Mar 12, 2013

Hating Sports

When I was a kid, I hated sports, but no one would believe me.  For birthdays and Christmas, no matter what was on my list, I kept getting baseballs, footballs, basketballs, gloves, mitts.  When I protested, I was told: "Sorry it wasn't the Joe DiMaggio model" or whatever the going fad was.

Gym teachers would force me out onto diamonds, courts, and playing fields, and when I protested, they would say "Don't get smart!"

Among my peers, I had to pretend that I saw the game last night and try to understand the dizzyingly complex seasons of favored teams: Bears, Cubs, Cardinals, Packers, Hawkeyes, Black-hawks, Fighting Illini, and so on ad nauseam, or I would be branded a fairy (our junior high term for "gay").

Swiming and wrestling didn't count.  I watched for the semi-nude beefcake, not for the "game," and I went out for wrestling in junior high only for the press of hard bodies.

I didn’t understand how boys could be ignorant of carbon molecules or the battle of Waterloo, subjects they were tested on in class, yet be mesmerized by how many touchdowns Gayle Sayers scored last year, whether Ernie Banks hit any foul balls in 1965, and who won the World Series in 1967. I tried reading the sports page, but quickly got lost in a sea of RBIs, MVPs, and NBAs. Did boys really spend countless hours memorizing statistics on every baseball, basketball, and football game ever played?  Or was it something that they just knew, a mystical awareness?

I decided to check.

I went to the library and consulted a sports almanac for the most obscure statistic imaginable. Denver and San Diego were thousands of miles away, so their football games couldn’t be broadcast on tv in Rock Island, or reported in local newspapers. And even if a boy did hunt down out-of-state newspapers, he certainly wouldn’t remember a game played many years ago!

So I approached a Viking -- one of the jocks of Washington Junior High -- and demanded, “Who won the September 7, 1962 game between the Broncos and the Chargers?”

I expected a dull stare.  But instead the Viking exclaimed “Duh! The Broncos, 30 to 21!” He moved his books aside so I could sit down. “The Broncos started off hot that year, but they got screwed up later on, so they only finished 7-7, and won third in the AFL. Do you think Faulkner’s wonky defense strategy was to blame, or Zeeman’s terrible punting?”

“Um. . .Zeeman, obviously,” I said.

Six hundred years of boring sports discussions later, I rose from the table, my head thick and heavy. I’d rather be a Fairy.

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