I think it’s important to point out that I’m titling this post “The Love for Sport” instead of using the phrase, “of Sport”.
Let’s come back to that idea later.
There is something to be said about the subject of sport because I certainly have my interests and am not relatively shy to admit it.
Futbol (soccer), hockey, and baseball are among the top of the list, but I also appreciate rugby, Australian football, a good tennis match, nearly any sport featured in the Olympics, and the occasional gridiron football game but get more engagement from the Canadian version than the American flavor these days.
But I literally grew up in the hills off in the distance that you see in the background of the baseball field that Kevin Costner’s character built in Field of Dreams, so you can bet I grew up playing baseball.
We played on sandlots, empty lots, parking lots, and even the carved out kickball court on the local Catholic school playground, which shattered a fair share of car windows in the church parking lot out in right field as well as the Zimmerman’s kitchen window that sat in foul play territory on the third base side, consistently setting time records for how fast kids could evacuate an area every time it happened.
The main thing is that we had a lot of fun, and I can recall that’s all I ever cared about. Winning seemed like a fleeting moment and only meant bragging rights, which kids can be brutal about. I hated when it was done to me but am sure that I’ve done my share.
This is where my mind drifts back to when searching for the origin of appreciating the concept of competition and the drama of my team against your team.
It’s about the beauty of a moment. The one time at the park where the team of kids from another side of the neighborhood beat the snot out of our team, but you had a couple of great hits and drove in some runs to help cut the lead. Even though you lost, no one could take away that feeling of connecting your bat to the ball, hearing the ting of the aluminum bat, and running to second to drive in a few runs.
I am an absolute sucker for that drama. That feeling of a moment that drags you to the front of your seat because maybe something amazing is going to happen. It might be good, it also might be bad, but it’s still a moment.
And those moments become history, and that history is shared through story. Where you were when it happened and how it made you feel. Remembering those good times with the bad. Wins. Losses. Times that could’ve or should’ve been.
It’s torture, really, but I think that’s a good thing.
Because I believe that as a human race, of all of the civilizations that we have created for ourselves, much of everything we have done has been born out of conflict and, more precisely, warfare.
The concept of us versus them runs very close here because sport inevitably, and by design, creates division.
This makes sport a healthy substitute for our evolutionary past enjoyment of successful warfare, whether through outright victory or peaceful resolution meant you literally survived to see another day. Your culture was allowed to continue in its existence and grow into greater societies that might become empires and countries.
You could go on and on comparing these notions, but the fact is that sport can help hold us back from the brink of taking these things that can feel so similar down a notch when passions become too much.
This is where I hold myself back and say that I have that love for sport but hesitate to say of sport.
It’s as simple as people taking things too far.
Because when I played football for that one season in the tenth grade, our coaches always talked about sacrificing our bodies and that playing our games was like going to war.
Hold on. No it’s not. This is just a game.
Our school mascot was the “black panthers”, an animal indigenous to nowhere near the state of Iowa. Our games preceded the varsity football game and got way less local press coverage. Sure, we were being prepped for when we eventually moved up a grade and played in the prime time slot on Friday nights, but even then, I watched guys on my team get ruptured spleens, dislocate shoulders, and break various bones.
I even developed a problem in my hip socket that one season and did my best to play through it as much as I could because many of my own teammates teased me for faking it, making it feel more like we had teams inside the team rather than what the term actually stands for.
That’s where passions can run too deep for me, and I can pinpoint the moment when I realized that I’m a bad competitor.
One Friday night football game that season, we were about to win the game until the visiting team got a last second touchdown to take it away from us in the dying seconds. The play was a beautiful pass with a diving catch in the end zone, our defenders getting just barely outstretched after forcing that pass as the clock hit zeros after the play started.
Honestly, it was an awesome feat on their part, and I, being a small guy and still fighting my hip, watched from the sideline.
I remember turning around with a little bit of a smile and mouth drop with an oh-my-god-did-that-just-happen look on my face when I connected with one of my teammate’s horrible, full on cry-face, sitting on the bench and completely weeping. I turn around and see another guy walking off the field with tears streaming out his eyes.
This was like the fifth or sixth game of the season, and the other team wasn’t even one of our neighboring rivals. We weren’t even pushing for the playoffs, if we even had a playoff system for tenth grade football.
I can’t even remember if we had a winning season, and ended my involvement in high school sports after that season with no regrets.
It taught me to appreciate the spectacle though. The fun that comes with the act of playing a sport and not letting it be everything because I once knew a guy around the same time that got so angry after losing a football game on a Friday night that his girlfriend knew that she wouldn’t be seeing him all weekend. He kept brooding over it straight into Saturday and would shake it off by the end of practice the following Monday.
So this is where I get confounded when a spectator goes through the same emotional intensity as someone actually playing a sport does.
And there are a lot of them. There are whole industries built around feeding on it, and I’ve been in the thick of it as a broadcast engineer for a sports talk radio station for over a decade.
But it’s also entertainment. No different from how someone enjoys a good book or lives to cook a greater meal, the release of dopamine is all the same. It hits everyone in the brain’s pleasure center all them same. We can’t ignore that fact when talking about that sports enthusiast who can drop stats and always knows what should be happening if they were in charge.
That is where I draw my line though.
Stats and tactics talk until the cows come home. Who needs to be traded. What kind of player should be acquired. I’m just not the person to be that good to talk that talk.
I’m not that kind of a consumer of sport.
I love those oh-my-god-did-you-see-that moments. Absolutely those are fun, and who doesn’t?
Because I’m hardly what you could consider a fan of curling but can get into a good match between powerhouse countries. All you need to know is that it’s about the team with the rocks closer to the center dot. Don’t worry about the scoring that you don’t understand, which is fine. I don’t either! I’m not even sure if it’s called a “match” and will resign myself to not looking that up until after writing this and eventually publishing this post.
It is a game. It is entertainment.
If you choose to follow along, embrace that your team can be awful, and some will be more awful than others, usually because of money, even in amateur high school athletics. Accept that misery in losing gives you connection to a conscious, torturous, continuous sense of hope that keeps you coming back for more whenever the next time is.
At the end of the game, set, match, round, or whatever, it’s over. It happened. Enjoy that it did, and it’s not the end of the world for what did not.