I recently read a very interesting article on Slate.com by John Swansburg “Why I Stopped Being A Sports Fan.” A guy deeply immersed in modern sports culture goes cold turkey and finds he doesn’t miss it all that much.
I know what he’s going through. I gained what I used to call “the dreaded P word” (perspective) on sports several years ago. I was the kind of guy who would watch whatever was on TV, for as long as it was on. This was OK when I was growing up–During the summer there were only two baseball games a week, Monday nights and Saturday afternoon. Fall and winter had a couple of college football and basketball games on Saturdays. Pro football was the biggest time suck–from noon to 7 PM on Sundays and, of course, Monday Night Football.
The advent of ESPN and cable meant an explosion of sports options. You can watch anything and everything, seemingly 24 hours a day. When live contests aren’t on, you can watch or listen to others talking about the games you saw. I wisely decided I couldn’t keep up. Since I’ve matured I’ve embarked upon a career, one that involves odd hours and keeps me fretting about various issues even when I’m out of the office. Not to mention a wife and a house–both of whom demand, deserve and receive my attention.
I didn’t go cold turkey and I still consider myself a sports fan. Best of all, I can still hold up my end of any conversation around sports–the sine qua non of all male interaction. I admit it, I’m suspicious of guys who say they aren’t sports fans. But I’ve realized you also don’t have to be a dick about the whole thing.
The key to my sports acquisition strategy is Sports Illustrated. Every week since I’ve learned how to read I’ve devoured SI from cover to cover. Not so much for the scores and outcomes, but rather for the analysis and background on personalities. It is well written, the photography is phenomenal and allows me to stay conversant on sports trends. I don’t have to watch any regular season sports on TV just by investing an hour a week on SI. (I may spend a little more time on their special February issue!)
In order to remain water-cooler conversant, you have to read the sports recaps/scores section of your paper/internet site on a regular basis. It’s easier for football–read the local sports section on Sundays and Mondays and you’re all covered on both college and pro football. Baseball is a little harder, but not much. I follow the Red Sox, so I read the Boston Globe Red Sox section online 2-3 times a week. You get scores, the standings and news on player performance and injuries. Another hour of my time a week and I feel totally clued in to my team. I’m not at all conversant anymore on, say, the National League West division–but hey, life goes on.
My college sports interests revolve entirely around the hometown team: Syracuse U. basketball, football and lacrosse. College fan-dom is easy if you live in the same town as the school–just by glancing at the local paper’s wall-to-wall coverage and talking with folks keeps you up to date. If I was living out of town, there are plenty of Orange-centric websites I could follow. Hell, the guy who runs the best Orange sports site “Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician” lives in LA (he is an SU alum.) If there’s a big game I can listen to some of it on the radio. Every once in a while I’ll break down and watch some SU hoops on TV and I tend to go to a few lacrosse games every year. Sometimes I come across a freebie ticket to a local sports event–Chiefs baseball, SU hoops etc.
The key to perspective is to understand that you don’t need it all–it makes what you do see more meaningful. Yeah, if the Sox are in the playoffs and SU hoops is in the NCAA tournament, I’m going to be there watching. The other key is to totally eliminate the detritus that has grown up around modern sports–fantasy leagues, talk radio, internet discussion boards–all complete wastes of time. Go out and shoot some baskets or play catch or heave the football around instead.