It Isn't Just AGame
WHEN I was asophomore in college, working on the town newspaper, a professor took me asideand said, "You need to get out of sports. You're better thansports."
I still get thatcrap. "So when are you going to graduate from sports and go write forTIME?" strangers will say. "You know, do something important?"
I stamp my feetand hold my breath and insist that sports is important and worthy of mydevotion. And they go, "Why?" And that's when I look at them like apoodle at a card trick. But now I'm ready with my answer.
I love sportsbecause...
• It's aboutloyalty and passion and family. We love the Vikings because Grandma loved theVikings, and nothing and nobody is going to make us switch. Sports isn't anescape from life—it's woven into the fabric of it.
• It leads toinstant parades. How cool is that? Name anything else in life that galvanizes acity to pull off a parade involving 500,000 people with two days' planning? Andthen the guys in the parades do jigs in kilts!
• It's the bestkind of reality TV. That's real blood. Those are real tears. There's nodirector hollering, "Cut! Effects!" I was covering the NBA once whenSeattle's 7' 2" Tom Burleson fell hard under the hoop. No foul. As he wasrunning downcourt, hand to bleeding mouth, he suddenly whipped something thathit me in the chest and plopped onto my notepad. It was his tooth.
• It gives us asense of place. Even if there isn't a single Indianapolis Colt fromIndianapolis, the players live there, they eat there, they take out their trashthere. They carry the flag for our town and our friends. And in this era ofone-Starbucks-per-parking-meter cities, sports gives us Wrigley, Fenway andLambeau. Remember that the next time they want to tear your stadium down andput up a damn Invesco Field.
• There's no backdoor in. If you're Aaron Spelling's daughter and you want to act, you get toact. If you're a Trump, you get to build. But nobody in sports makes it ontothe field because he caught a lucky sperm. Jose and Ozzie Canseco wereidentical twins. Jose played 1,887 major league games. Ozzie played 24.
• And sportsdoesn't care how you did last month, either. If you're Derek Jeter and you stophitting, it doesn't matter how many Visa commercials you've done, you're toast.And yet Flavor Flav still puts out CDs.
• It turnshardened people to mush. Truck drivers weep over it. Nurses are overcome. Tellme the last time the ballet did that.
• The No Way ThatJust Happened moment seems to happen every 20 minutes. Fifteen laterals to winat 00:00; 41-point 'dog whips No. 1; kid overcomes cancer to clinch WorldSeries. The notion that anybody can become president is pretty much dead—thelast three all went to Yale—but in sports, anybody can still grow up to beatMichigan.
• It encouragesgood, healthy hating. If I'm an Auburn fan, I can hate you, an Alabama fan,from the bottom of my hater, and it's all right. I can seethe about it andwrite blogs about it and boo about it without getting arrested or hit with arestraining order. Who knows where all that hate would go without sports?
• It's cheap.With HD, who needs tickets? We've all been the guy who spent a week's salary togo to the game and ended up wishing he was back on the couch eating queso dipwith his buddies. (That's another thing: Without sports, would there even bequeso dip?)
• It's black andwhite, there's no gray area. Every night there's a winner and there's a loserand nothing in between. There's no waiting to see the third-quarter fiscalreport. It's open to zero interpretation. I've never been to a game yet where,at the end, the ref announced, "O.K., Cleveland won 14--13, but theCleveland coach was blocking his deep-seated childhood need for validation. So,actually, Buffalo is the winner." There's a score and it's fair and cleanand easy to understand. Except for figure skating, of course.
• It's new, allthe time. A Rolling Stones concert is the same 80 nights in a row, but anAvalanche--Red Wings game is a new, epic novel every time.
• It gives ussomething safe to talk about at Thanksgiving without upsetting Aunt Harriet orcausing Grandpa to storm off in a huff. It's not religion, politics, war ormoney. Sports is a way in. One of the best e-mails I ever got was from a25-year-old:
"Thanks forwriting what you did about the Red Sox. It's the first time I've been able totalk to my dad in five years."
So bite me,professor. Thirty years later, I still don't think I'm better than sports.
In fact it's beenthe other way around the whole time.
If you have a comment for Rick Reilly, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org
RIFFS OF REILLY
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Sports encourages good healthy hate. If I'm an Auburn fen, I can hate you,an Alabama fen, from the bottom of my hater, and it's all right. Who knowswhere all that hate would go without sports?
PETER READ MILLER