One of the first questions I received when I told people I was moving to New York was: “Yankees or Red Sox?”
Gentle reader, please understand that my first language is sarcasm. So my response was always something along the lines of, “Which team is winning?” ***
The glare I received could only be best described as falling under the YOU MONSTER! variety.
It’s true. I have a raging case of professional sports apathy. When I think of professional sports, my brain goes everywhere except the actual particulars of the sport itself:
- Baseball: crotch grabs, dirty pants, bats, hot dogs with those buns that aren’t proper hot dog buns, Neil Diamond
- Football: running and crashing, quarters that are longer than college semesters, logo sweatshirts, nachos and beer, husky winter coats
- Hockey: violence, toothlessness, pucks, fear of pucks smashing through the plexiglass and taking out the little old man in the sixth row, hockey moms who say, “you betcha,” shoulder pads
- Basketball: sweaty tall men, sneaker scuffs, H-O-R-S-E, trash talking, celebrities who wear sunglasses in the front row
- Soccer/Football: handsome men with strong glutes, a shirtless Beckham, why won’t Victoria Beckham smile?, Europe, cigarettes, rioting
It’s not that I don’t appreciate athleticism. I used to be figure skater long ago in a faraway place, so I understand the kind of training required to be a professional athlete. It’s intense. I understand the injury risk, the time investment. I also appreciate the desire to play sports, the drive to be competitive, to set physical goals for yourself. I think playing team sports can be great for health and self-esteem in school and out.
I also know that sports teams are our modern-day heroes. We watch athletes take out the “enemy” in a game that is physically demanding and strategically intriguing. Sports teams represent hometown pride – maybe even, a touch of jingoism. Sports teams can give you bragging rights to something you will never achieve yourself, and that brush with glory is heady, uplifting.
All of those aspects make sense to me.
Apathy may not be the right word. Irk. Professional sports irk me. A little bit. Yeah, that’s right! Professional athletes go where they are paid the most; unless they stick with their hometown out of loyalty (has anyone actually ever done this?), they are likely to go where their bread will be buttered. Think Johnny Damon, who left the Red Sox for the Yankees in 2005/2006 and felt the white-hot ire of Red Sox fans whenever he dared enter Fenway Park again. Johnny Damon is only one example of a player who has inhabited a particular uniform and then left it for another. Going from hero to enemy has never been so comfortable. And the only logical conclusion that can be drawn is that the modern professional sports team is not made up of its current roster of athletes. It is a much bigger idea supported on the backs of the fans’ loyalty. It is the fans that are there year after year, supporting the entire franchise on hope and some bluster. And maybe this is what irks me most about professional sports: the fans are the real team, and they don’t get any recognition as such.
In some Catholic churches, there is a moment when everybody turns to one another in Mass, shakes hands with his/her neighbor and says, “Peace be with you.” The other person says, “And also with you.” I think sports fans should get a moment at every game to turn to one another and say, “Thanks to you, we have a team.” The other person can say something like, “Blessed be,” or “Hell yes,” or “You’re welcome.” Whatever the sports spirit inspires. Because when you’re a professional sports fan, what you’re really celebrating is your own joy, your own investment, your own dedication. Recognize that.
And the next time someone asks me whether I’m a Yankees or a Red Sox woman, I will simply say, “I support you.”
***(Shout out to Boston, though: Fenway Park is the best sports stadium ever.)