A few years ago, I came across this tank top in a facebook advertisement. The instant I saw it, I burst out laughing and just about hugged the phone. Finally, someone had encapsulated my feelings about sports in a beautifully pithy piece of clothing.
If you don’t feel like clicking the link, it reads “Hooray sports! Do the thing! Win the points!” The description reads as such:
Go sports! Beat the other team! Do the goals… and basket them all the way to the endzone! Sports may not be your bag, but that’s no reason not to show pride and team spirit! This makes for a great nerdy gift idea. Whether you’re on the couch or in the bleachers, grab this ironic design and show your sports pride. Especially if, ah… you don’t know anything about sports.
If you know much about me, you’re probably not surprised that I’d find a shirt like that amusing. Obviously I’m super in to writing and weird shit like wax museums. The other day, two of my colleagues were discussing the Alabama vs. Clemson game in the hallway and I was like, “Well, my halfling bard had not one but TWO critical hits last game session, and one of them was max damage, soooo.” The only reason I knew which teams were playing and that it was some kind of college football championship is because a kid wrote about it for an essay I had to grade. Actually, the reason I know anything at all about sports is because of grading essays like “Kobe Bryant is better than LaBron James.”
Yes, I’m being cheeky. But I promise, I’m not just some unapologetic nerd who poops on all sports just because I personally don’t enjoy doing it. I’ve honestly TRIED to like sports a few times just to fit in, or because I really felt like I HAD to be missing SOMETHING. I mean, if so many people all over the world are obsessed with athletic contest, then there must be something good going on, right? I swear I’ve given it a try. I’ve tried to memorize the Cubs’ lineup, know the names of the basketball players on the Iowa team for a season, and even joined in a fantasy football league at work (partially because I heard it was Dungeons and Dragons for jocks). But I just… can’t do it, guys.
I come from an athletic family. My mom participated in “The Greatest Game Ever Played” in the history of six-on-six women’s basketball. My dad played a lot of basketball even after college, and my brother played for Loras and ran track as well. I was one of the top volleyball players on my high school team and almost always started. Sure, I was crap at basketball (much to the chagrin of my family) but I always enjoyed weight lifting and such. Yes, I’m totally out of shape now, but I have pretty good eye-hand coordination (hence being a kick-ass shot with a .20 gauge or a muzzleloader) and when I really try, I can get pretty jacked.
I grew up in a Cubs and Hawkeye household, and have been to games and tailgates out the wazoo. I actually really enjoy sports movies and books. I adore the Rocky series and Friday Night Lights. So why didn’t I get into real-life sports as a kid or an adult?
- Sports went against the identity I formed in childhood and adolescence. I was not a “popular” kid in elementary and middle school. I definitely had friends, but those who shared the same interests as me (reading, writing, music, art) were not into sports as a personal interest all the time (though Jenna from Orchestra was a huge Kansas City baseball fan). The kids we didn’t get along with, the “preps” or the “popular” kids tended to be interested in and skilled at sports. I developed an “us vs. them” mentality in response to some incidents of bullying. Being very immature, loud, and opinionated, I drew thick lines between my friends and myself, and other groups of kids that were into sports. In high school, I almost quit the volleyball team because “none of my friends are doing it.” My mom made me stick it out, and one night during a team meeting I actually apologized for being on the team to the rest of the girls because I thought I was disrupting their good time. One of the players jumped up and hugged me. “We want you here, Amelia!” So yeah. We had grown and matured from middle school, and it was time to let some things go. There’s a perfect example of why sports are not the devil, people.
- The Fan Factor. Sure, being a fan of the same sports team can probably connect you to people you wouldn’t otherwise associate with, and maybe that brings about cultural understanding. I feel like most of the time, though, rabid fans can be pretty dickish. Sports fandom can bring out the worst in people. We’ve seen this in riots at soccer matches and drunken altercations in downtown Iowa City. Just the image of thousands of Iowa fans, all dressed in the same outfits and colors, walking in a huge tidal wave toward the stadium on game day asking for beer-fuled high fives just turns my stomach. I have no desire to put on the uniform and jump into that column of sheeple. Fandom comes all too often with alcohol abuse. At least, that’s been my experience living in Iowa City, #2 party school in the nation. It all goes back to what’s known as “escape-valve theory” which states that societies need festivals and holidays that turn normal operating procedure topsy-turvy and let people blow off steam so they don’t try and overthrow those in charge. So I get it, philosophically and psychologically. I just don’t like it.
- Hyper-masculinity. Sports players don’t “ask” to be role models. I know there’s a lot going on there with race and class, etc. etc. But kids look up to them regardless. If we hold teachers to an excruciatingly high standard of conduct in their personal and professional lives, we should hold athletes to the same. Because I can tell you that professional athletes and athletics in general have an unbelievable amount of influence on school aged kids, especially males. I know this because I’ve seen it for eleven years. So yes, sports teams should get rid of athletes who beat their wives, do drugs, and set a bad example of misogyny or discrimination. And coaches too! Especially at younger levels. There should be a far more rigorous training process for coaches. Guess what? I coach volleyball, and I’m certified, so I know how stupidly easy it is and how little accountability. We shouldn’t just be forced to renew our concussion training each year. We need training for how to teach our athletes real values, not just “try your hardest, push through the pain, support your team, get good grades or you won’t play.” I want to see athletes who translate what they’ve learned in sports into cooperative classroom leadership (not just “I’m the loudest so I’m the leader”), protecting students from bullying and harassment, and treating female students as equals. This leads me into…
- Sports play too large a role in school experience in America. Most of you aren’t going to like this, but here it is. Academics should come first, but they don’t. Students should not miss one minute of class time to play a sport. If a kid is getting a C- or lower they should not play AS OF THAT VERY DAY THEY EARNED THE D+, not at the end of the semester. Parents need to chill out with how much they care about their students’ athletics. I had a kid write an essay about how many hours his dad pushed him to practice baseball and how grateful the kid was for all the help. What if that father had put that amount of energy into his child’s learning? He’d be getting better than a B- in English, I can tell you that much. SO MUCH special treatment for athletes. SO MUCH of their egos revolve around it. And look, I told you I myself am an athlete and coach, and I know my players get good things out of participation. But this overwhelming cloud of sports and sports related hype is too much in your average public school. I know because I’ve worked in 4 of them.
- More emphasis on female athletes. Oh, men’s sports are “more fun to watch.” I get it. We will never be as physically capable or whatever. Recently I attended an Iowa volleyball game and a basketball game, and I really got into it as a fan, which surprised me a great deal considering I’m a Dungeons and Dragons nerd. It was a great experience and fun to watch. Because girls are not decorations you put on the sidelines to “pump up the crowd.” I know cheerleaders are athletes too, and very capable ones at that, but the whole philosophy behind cheerleading is not feminist positive. I enjoyed those matches because I felt like it lacked the rabid fans and the hyper-masculinity that bother me.
I started out this post on one side, and now I’m back on the other… Okay, sports have their good sides, and they could be a powerful tool for our young people. You can’t fault people for liking the things they are interested in. But sports can also be an extremely toxic environment, and I believe they deserve more accountability and scrutiny overall due to the tremendous influence they have in our country.
So go enjoy your sportsball responsibly, folks. You don’t even like feetball, I’m the number one super fan!