March Madness

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There comes a time in every man's life when he's asked a certain question. And if he isn't, is he truly a man?

That question, to my knowledge, was never posed to Socrates, Plato, Kant, Freud or Kierkegaard. Their loss. But, it is one that slips from one generation to the next, answered many times but never authoritatively, or else it would no longer be asked. That question being: "Why do you like sports?"

I mean, isn't it obvious? Apparently not.

You might think the person ignorant. And despite the societal judgment that rests upon those so labeled, you would be correct. But it's not an insult.

ig-no-rant –adjective

1./lacking in knowledge or training; unlearned: an ignorant man.

2. lacking knowledge or information as to a particular subject or fact: ignorant of quantum physics.

3. uninformed; unaware.

The persons asking this question, somehow, just don't know. They don't understand.

I am, at least, comforted by daughter, who intrinsically relishes the thrill of competition, but the blank looks on the faces of my wife and son clearly indicate they were not similarly gifted. Alas. And, to be fair, it is not just men who must try to answer this question, but certainly predominantly so.

March Madness is here. If you don't know what that is, this post is just for you. This is the season (or one of the many seasons, to the regret of those ncaawho are not part of the club) for such questions to again confound and perplex many a man. Does such a question truly deserve an answer?

"Why do you like sports?" has been asked of me many times by my son and wife, and I suppose I have failed in my previous attempts, or they would no longer ask. Having asked "spousal permission" to enjoy an evening with the boys watching the NCAA tournament has once again prompted the question to which I can only think: "Why would you ask such a question?"

I don't take this question personally. We have to acknowledge that the person asking the question truly wants the answer. It obviously bothers them and disrupts what we hope would otherwise be a harmonious life. We're, therefore, obligated to attempt an answer, not only to avoid being asked again, but to help them come to a fuller appreciation of sport and, possibly, life itself.

Context is everything, and it's important to understand the assumptions made by the person asking the question. I'm an analytical person. It's time to analyze.

First, it's not a particular sport that is being questioned. We can (almost) understand why someone may not appreciate the finer points of rowing, luge, or discus. But, that is not the question being asked, though it may be misinterpreted that way. You don't have to defend football over basketball over golf over hockey over luge over soccer. Don't fall for that trap.

But as is the case with many questions, there is a more telling question positioned within what is spoken. Why does one care when watching a sport? And there it is. This is not a question of fact; it is indeed one borne of observing a sports fan engrossed in this form of entertainment. For example, Friday night, when USC had a turnover against Boston College, a friend had to look away from the screen and grimace. Why? Because he cared. That type of reaction is simply foreign to those who don't understand.

So let's look at "caring" a bit more closely. To the person asking, they are actually establishing their own conclusion that sports do not warrant caring. I know. It seems wild beyond imagination, but it is true and, therefore, must be addressed.

Wording it more directly, why do we care about people playing a particular game that we don't even know?

Or, why do we care about the team from our college when we don't even know them and we graduated long ago?

Or, why do we care about the professional team in our (or any other) city when we don't know the players, they don't represent any institution with which we affiliate, and the players (or we the fans) have no actual "connection" to the city?

Sheesh. Can't we all just enjoy sports and not have to think about it?

Sadly, we're not yet done with undermining our mines.

There may be, I'm sorry to say, a touch of cynicism involved also. The person may indirectly be asking, "Do you like to watch because you're too (Pick one - old, short, fat, lazy, weak, uncoordinated)? Just great, eh?

Or, perhaps, are you such a loser or under such tremendous stress that you have to watch other people work out their aggression? Further translated: "Why don't you busy yourself with something "more productive" that actually solves your problems?" Please, we just want to enjoy the game.

But, wait! There's more! And tread carefully here. Are they asking "Why does it bother you that I'm asking you this question? It's just a game. Am I so terrible to talk with that you can't take a minute from that stupid game on TV?"

Know your questioner!

Who knew this question could come to potentially harness so many possibilities? Let me help. In short, our original question now has three key facets, and any of them may be intended within the original question.

These are:

1. "Why do we care about strangers playing some game?"

2. "Why do we become a fan of a particular team or athlete?"

3. "Isn't it obvious that you only watch sports because of (insert perceived personal failing of choice)?

Egad. The first I'll attempt to answer in short order. #2 will be addressed in my next post. Andpopcorn and movie #3 involves a monkey on either the questioner's back or yours, and I want no part of it.

(Brief Intermission)

US hockey amateurs beating Russian professionals in the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics. McEnroe outlasting Wilander in miracle-on-ice the 1982 Davis Cup. Jack Nicklaus winning the Masters at age 46 in 1986. Michael Jordan's two NBA "three-peats" with the Bulls. Christian Laettner's last-second shot to beat Kentucky in the 1992 NCAA tournament. George Teague's strip of the ball from a Miami receiver in the 1992 Sugar Bowl. Michael Phelps winning 8 gold medals in Beijing in 2008.

These are but a few of the memorable moments I've had watching sports. Any sports fan has their personal "Best of" recollections. As with any sports fan, there are also those memories that are not as triumphant as those listed here but linger instead as unhealed sores. To win, one must risk losing.

Let's rule out some false steps to which your questioner may try to lead you, which would quickly score points in their tally. And, after all, we must recognize that answering this question is, in fact, a competition. We want to win the point, yes?

Red Herring #1: Is it because other people play a sport so well that we never even tried, or tried and were only average (or worse)?

No. Don't go there. This may affect our appreciation for an athlete's skills, but does not address our love for sport.

Red Herring #2: Is it escapism?

Maybe. At least from sitcoms. But for the love of God, don't say this! They'll demand the remote control! And then drinking your frosty beer alone in the garage becomes somewhat pathetic. Just say "No."

Focus here. There are two parts to a complete answer that demand respect and continuing mastery of your HD screen. These answers inform, moving our audience to a knowledgeable position from which to choose to enjoy sports or not to enjoy sports, but not to question your enjoyment. Winning a conversion would be nice, but ensuring understanding has been our end game, after all.

1. It's unscripted. In relation to their world, "sport" is not a play, a TV show, a novel, or a movie. If forced, you might ask if they would skip to the end of a book before reading the chapters preceding. But this should be a backup position, only.

By unscripted, we're not living by what a person thoughtfully constructed in orchestrating a series of events to a conclusion. We're living in the moment. Certainly competitors have plans of what they want to accomplish, but at the moment when it matters, none of us knows exactly what they will do. It makes these moments precious.

This is why watching a recorded sporting event after learning the final score is a bore. One no longer lives in the moment, because the conclusion is now written.

2. It's heroic. When it really matters, a competitor(s) steps up to that particular moment in time when a specific action is required that either succeeds or fails that results in a gain or setback, a win or a loss. It's a crucible which offers glory, and, in a good game, many opportunities for heroic triumphs.

There's also a sense of truth about that athlete. What stuff are they made of when the forces against appear likely to prevail? This is why we react so negatively to those who cheat in competition or use steroids. They didn't come to their heroic moments honestly.

This isn't about celebrity worship or an animalistic homage to testosterone. It's a celebration of life, from the master strokes of intentions to the minutiae of execution, from the failures to overcome to the obstacles set by the opponent.

Perhaps there is a sense of living beyond one's self, of projecting our aspirations onto the actions of others. But any appreciation of art or music is essentially the same. We experience the work of others and process them in ways which can help us to live life more fully.

And if we happen to marvel at a quarterback throwing a tight spiral to a receiver running in full stride, through the outstretched arms of a defender, in the end zone, with no time left on the clock, for a come from behind victory, please respect the sport fan's appreciation for that unscripted moment when heroics prevailed.

For you questioners, there should be understanding between us, and a respect for our differences. You may not come to appreciate sports. That's okay. Apparently, when it comes to sports, you either get it or you don't, like, say... Clemson and the University of South Carolina in football (because football is all that matters in the post-Civil War south). There are winners, and there are losers. But the games go on... with people who want to watch.

1 comment :

  1. Don't forget the historical aspect of it. We, as a society, have enjoyed watching others compete since we became "civilized" enough to hold competitions; Roman Gladiators and Midevil jousting tournaments immediately leap to mind as examples. One could even show Biblical references to sporting events with Daniel and the Lions.

    And I must make one small correction. Football is not all that matters in post-Civil War south. You forgot all about NASCAR. You could very well be drummed out of the south for forgetting that. LOL! ;)