Sports and Life

by Bryan

It’s amazing how life works. One day, you will have a set of circumstances. Then something will change. Things will become “different.” And yet there you are, in the exact same body doing the exact same things you did before. The “difference” is all outside yourself. The only thing that’s limited is the future. But that doesn’t exist.

That’s why I love sports. The progress toward certain ends is insistent, unceasing. Unlike virtually everything in life, you are guaranteed when things will begin and end. You know before the season begins exactly how much time you will have to savor, lament, or despair upon your team’s performance. There are inflexible lines and boundaries that don’t exist in the rest of life, and there are tangible, tactile responses to the things that happen on the field. If you cross that line, the ball will end up there. If you shoot the ball through the hoop, you will get two points. Sports are not a metaphor for how life is, or used to be, or should be—they are a metaphor for what life isn’t.

If you write that report, you will get the promotion. If you kill a man, you will go to jail. These are things that are told to us and we tell ourselves, but they are simply not true. When the actions described fail to produce the results that are described, we call them “unjust.” But justice as a concept is inherently ephemeral. You can’t close your fist around it. Even if that burglar gets locked up, maybe you think the law is fundamentally unfair, or that God forgives him, or he’s your brother. In sports the rules are the rules, without apology. The concepts of the aesthetic of a sport are worthwhile conversation pieces, but the playing fields are the playing fields. The rules are the rules. Flouting these rules is seen as “unfair,” but in a way that leaves no wiggle room for the clear-headed. If a cheat is successful in flouting a rule, you might argue that he has done a disservice to the game, which relies on a single set of rules. You might also argue—in substitution or addition—that you don’t care that he broke the rule because he helped “your” team win. In which case, you’re admitting your biases: it means something to you when your team wins, or loses.

And sports mean something to a lot of people. People scream, jump and and down, riot, cry, break things, and drink to excess when their team wins or it loses. A particularly tough loss can send a whole region into shock, and a win can throw people into ecstasy. The shared experience of sports is powerful.

But the shared experience of sports is the only part that really matters. If the Yankees win this game tonight, it won’t make one bit of difference to me, sitting alone, if the game is off. Nothing will have changed. I’ll have the same body, go to the same job, everything else will be different except for the things I talk about. All the screaming and whining and moaning in my life could have been avoided simply by turning off the TV, and changing the subject when football came up.

Those were never things I wanted to do. Sports got me at a young age, and I was hooked. Later in life, you start to choose your relationships carefully, because you don’t want to pick things that will end. Why? Because after all of it, you’re just going to be the same person doing the same things. In the last few years, I had begun to resent how much I liked sports, and seriously reassessed their place in my life. I wanted to choose to love them. I have. The best part is that if I care about the Red Sox, they’re not going away tomorrow. This isn’t an invective against the things that are gone. It’s just a love letter to things that aren’t.