Sunday, October 25, 2015

The Sports Gene

So I didn’t inherit the sports gene. Or rather, the team sports gene. Not like most men, anyway. I do enjoy watching the Bengals when I have time or can work on something else while they’re playing. I love going to any stadium and watching a live event; there is something about the energy of the crowd and the spectacle of the athletes I enjoy. But I don’t really know the rules, the stats or the players. And I don’t care. 

This may not seem like a big deal, but it does tend to block an instant common denominator in new male relationships. At parties, meeting new coworkers, even at job interviews, I’ve had folks use sports as a conversation starter. They all seem disappointed that I have no opinion on who the Reds should use as a starting pitcher next season. Luckily I’m interesting enough to guide the conversation toward other manly things I enjoy; guns, motorcycles, Steven Seagal movies. But sports just leave me cold. 

My father wasn’t a huge sports guy. He watched his share of American sports, especially football and baseball. We would go to Reds games all the time when I was growing up and I loved the Big Red Machine of the ‘70s. I always took my glove but never caught a foul ball. But strikes, ridiculous salaries and whiny player behavior eventually soured me on baseball. Add to that the fact that watching baseball on TV is like watching glaciers move. I just can’t do it. I still go to the stadium when I have free tickets—it’s just not my first choice for entertainment. 

When my relatives used to sit around on holidays and watch sports when I was a kid, especially football that wasn’t the Bengals, I was bored out of my freaking mind. I have never understood the attraction. One reason may be that I’m not a natural athlete. I played on Knothole baseball and YMCA basketball teams when I was a kid and did terribly. I was always one of the worst players on the team. Later, it was the same for the church softball team and pickup basketball games in high school. I got much better at basketball after intense practice, but nothing about team sports ever came naturally. 

I contrast myself comically to my friend Eric. Eric and I have a lot in common and we’ve been close friends for 30 years. However, he is a sports freak. His television is glued to ESPN and sports programming 24 hours a day. He knows sports stats and player private and public lives going back to the 1800s. He reads books on the histories of sports and specific teams. He has an almost photographic memory of sports stats. He constantly finds it humorous that I don’t know jack about any sports related anything. I did have a good time learning football rules from Eric. In college, we used to skip a boring night class and go to his house and watch Monday Night Football. Looking at me as some kind of medical experiment or someone who had lived in a bubble from birth, he took the time to explain obscure football rules and how a first down worked. That was eye opening and made watching football a lot more enjoyable. Nothing would make watching baseball more enjoyable. I remember one night we were talking on the phone and he was shocked I didn’t know the World Series was on, and had no idea who the teams were. Hey, I knew it generally takes place in October or November, what do you want? Eric still takes time to assure me there is no such thing as a “football bat,” in tones one would use to explain how to cross the street to a small child. Philistine. 

As for sports I do enjoy, I tend to like individual sports rather than teams. I spent many years in the martial arts, specifically Shotokan karate. Later I took fencing for several years, learning western fencing, rapier/dagger and some Japanese swordplay. Those were ten times more fun that watching or playing basketball. I still enjoy target shooting, disc golf, racquetball and weightlifting, although I have little time to indulge in those activities. As soon as my bum knee gets fixed ... 

So a little understanding out there for men who didn’t get the sports gene. We’re still manly! I don’t know the players, the rules, the stats or what teams are in the playoffs. At this point I never will. It’s not the worst thing that can happen. Can we discuss geopolitics or Batman comics instead?

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