“I hate all sports as rabidly as a person who likes sports hates common sense.”
That quote comes courtesy of the late journalist Henry Louis Mencken, and he’s not alone. There are clubs, blogs and Facebook groups dedicated to people who would avoid this entire section of The Daily like the plague. As a fan committed enough to volunteer my free time writing sports stories and columns, it’s hard not to feel a bit insulted by the simple blasphemy of the haters, but there is something else wrong here. Hating sports just doesn’t make sense.
It’s like hating music or reading. You might not have much interest in a long and drawn-out opera, but however much you might not want to admit it, there’ll be a tune somewhere that gets you tapping your feet. You might not be willing to work your way through War and Peace, but when a new e-mail drops into your inbox, I’m sure you won’t mind reading the message.
Many people who go along with this claim must be simply confusing the broader concept of sports with the more organized “Sports” (capital S, mind you) that monopolize our screens. It’s the same as the difference between spirituality and organized religions. The big, rich and powerful religious sects are just as desperate for believers, and there are more than a few cases of religious leaders acting as if they are above both reason and the law. You don’t have to be a Catholic to believe in a god (or gods) anymore than you need to follow the NFL to like sports.
Physical competition is an intrinsic part of human nature, whether it be to gain an advantage within society or simply for the sheer fun of it. The spectrum of sport goes from any simple challenge to go further, faster or higher, all the way through to the heavily structured major professional sports. It could be climbing Mount Everest or just seeing who can get to class first, playing in the Super Bowl or playing on a Wii, vying with the world’s best athletes or just competing against yourself. I would be impressed if anyone could go through even a day without doing something I could classify somewhere in there–in fact, even trying to meet that challenge might disqualify you.
Perhaps some of you have an axe to grind with arrogant jocks at high school or obnoxious fans from somewhere else. But you can’t tar all of sportsdom with the same brush–if those folks weren’t jerks because of sports, they were just jerks. There are also people who take things too far, turning a simple pastime into a serious, maybe slightly psychotic obsession–but you’ll get them in any hobby, and most people like that are ultimately harmless.
I suspect, too, that a few who say they hate sports only do so because, within their social circle, it is cool to be apathetic about it–to pretend they don’t care long enough that it becomes a part of who they are. I hope they see the irony of defining themselves this way; sport becoming an important part of their character.
If you consider yourself a hater, or even a don’t-like-er, I implore you to try an experiment. After all, that’s what college is for. Go find yourself some friendly fans and get them to take you along the next time they’re heading to a sports bar or, even better, to a real game. Having someone to explain what is going on helps, but being among people really passionate about anything is seriously infectious; it’s impossible not to get carried along with the tide of human emotion.
Or maybe grab a ball and go have a throw-around the next time you need a break. The great thing about sport is that it’s truly open to all and practically free of the many barriers that seem to continually keep our species divided. You don’t need to know much or have any special skills: all you need is a competitive streak and an open mind.
And so, in response to the quote I started this column with, I’m going to end by misappropriating one from the historical figure whose life was commemorated last Monday, someone who I hope would have liked the all-inclusiveness of sports.
“I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”
That, of course, comes from Martin Luther King Jr.