Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Sports Night

I have never been a fan of sports. I haven't even been able to successfully pretend to care. I have never seen any use for kicking or throwing or batting or catching or running with a ball. I've long admired the enthusiasm people have for their favorite sport or team or athlete, but it doesn't stop me from thinking it could be put to better use. If fifty thousand people came out one afternoon to cheer on the arts, I couldn't be happier. If people spent a quarter of the money on educating their children that they spend on memorabilia or merchandise, we'd live in a vastly different world.

I was never comfortable with sports, never liked how black and white they were. Some kids felt like superstars and the rest of us felt awkward and leaden, judged and discarded. I was never the guy picked last for the team, but it was close, standing there feeling sorry for Tom or Jason, hoping just once they'd get picked sooner, but still hoping I'd get picked before them. Sports change people from rational individuals into lunatic mobs. And I hated what it did to me, even when I was made a team captain once in boys PE. Rather than do the nice thing and pick Tom and Jason, just to make them feel better, I did as all my predecessors had done, I picked the star jocks, ignoring the pleading looks from my true peers. I hated feeling like I wasn't fast enough or strong enough or brave enough.

Aside from running cross country in junior high, which I did for two years–and even then only to hang out with my friends after school–the only other sport I ever took any interest in was soccer, and that happened for all of about one week. In elementary school, our PE teacher, Mister Lucky, introduced us to soccer, which I immediately fell in love with. I was good at it. I felt fast and agile and graceful and capable. Until I mentioned it to my father while on a weekend trip to visit him.

"Soccer!" he proclaimed in that radio announcer voice of his. "Soccer's no good. It's not a real sport. Nobody likes soccer, except Europeans. And girls." The implication was enough that I don't remember touching a soccer ball again.

I get all the positive things that sports can do for kids, I just don't see them as often as I see the negatives.

My walks with Duncan at the park have not been entirely pleasant as of late. The junior leagues have taken over our turf and it's pissing me off. Every day I steer clear of not one, not two, but four kiddie football teams, ten soccer teams and the Columbine Cross Country team, not to mention the six baseball fields that see three games a night. I haven't been able to throw Duncan's ball for him, I'm constantly restraining him from going after soccer balls or footballs, and don't get me started about the baseballs. It just hasn't been fun because I've been feeling strange about myself and strange about the enterprise as a whole.

I do not like listening to coaches demean kids who are still too young to deliver newspapers, or accuse them of running like girls, or call them fat, all within earshot of parents, who sit on the sidelines in their Sports Authority fold-up chairs and watch it all. "It develops character," they say. Or, "She'll learn to be part of a team," and "It teaches responsibility."

Bullshit, says I! That kind of sportsmanship alienates, scars and breeds the very resentment that led to the tragedy that took place not half a block away.

I just want my park back. So I can play fetch with my dog, the ball lover!

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