A Lifeline for Guys Passing as Sports Fans

(PHOTO: Nick Matthews)

As a 30-something male in a sports-dominated world, my boredom with watching guys running on a court or rushing a field might seem odd to most folks. To them, my disinterest in an apparent global pastime drops my testosterone and spikes the estrogen.

And it’s easier said than done to brush off what sports lovers might think of me. That’s what drove me to find men who also felt alien on Planet ESPN. Which landed me on The Straight Dope message board, under “I’m a guy and I don’t like sports.”

The thread reads like confessionals from a support group for guys made to feel their manhood was somehow defective. (This post is not me trying to wear my disinterest in team paraphernalia as an emblem of courage. To each his own. Rather, I’m extending a hand to some poor soul, a lifeline for those who considered passing as sports fans when their masculinity’s not enough.)

To know how I feel about televised recreational activity, there’s Tim Seibles’ poem “Playing Catch” (from Buffalo Head Solos), about a hypothetical day when the balls disappear. “[…] the televisions were jam-packed:/pre-season football, rugby, golf, even softball,” wrote Seibles, a sports fan and a 2012 National Book Award Finalist.

He continued, “If you didn’t know better changing/channels could make you think the world/was a giant field divided by white lines and water,/that life was mainly a chance to fall in love/with one of the many man-made spheres.”

(ARTWORK: J.Gabás)

Dallas Jones, a man over 50, couldn’t agree more. “The college basketball team playoffs last all goddamn month long! All. Damn. March!” he posted. “I never knew there were that many colleges in the entire country, but there are, and they all play basketball in March. All. Goddamn. Month!”

As if that’s not enough, “ccamp,” another man over 50, gets tripped up in small talk with his clients. “In business, it is sort of an icebreaker,” he wrote. “I have several contacts who always launch into sports talk, and I wonder what they think when I can never offer anything back besides…[the] BS I can string together.”

Lord knows I’ve done that, going so far as to read headlines and watch sports highlights for something to contribute in office discussions, then stroll off, victorious that I proved myself. I had to do it again, last week, while trying on a suit for work.

The sales rep asked about the previous night’s game between Washington (I refuse to say or print the racist team name) and Green Bay Packers. My eyes glazed over before I caught myself, then threw out some familiar names and hammered the clerk with questions about his team loyalty.

That’s my awkward sports talk strategy: revert back to the journalism technique of speaking less and listening more, getting more info out of the other guy than he gets out of you. Pulling it off doesn’t take as much effort as knowing everything about the game, a complaint even die-hard fans legitimize.

“The rules and regulations ARE overwhelming. On top of keeping track of the hundred or so different rules in every league and knowing how they apply to the game and scenario at hand[,] depending on whether you’re watching the college or pro version, you have to keep track of which rules are changing,” wrote Logan Rhoades in his BuzzFeed article “5 Reasons People Hate Sports — That Sports Fans Secretly Understand.”

(PHOTO: Courtesy)

The columnist continued, “Just take a look at the NFL rule book over the last few years. Plays and hits that were legal 20 years ago are no longer permitted, and even the guys playing the game don’t fully know what’s allowed anymore.”

It doesn’t help me that, at 6-foot-2 and over 240 pounds, I look like I should be on a field, sacking quarterbacks and ramming linebackers. That’s what “Game Hat,” a 29-year-old, did through high school with zero interest in sports.

“Even as a kid — I really wondered WTF the big deal was. I never had a favorite team and never felt any sort of connection with any athlete,” he wrote.

Perhaps fueling his disinterest is that the down time outweighs the action in most sports. “…[T]he average NFL game is just over three hours, while the time the ball is actually in play on the field is only about 11 minutes,” according to Rhoades, who noted that this ratio doesn’t solely apply to football.

“A baseball fan will see 17 minutes and 58 seconds of action over the course of a three-hour game,” Wall Street Journal’s Steve Moyer reported in a July 16 article. “This is roughly the equivalent of a TED Talk, a Broadway intermission or the missing section of the Watergate tapes.”

It’s enough time for “Game Hat” to put things in perspective. “Around my junior year of high school,” he said, “I quit all sports to join the debate team and the jazz ensemble.”

6 thoughts on “A Lifeline for Guys Passing as Sports Fans

  1. This is terrific!! I’m so glad to hear you say all that (or, rather, to read it). But then, you’re interested in other stuff – the mental stuff, the intellectual stuff – as are all writers.
    Watching people get the stuff beat out of them has never appealed to me either. Basketball was a fun sport to watch in high-school and college, I’ll confess. It was fast and interesting, and required skill. And nobody got beat up. Also, gymnastics – at the Olympic level – are fascinating in terms of the possibilities for control of the human body. My mother loved baseball, and I found it utterly boring. But then, she also liked to fish. For me, there are SO many other, more interesting or more productive ways to use my time.
    I guess I’m the female version of a sports-disinterested male: a totally fashion-disinterested female. I’ve NEVER cared about what people were wearing nor how they wore their hair, or what kind of furniture or drapes they had in their house. I try to dress so as not to offend anyone, and that’s my nod to fashion. And I hate to shop.
    I believe that some of the interest in team sports (or fashion savvy) comes from wanting to be part of some tribe that you can identify with. In our disconnected culture, we may miss out on the sense of community so essential to our social nature as humans. So we make up something that we pretend is important and that we can share with others who then become a part of our tribe. I believe churches can also fill that social need.
    Again, thanks for writing this! I may refer to it in one of my blogs if you don’t mind.

    1. joanne,

      Thanks! And sure, it’s OK if you refer to this. I want to respond to something you said: “you’re interested in other stuff – the mental stuff, the intellectual stuff – as are all writers.”

      While I agree with you about my other interest, many of my writer friends are sports heads. At any moment, they’re posting scores and game highlights, or debating one another’s team loyalty. I can use the fact that I’m a writer as an excuse for not liking sports. The poets would pummel me for misrepresentation 🙂

      Thanks again.

    1. It must be a religion when overweight guys, in teams jerseys long enough to be choir robes, debate teams stats and loyalty. I’m watched this several times in a 7 Eleven. Guys holding their Big Gulps, guys who look as though it’s been awhile since they’ve seen a field, yelling: “We play y’all tomorrow.” “Remember how we took it to y’all last night?” “Y’all don’t want it with our defense.”

      To each his own, as long as everyone finds something in which they’re invested and get a sense of belonging.

  2. Wow– and all this time I thought it was just me. I’ll whine at the drop of a sports score about my hands-off father and not having any brothers or close male friends when i was a kid… Most dudes will happily monologue about their team/game/player without me ever having to say anything back nor understanding who/what they were just talking about. I’m stereotyped/profiled as ‘hating sports’ when actually I just don’t understand. Last week, on the elevator with this cute woman working in another firm, I kinda wilted when she started talking about The Game from that past weekend–how they lost and how awful it was and how dare me say it was a good morning– I didn’t know what ‘game’ she was talking about. A once hopeful friend I can no longer engage with… I like boxing, MMA. I’ll watch some olympics. But if sports is a religion, (agreed) i guess i’m a heretic. Its kinda nice having the streets to myself super bowl sunday, though. I feel like the dude at the beginning of 28 Days Later.

    1. Lol. Well, I’m glad this post assured you that you’re not alone. If I watch the Super Bowl, it’s for the commercials. I do take advantage of game day to get my grocery shopping done.

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