The Angry 13th Man

I can’t imagine that I will ever publish a post as unpopular as this one is bound to be–particularly with anyone from my own city, and, I’d bet, most everyone else. However, I still think it still needs to be said.

 

hockeywizardWhen I was growing up, being a nerd was still an anomaly; hipster chic had yet to rear its ugly head, and if you weren’t into sports, you were nothing. Guess which camp I was in? That’s right; I was the one who always wanted to build a fort out of the mats in gym class, rather than join into the team sport. Times have changed a bit, and it’s become more socially acceptable for a man to show no interest in sports, but not as much as some of us might have hoped.

Hockey is ubiquitous in Canada, but it’s football that’s really grown in my city over the last decade. We’ve had our own team for over a century now (though not under the current franchise name—that’s only been around for about 65 years), but it’s only in the last decade or so that their popularity has increased to a fervor—to the point where people speak of the “Rider Nation” (our team being the Roughriders) and “bleeding green” (green being our team’s primary color).
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I’ve tried to integrate myself into the mass of fans at times, in part because of family history (my grandfather played for the team in the 40s), and in much larger part because of how rabid a fan my sister tends to be. While I do fine in the moment—I know most of the rules, understand the game, and even generally enjoy watching it while I’m watching it—the experience has never resonated with me. I don’t feel the need to watch football, and I don’t understand how it makes any sense for people with no actual connection to the game (or playing experience, in most cases) to connect with it so viscerally that a loss can ruin their entire weekend, or a win can make their day. It baffles me. Even more confusing and annoying is the prevalence of team colors everywhere in my city, and the constant pressure from others to take part, either conversationally, or more directly, by demanding to know where my colors (and by extension, team spirit) are. I’ve even had people act openly hostile if I happen to be wearing (quite by accident, as I generally have no clue who is playing) the opposing team’s colours. Even if I manage to explain that I’m not interested in football, the next statement is inevitably something like: “Oh, you must be a hockey guy, then.”

The trouble is that I feel the same about pretty much all other sports. I can watch and understand hockey, rugby (both league and union, for the Aussies out there—though I’ve never taken the time to learn Aussie Rules), cricket, baseball, basketball, and any number of others, to greater or lesser degrees. I’ve even enjoyed sitting on the couch with the guys, knocking back a couple of wobbly pops and watching a good scrum (that’s in rugby, for the unfamiliar) or a great punt return…but it’s not something I crave (well, I may crave the beer and bullshitting—just not the sport).

Maybe that’s the draw, right there: belonging, feeling like a part of something bigger, theoretically more important, than oneself. I know a lot of guys, or girls, also have some fond memories of enjoying the sport with their mom/dad/grandparent/sibling/best friend. I can understand that. Maybe there’s even a little bit of narrative draw in there—sometimes there’s a decent underdog story at play, or something similar—though I would argue it’s a pretty damned shabby story compared to any good book or TV show. Maybe it’s just the primitive rush of shared, unbridled emotion that led Romans to their coliseums. Hell, maybe it’s something so foreign to me that I can’t even begin to understand it.

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I’m not sure I ever want to understand. More and more, I’m disgusted by the kind of behavior that stalks organized sports. Riots on the streets of Vancouver, with people taking any opportunity or excuse to break things and act like hooligans; cat-calling and fights outside of sports bars over someone’s colors; even the less obvious things like the internalization of the sports culture, leaving people grouchy and angry over a loss and forcing everyone else to deal with their foul temper. It’s crap, and I think it’s a mistake to indulge it—like it would be to indulge any 2-year-old’s poor behavior.

 

Here’s the reality: it’s just a game, a bunch of guys being paid way too much money (in most cases; I realize not everyone makes huge money) to play with some balls.

Here’s the harsher reality: most of those watching and talking about “our boys” have never played, or will never play again at any sort of competitive level; you’re talking out of your asses and living vicariously. That’s fine in your own house, but don’t expect me to care about it or support your time wasting, any more than I would expect you to indulge my hobbies.

DamnitbillyMaybe my opinion makes me a humbug. Maybe it makes me an ass—it certainly wouldn’t be the first time. Or maybe, just maybe, people should enjoy what they want to enjoy without having it become everyone else’s problem or obsession. If I didn’t fly off the handle publically when Dumbledore died and try to pressure everyone into Hogwarts-themed grieving clothes, maybe others can offer me the same courtesy and STFU about my lack of team colors when I’m grocery shopping, on the bus, or even at work.

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10 Comment

  1. Ryan says: Reply

    I get it. It’s the “we have a tough game ahead of us tonight” conversations that baffle me. I never include myself, first person, in the fandom–unless you count D&D games. Or maybe when I dressed up in a Starfleet uniform for a convention, I guess. I dunno. This sort of thing always makes me think of Kurt Vonnegut’s explanation of “granfalloons” in Cat’s Cradle.

    1. thenerd says: Reply

      Thanks, Ryan. That’s part of what baffles me, as well. The talk of “our boys,” “we fought hard” and “we can do it” always baffles me a bit.

      I like the parallel you’ve brought up with things like Star Trek conventions, etc. I’m OK with those for the same reason I think it’s quite reasonable to have a bunch of sports fans enjoying themselves at a game–you’ve just got a bunch of people with similar interests sharing that. The difference, I suppose, is I’ve never heard of a Comicon turning into a riot and police vehicles being lit on fire. Also, it would completely unacceptable for me to wear a Star Fleet uniform to work on the day of a comic convention, but it’s somehow reasonable for people to wear jerseys to work on game days….How does one pass muster and not the other?

  2. This was a great post. I’m a sports fan, and have been all my life. However, I’ve never called athletes “heroes” or anything of that nature, and even now, I find myself less and less interested in sports on TV because I’ve got a family now. I’ve never understood why people find it acceptable to riot, cause destruction, or even go to games and totally verbally abuse players because “they paid good money”. Your first picture was classic also, great way to visualize the story!

    1. thenerd says: Reply

      Thanks, Mike. I’m glad my elite Powerpoint drawing techniques aren’t going to waste 🙂

      I would certainly agree with you on all points, though I suspect that those causing riots are often less sports fans, and more people waiting to causes destruction and looking for an excuse. The verbal abuse is spot-on, though. I know we’ve even had to ban canned beer at games in my city because of some fans throwing full/partially full cans at the opposing teams, and the potential for injury.

  3. Eric says: Reply

    I have enoyed some sporting events, I’ve even enjoyed a few sporting seasons and I was even one of those cusp nerd/athlete guys who never fit into sports well enough to play varsity, probably due to a lack of talent and for using words like “cusp.” I’ve made a touchdown in a game before and I wasn’t usually the last, nor the first to be picked for a game of kickball. Since becoming a parent, I just find that I have less time for sports. I understand some love them, and that’s fine with me, but I do recognize what you are saying about poor behavior (by the minority) of fans and I share the lack of desire to be a larger part of the scene. I try to keep a toe in the water though, because I don’t want this to become a point of alienation between my children and I if they turn out to be further up the athlete spectrum than I was. Good piece, I hope you aren’t beaten in the streets. 😉

    1. thenerd says: Reply

      Thanks, Eric. I’m hoping for no beatings, too. I’ve often thought about what it would be like if one of my boys is clearly a jock. Ultimately, I’ve concluded that as long as I’m a fan of THEM, it’s irrelevant if I’m a fan of the game they’re playing; they will always have my support if they’re doing something that makes them happy.

  4. Kenny says: Reply

    Hey Nerd,

    I am TOTALLY with you. Sure, I the social aspect of sitting on a couch watching a game with friends. But I like sitting in a room doing most ANYTHING with friends. I’d take a good movie any day over “the game”.

    1. thenerd says: Reply

      I agree, Kenny. Actually, one of my favourite past times is watching movies that I’ve already seen with a friend just to see their reaction to something I enjoy. It’s a bit strange, perhaps, but that’s not entirely un-fitting for me 🙂

  5. Jack says: Reply

    Sometimes I get caught up in the sports thing. I hate the celtics, patriots and SF giants. Almost always write their names in lower case too.

    But when my favorite teams win/lose none of the players call me to celebrate or commiserate so I keep that in mind.

    1. thenerd says: Reply

      Clearly they’ve forgotten that THEY work for YOU. 🙂

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