I Don't Watch Sports / by Erin Wade

As a rule, this is true: I don't watch sports.

This has, as you might imagine, come up many times across the course of my life. Usually in a form something like this:

Them: "Did you see what happened in the game last night?”

Me: "No"

T: "You know, where [so and so] did [something]

M: "No"

T: "But surely you..."

M: "No"

It becomes awkward - well, more awkward - after that.

There is an assumption, across a large percentage of our society, that I (and everyone else) will have been interested in, and involved in, whatever the current game is - football, baseball, basketball, hockey, etc.

I'm not.

I have had the opportunity to be exposed to sports as a spectator on multiple opportunities over the years. I have attended professional baseball games (been to Wrigley multiple times), hockey games (Blackhawks games as well as a couple of Rockford Ice Hogs games). I've sat in the stands for multiple other sporting events - high school football, youth wrestling, competitive gymnastics...

I don't revel in watching other people engage in sports.

In trying to understand this about myself - it being a somewhat atypical perspective - I've learned that there are others who have a similar perspective. Among them the eminently delightful John Hodgman:

And watching millionaires who have no loyalty to you or the city you live in hit balls with sticks for millions of dollars. What could be more comforting? Why isn’t there a ticker-tape parade for the freelance magazine writers? Where’s the ticker-tape parade for the guy whose movie review you read in the alt-weekly every week, and who lives down the block from you, and who gets drunk in the same bar as you, and, like you, will never go anywhere in his life? That guy gives you comfort as much as the millionaire who hits the ball with a stick or kicks it.

So as I say, I’m not against it, it’s just the pervasiveness and the absolute unquestioned sense of its importance that it has about itself that drives me into a kind of nerd rage, as you can tell. It emulates the kind of annoying self-confidence of the jock in general. Like, “Well, of course you love me. I am briefly the most popular person in high school because I am strong, and I was born later in the year than you, so I’m bigger than you and better at the sport than you. Of course I am a good human being. You’re the one who has to justify yourself, nerd. Yes, in four years I will be graduated from high school and the likelihood that I will become a professional athlete is close to nil, and I will go through a huge crisis of identity as I try to define who I am in a world that no longer cares about my sagging body, which is how I’ve defined myself for my whole life. But you, nerd, who’s studying something that you’re passionate about and care about, and that you’re going to do for the rest of your life, you’re the one who has to explain why the fuck you’re at this party.”

When Hodgman uttered these words - back in 2009 - there were others - notably "Suss" - who tried to make an effort to understand this perspective, observing:

The teen years seems to be the period in one's life during which individuals conclude whether or not they are sports fans. The same goes for people who realize they're gay. They stay isolated for quite some time, spout some masculine epithets at the right moments, and when they feel comfortable, suddenly they shout from the heavens: "I am … not a sports fan!"

This all seems a reasonable effort, except for the fact that it does not work as a one-size-fits-all solution.

I bike - a lot. I hike. I participate in martial arts. I am more than happy to engage, in fact, in a variety of sporting activities. What I have no interest in is watching other people do it.

There are exceptions to this rule. They primarily center around sports that I have personally engaged in. For example, I enjoy watching others engage in various martial activities - taekwondo, wrestling, boxing, or mixed martial arts. But in these events I don't identify with any abstract team - I'm just interested in watching individuals do something I enjoy exceptionally well. And I've always enjoyed rooting for people I know personally to succeed - my daughter, my teammates, my friends.

But I could not possibly care less about the actions and events of professional athletes whom I do not know, and to whom I owe absolutely no allegiance. And this, ultimately, is why I don't watch sports.