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Digressing into the confusing banality and joy of sports

I’ve reached an odd paradox in my life where my lifelong love of sports no longer captivates me as it once did, yet I remain curious enough to follow them. The one exception is baseball. Baseball for me isn’t a sport; it’s truly a pastime and it falls into another category altogether.

I can’t watch a whole football game anymore. I’d like to say because I now see the wreckage of human life because of concussions and injuries and idolatry of stars that makes the whole product seem so … well, criminal. That’s part of it. But the reason I can’t watch the games is they aren’t compelling. The other day I listened to five ex-athletes and three various news types talk about “breaking down tape” and diagram plays as if they were curing cancer at the volume of a pro wrestling farce.

It all seemed so silly.  I wanted to say, “get a life.” So, I did. To me. I was the one watching the nonsense. At least, they all got paid to be silly.  I turned it off.

I’ve loved the San Francisco 49ers since 1979. And yet, I can barely muster up anything other than disgust when I think about them. Their mockery of a coaching staff, their sliver-spoon owner who ruined a historic team, and their empty stadium seats because “fans” prefer to watch inside the stadium on TVs all disgust me. Most all, moving the team from San Francisco to a nightmare stadium that takes longer to get to than a trip to Tahoe on a Friday night insulted every loyal San Francisco fan that ever donned a jersey or bought a ticket.

But here’s the rub. I still find myself flipping to sports page every morning. I read the stories about the 49ers like a jilted lover stalking their Facebook page. I still have their abysmal games on in the background when I do something else more interesting with my Sunday afternoon.

This odd mix of boredom and fascination with sports came to a head this week when I dedicated parts to three nights to watch the Golden State Warriors play basketball. I gave up any interest in basketball back in the 1990s when the beauty of the LA Lakers Showtime and drama of the historic Magic Johnson v. Larry Bird rivalry came to a close, the day Johnson announced he had contracted HIV. I was such a huge fan, I recall exactly where I was during that announcement. It devastated me and my love of basketball with it.

But these Golden State Warriors are so damn interesting I couldn’t help but be caught up in it. Now they have a potentially record-breaking winning streak and I found myself nervous the last couple of games as they nearly lost. Even as I felt thrilled with the Warriors victory, I wondered why the hell I even cared.

Being a sports fan is confusing if you take a step back from it. It’s not art. it’s not doing much for humanity. It’s often not entertaining. Looked at from afar, it feels foolish. Why care this much about a game? Why spend money on such things. Why do I own sports jerseys that I feel too silly actually to wear?  And more importantly, why do I feel so compelled to think about why I still care about sports?

Here’s why. I’m getting older. I’m more aware of those grains of sand in my life and how I use them. I look back over the life I’ve lived and how many of those grains were spent poorly or harmfully or stupidly and especially carelessly that it absolutely fucking matters how I chose to spend them now. I don’t have near as many left as I used to, so the idea of spending 30 minutes of them every morning reading the sports page feels… empty.

I am choosing to live my life full. But like everything, there is a balance. It can’t all be so purposeful that it lacks normalcy. Sports, I’ve realized, is the white space in my life. It’s needed, just not too much of it. So my task is not to curse my clinging attention to sports but to mitigate it. To remove the banal waste of time and replace it with the best of sports: socializing with others, a bit of joy around the dramatic moments, the compelling stories of people who use it for good or simply a way to rest and relax and turn my mind off a bit.

In all these ways, sports can work for me. In all the others, it is time to let them go.