Last night millions of Americans watched one of the annual rituals of the sports world unfold—the NCAA men's basketball tournament championship. And I watched too. I saw most of the game and in the process exceeded the combined number of minutes I had spent watching basketball throughout the rest of the season. Yes, the unguy enjoys sports. You might say it's one of the areas in which I am more typically “male.”
The funny thing is that for most of my adult life the majority of men around me have not been sports-oriented, which has led to something of a dilemma. I struggle to converse about many topics men commonly talk about, like cars or guns, and on other topics I often hold a minority opinion, partiuclarly regarding women. But when I want to talk sports, most of the men I know aren't interested or don't know or care enough to carry on a conversation on the topic. What's an unguy to do? Thankfully one couple in our home group are sports fans and I can almost always engage with them on this topic. The husband and I even went to a local MLS (that would be Major League Soccer for the non-fans) double-header exhibition game in February.
I don't know why I enjoy sports so much. I have never been particularly talented in this area. I remember all too well my final season in Little League baseball, the one in which I got on base once all season—after being hit by the pitch. The coach offered to sub in a runner. I refused because I wasn't about to give up my first (and only, as it turned out) chance to actually be on base! In my elementary years and again in high school I played soccer and enjoyed it, although I will make no claim to being a great soccer player. I tried to run cross-country in high school but realized after several weeks of training that I hated it with a purple passion and saw no point in running just for the sake of running. That's when I switched back to soccer, where at least we had the focus of chasing that silly ball around. If I were to base my self-esteem on my athletic prowess, I'd be in sorry shape indeed.
I also don't like the ridiculous salaries professional athletes are paid. I don't like the way our culture worships sports heroes with almost god-like adoration. Every so often I swear that I will stop watching sports because of these reasons. But eventually I come back to watch again anyway. Could this be considered a thorn-in-the-flesh issue?
I will watch many different sports, even when I don't have a particular interest in the teams or individuals playing. I watched the basketball game last night mostly out of curiousity. Basketball itself ranks fairly low on my ranking of sports-of-interest. Many years ago when we lived in Seattle I was a passionate fan of the Seattle Supersonics. Alas, they are no more and my basketball passion has gone the same way. I enjoy American football, baseball and hockey and will watch any of them on television. I do draw the line at golf. Golf may be enjoyable to play (I've only tried once, so I'm not a good judge) but it bores me to tears watching it on television.
Above all, I am passionate about soccer, or football as most of the world calls it. This probably stems from the fact that I played it when I was younger and it was one of the few sports I felt like I could play with any level of enjoyment. I am not so passionate that I can name the roster of any team—even those I consider my favorites. But I do have favorite teams, I can name some of the top players in the game and I do follow several leagues with some degree of interest. On the other hand, I've never tried my hand at any fantasy league in any sport, probably because I have a deep-seated fear of losing.
When it comes to favorite teams I have a strong inclination to support underdogs. Maybe that comes from being a fan of the Kansas City Chiefs, Seattle Mariners and Arizona Cardinals for many years. Losing can get in the blood, I suppose. But I think there's something more to it than that. Even when watching a match in which I have no preferred side, I will tend to cheer for the team that has a less-successful record. I love to see the unheralded player or team pull out a great game or a great season and surprise the powerful and mighty. That would explain why I detest with a passion the New York Yankees and the Dallas Cowboys, among others.
I like to think that my fondness for the underdog has spiritual implications. I'd like to think that it reflects my identification with Jesus, who did side with the outcasts, the marginalized and the oppressed. Although that is certainly true regarding Jesus, I have to admit that the connection to cheering for the less-favored team remains pretty weak. Would Jesus wear a Seattle Mariner's jersey over a NY Yankees jersey? Or would he eschew both of them and go find the truly marginalized and outcast to hang with?
I'll continue cheering for my underdogs. I'll continue to get excited when my team unexpectedly pulls off a big win. But I will also keep in mind what I've slowly taken to heart over the years: none of it matters in the end. As someone once said about board games: in the end all the pieces go back in the box. At the end of the season, game or tournament, the trophies are awarded, the victors are lauded and then the whole process starts all over again. I don't think it's sinful to enjoy sports, but I don't want them to become an idol to me.
How do you view sports? What role does sports play in your life?