I probably believed what I said at the time, but in my defense, five-year-old kids are well-known for subscribing to controversial opinions. They’re also notorious for saying things they should keep to themselves. Of course, they don’t always end up in trash cans as a result.

Time passed and I became taller and older, but I never gained an appreciation for sports. Growing up in Alabama, this is akin to saying there is no God, only worse, like proclaiming God is a non-Baptist. In case you don’t know, folks in the South don’t take kindly to folks who don’t take kindly to sports. Those are the kinds of heretics who end up in garbage cans.

I didn’t set out to dislike sports. They just seemed juvenile and frivolous, like an enormous waste of my time. And believe me, there were other painless and less self-destructive things I’d determined to waste my time doing. I’m thankful my parents never tried to force me into playing any kind of sport, but I had friends who weren’t as lucky. Those poor guys fell prey to the little league recruiting machine. Man, the dark tales I’ve heard.

To this day, I don’t get sports, and I’ve never understood why they’re so important to us. Marching bands murder classic songs with extreme prejudice, team mascots and cheerleaders cavort like they have no sense, and hordes of people attend rallies held for the sole purpose of generating pep. Mention these things to some people, and they’ll collapse into a quivering heap of team loyalty. Not so long ago, if you’d mentioned them to me, you’d have received a sigh and a roll of the eyes. I’m getting better, though. These days, my sighs are barely audible, and I only roll my eyes when no one’s watching.

But here’s something interesting: Although I don’t enjoy sports, I do find them interesting, but in an isn’t that weird kind of way, because of the bizarre things people do when they watch them. They scream, they dance, they paint their faces, they get into fights, they utter strange words. Maybe the fans went to the schools they’re rooting for, maybe they didn’t. Maybe they just like to yell. At any rate, it’s a lot like a bar brawl with jerseys and scoreboards.

Think about this: Where else but in sports can you find people going berserk, attacking each other like Vikings on Red Bull, and acting astounded when someone gets hurt? Where else do you have people engaging in reckless behavior while praying earnestly for the safety of all involved? Imagine, if you will, the creator of the universe longing for the day when his children figure out that head smashing might have a couple of lasting negative effects. The science is inconclusive, I’m guessing.

Now, every time one of my favorite shows is pre-empted for some post-game analysis, my mind goes back to that kindergarten classroom. When the local weather forecast is cut short because someone wants to run through high school football scores, I remember how my teacher tried to make me apologize to my assailant for my anti-sports comment. She told me I was ill-mannered, which was the truth, even if I didn’t agree at the time. She also predicted I would one day learn to love sports. Everyone did, she assured me.

It hasn’t happened yet.