If I know anything, I know when I’m not the smartest guy in the room and I know at those times to keep my mouth shut.
This is a fracturing of that rule as I am not the smartest person who owns a computer and has access to the internet. I don’t even know if internet is supposed to be capitalized. It seems obvious that it should be. It’s the only thing in the world that approaches the magnitude of the planet that we live on. But then most of the time that I see earth written in a sentence, it’s not capitalized either. At any rate, I’m opening my mouth, so to speak, despite knowing absolutely that I will be scoffed at and I will probably wish I had remained silent.
Before I go on, let me unpack how I learned this principle in life as it is one of the more interesting things I’ve had the privilege to learn from experience. For about half of my life I’ve been a sportswriter. Starting when I was about 16 and continuing to this very day.
So that means for many years, I was just a little kid learning the game, not wanting to attract the attention or ridicule of the big kids in the room. In the press box or at press conferences, I spoke only when I was spoken to. I listened to the questions the grizzly old guys asked. I listened to the questions they didn’t ask. I learned many, many things from it. Here’s a good example: if Bobby Knight is sitting at the microphone, try to be invisible. Let some other pathetic soul die a slow death.
Furthermore, they say there’s no cheering in the press box. That is, there’s not supposed to be any cheering in the press box. People break this rule all the time and I’ve taken no more judgmental pleasure in my entire life than the time I had a couple of Texas A&M Aggie fans tossed out of a press box for having the unmitigated gall to wear Aggie jerseys into the working press area. By the way, don’t confuse the press box with luxury suites. You can cheer and wear jerseys and pretty much do whatever you want in a luxury suite. But certain rules of decorum apply in the press box. Truthfully, there’s barely reason to talk at all in the press box. Everyone there is working. The assholes who try to impress the rest of us with the cute comments they can make, well, that’s why they’re assholes. Have I tried to make funny comments? Yes. And it made me feel empty inside. So it’s unnecessary. Save the cleverness for your copy, assholes.
So that’s why I still feel like a cub sportswriter at 35 years old. It’s like Ben Folds sang, there’s always someone cooler than you.
This compound principle — listen more than you speak because there’s always someone cooler than you — will govern me as a I forge ahead into this project. But I feel strongly enough about it that I want to speak up.
So now I should probably more clearly define what I’m after with this thing. I believe that sports are life in microcosm. A step further, sports is raw life. It’s drama and strategy and agony and ecstasy on full display. Art is reflection of life. It’s the thing that life inspires. But sport is life for spectators. Athletes aren’t trying to make you feel something about life. They’re trying to win with whatever means is available to them and that’s why this works.
That’s why I’m constantly saying to my friends “if you’ll permit me a sports metaphor.”
I’m not a theologian or a philosopher or any kind of expert with years of academic training. But I do have training — almost two decades of watching people play games for every level of motivation. I’ve been pretentious enough at times to say that I cover sports, but what I really do is study sociology through the lens of sports. That’s a little self-aggrandizing. But what’s worse is I kind of believe it to be true.
It’s not just the games either. It’s how people watch and react to the games. You know how you’re not supposed to mess with a mama bear’s cubs? Well, hell and mama bears have no fury like a Little League mother scorned. In my years of covering sports full time, I was only accosted face-to-face twice and one of those times was by a parent at a 10-year-old girls softball game. (Reader’s note: I have to disclaim here that I didn’t write something about 10-year-old girls softball that elicited a violent reaction. I generally reserved my most mundane and inoffensive copy for Little League. The parent was mad that the newspaper where I worked chose not to cover the game the night before or something. But “the newspaper” still probably means that I made the decision. So do with that what you will.)
And you know how they (coaches) like to say that sports builds character? I don’t totally disagree with that. But like The Wolf in Pulp Fiction said “Just because you are a character doesn’t mean that you have character.” In my words, then, sports tell us something about ourselves. If people have benefitted in their lives from their participation in sports, then that’s great. But it’s not what I’m after.
I want to apply the discipline of regular blogging to my habit of trying to describe life by explaining how it’s like something I’ve experienced in sports.
Or perhaps more often, how something I see in sports reminds me of life.