The men in my religious congregation came over to watch the big game on a Sunday back in 1978. Dallas was playing Denver. They were all rooting for Dallas. I had never once seen them watch or even talk about football, let alone discuss having a favorite team.
They all stood around, drinking beer, and acting like what they thought behavior at a big game party should be. The religion I was raised in didn’t do those kinds of things, so the weirdness was to be found from top to bottom that Sunday.
I don’t know if sports were ever officially banned in our religion. It was something our family never thought about. I don’t think we even owned any sporting equipment unless you count rifles and fishing poles. Those were more about getting dinner than having fun.
When I think back, it all seemed so strained, like they were trying to figure out what a football fan was. Though it happened that one day and never happened again, a seed of sports fandom had been planted in me.
By 1982 it was in full root. First, the Angels with Reggie Jackson and Rod Carew came into my life. Sitting in a box on the third baseline, tickets from mother-in-law’s boss, drinking warm beer on a hot Tuesday evening is a fond memory.
I still rooted for the Broncos, still mentally defying the men from that Sunday. It was the age of Joe Montana and in Cali, Niners fans were everywhere. They were a winner and my Broncos not so much, but that fortune would soon turn with the drafting of John Elway. The Raiders were in LA, too, those bad boy silver and black uniforms.
Living in the LA area in 1982, 83, 84 was the birth of the Showtime Lakers. I fell in love with that team and would remain a basketball fan throughout the ’80s & ‘90s. Until the Jazz got bounced by Michael Jordan two years in a row, that is(a lot of teams got Jordan’ed. No shame in that. Also, Jordan pushed off.) I am finally just getting over that.
So blah, blah, blah. What does all this jock talk mean? I like watching athletes and marvel at how they develop their bodies and practice their craft to do what seems inhuman. Athletes push through the boundaries of the kinematic. Their craft is physical and those that excel at it I find endlessly fascinating.
Yes, many of them are coddled and some aren’t very good people. This is not to excuse anybody of the shame of athletes’ crimes being covered up or the obvious racism of leagues, teams’ ownership, and often fandom as well.
This is where sports are a reflection of our society. That mirror shows the systems of oppression in sharp relief. The obvious issues of abuse of all kinds can and should be called out. The financial stakes alone, guarantee people will cheat.
I do admit to trying to ignore the whole bread and circuses aspect of it. The risks that are taken on the behalf our entertainment shouldn’t be. At the highest levels of sport you hope it is something they love, and they are informed as to the risks.
Athletes spend hours in the gym and training facility, honing skills most never will have. Like a musician practices their music, repetition makes the extraordinary ordinary. When it comes time to make the big play, they don’t have to think about it.
We marvel when an athlete makes a flawless move. The right choice. It is as if a crescendo in a symphony is suddenly interrupted by a solo, under a single spotlight. One moment. Frozen in time. The Catch. The Called Shot. The Immaculate Reception. The Hand of God. It will become woven into lore.
Isn’t that what we want from Sport? Isn’t that what we want from Entertainment?
Even very religious men took a moment to do the same, on that Sunday in 1978. It never happened again, as far as I know. Every year at this time, I reflect on that and how it became a road to what they might, now, consider a false god.
I have no rooting interest in the big game this year, but, like we often do in sport, I am trying to ignore the host country’s human rights abuses (they say alleged 🙄) and watching The Winter Olympics. When we want to talk corruption and dishonesty in sport, the IOC is trailing only FIFA in that category. This is the dichotomy of sport shown again, through no fault of the athlete. Olympic athletes train for four years, often only having that one chance to compete at the highest level.
What I want is to see things I could never, ever do. It is a tribute to the athletes I like, that they put up with the shit that comes with being a superstar sportsperson. That they subject their bodies to its extreme limits, their minds to react to razor thin margins, to perform at the peak of their skills. For that they will be woven into legend. And we will bear witness.