For most people in our society, talking sports is as basic and natural a transaction as watching TV, tossing back something to drink or going to the toilet. It's a universally understood way for strangers to structure interactions; for friends and family to build bonds. As young Americans, playing on some little league team or school sports seemes to be the only way to survive in little budding social circles.
First of all, you need to know that I am not opposed to physical activity. And I am no athlete. I’m a work in progress when it comes to fitness . I go for walks pretty regularly and take the stairs instead of the elevator most of the time. So this isn’t about me feeling all threatened by people with hard bodies. I’ve come to grips that I possess a soft body. God made all kinds of bodies. Mine is perpetually soft... really soft.
What I hate most of all is the brittle rhetoric that surrounds almost all sporting endeavor. The crap about “teamwork” and “sportsmanship” and “giving it your best”. Everybody knows that sport is all about winning. Even when they say, “it’s not about winning” it’s about winning. The forum I in which I resent this rhetoric the most is children’s sports.
Today I came to the conclusion that I blame sports. I blame sports for my complete lack of interest in having a hard body.
I played sports. I was never good at them. It’s not like I didn’t try. I did. I paid the same money as everyone else. I went to every practice. I lifted weights. I ran stairs. I went to daily triples. I sat on the bench and never played a game throughout junior high and high school. My junior year I woke up and said, “That’s it! I’m done. This is not worth the aggregation, embarrassment, frustration and sweat!” Junior year was my last year to play sports. I was done.
Today was a painful reminder of why I hate sports and I watched my son, whom I’ve been struggling with anyway, stand on the sideline at a football scrimmage; a scrimmage he didn’t tell me about because he doesn’t want people to see that he is the only junior on the JV team that doesn’t get to swing up to varsity. Painful.
It's like this. Imagine, if you will, an eight-year-old who reads poorly. Nothing stupid about her: just a combination of sluggish genetics or maybe indifferent parents, and she’s behind the rest of the class. Now, let’s give her a book and make her read in front of the whole school. “Come on,” they’ll say, “give it try. It’s not about being the best.” Her vision tunnels, her ears start to ring, she struggles through aware everyone is looking at her. How do you think she’d feel? I tend to think her self-esteem would be crushed and she’d probably develop hard feelings towards reading for life.
So why the heck do we make children who aren’t naturally good at sport race their classmates in front of huge audiences? “It’s not whether you win or lose,” they say. But it is. Because the kid who comes last, she doesn’t get a trophy or a parade, she sits in the great silent stillness of the non-winner. Because she lost and everyone saw it. And if she’s the best reader in her class, there’s no trophy.
(Luckily, though, there’s the wonderful consolation of a lifetime of books).
The extent to which sports mean nothing to me measures my alienation from my family and my culture, but I can't help it; when talk turns to the most fundamental bond of our society, my overwhelming response is tedium and sometimes even anger.
Don't get me wrong. I'm don't feel the need to express disdain for all sports. When I can, I pretend knowledgeability to head off embarrassing silences and spare others discomfort. When that fails, I diffidently explain that I don't follow the activity under examination.
And if pressed, I point out that it's not the playing that bothers me. I have on an occasion, played a sport for fun. I go to football games... for the 30 seconds my kid hits the field. After all, and if necessary, I can even admire the athletes' prowess in the final minutes of a football game.
The problem is the baggage that has long since smothered the play. Call me stubborn in my refusal to get interested, but I have better things to do with my leisure than surrender it to the commercialized, banally competitive, jargon-ridden, overexposed, overbearing domination that sports exercises over our culture.
I do resent people who look down on me for not liking sports. I do resents that sports take a front seat to education in American society. I do resent that a high school students worth revolves around how they handle a ball. I do resent it that so much of my society's time, money and attention is consumed by something I don't care about. I do resent it that even close friends and family become droning pod people when sports comes up. I do resent it that sports talk serves as such a casual superstructure of exclusion for so social events… Even Sacrament Meeting!
Thank God there are some avenues to learn how to get along with other, to work as a team, etc. That don’t compete. If I practice with the choir, I sing in the concert. If I attend dance class, I dance at the recital. If I get cast in the play and attend practice, I can depend on performing opening night. If I learn to read I can depend on a lifetime of learning.
Exercise is cool, as is running around and playing ball with your friends, for fun. Trouble is… competitive sports suck all the fun out playing and our of life.