In small town America sports are king. That was no exception where I grew up. For many kids that was torture. If you didn’t like sports or couldn’t play well it was tough. If you fit both categories it could be a nightmare.
To say I was uncoordinated would be a major underselling of how bad by athleticism was. I was partially blind as a kid and that subsequently caused me to shift from being right-handed to left-handed and totally threw off my hand eye coordination. Not to mention I had a natural gift for being afraid of any and all things flying toward my head. I was terrible at everything. Throwing, catching, hitting, running, jumping, ball handling–you name it, I was bad at it.
As a result I didn’t like sports. I therefore didn’t watch sports, so, of course, I couldn’t talk about sports with any confidence. This led to a lot of isolation as a kid and even some bullying. So like many people I know, I learned to hate sports. Junior High and High School deepened my loathing of sports. Stereotypical high school jocks and the dreaded PE class, shirts and skins. Need I say more? It wasn’t until High School I came to know and associate with other sports haters: the yearbook staff, theater, speech and debate. I hung out with people who shared my interests–finding fellowship with my like minded nerd peeps.
Now almost thirty years later I have a confession to make. I love sports! No really I love them! I can honestly say I would rather watch a ball game than about anything else. So what happened? Two things really: my children and moving to Indianapolis. As my kids got older some of them liked sports and where athletic (they 100% did not get this from me). I began to take an interest in their interest. It was fun to watch them play and enjoy it.
Secondly, we moved to Indianapolis. We had only been in town a week or so before I noticed we were the only family on the block who every Friday during football season were not wearing Colts Jerseys (I am not kidding about this). Grocery store clerks, bank tellers, accountants, lawyers, doctors, nurses, school teachers all wore Colts Jerseys. In 2009 you could go to any public park in Indiana and yell “Hey Peyton!” and a half a dozen children (boys and girls) would turn their heads wondering who called their names. Sure, they loved they Colts, but Indianapolis (Indy) loved all sports.
In a very real way sports saved Indy as this 2013 article by David Masciorta points out. Turns out in the 1970s Indy, like many other midwest industrial cities, was in trouble. Their aggressive plan to turn Indy into a thriving sports hub paid off. Subsequently, Indy faired better economically and got a jump start on their downtown revitalization compared to Detroit, Cleveland or Pittsburgh (all of which are amazing cities that I highly recommend you visit). Not only does Indy have 11 professional sports teams it is the host for the national headquarters of the NCCA and often hosts many collegiate and professional sports tournaments. So it was easy to fall in love with sports there. I started watching more games so I could hold a conversation with my neighbors and friends and found that now that I didn’t feel the pressure to play sports I could more easily enjoy them. Moving to Boston has only amped that up (sorry Tom Brady I don’t care how much you win–I’ll always be a Colts fan).
Over the last ten years I’ve grown from having a tacit interest in sports to becoming a full throated fan. I love the drama of not knowing who will win and who will lose, not to mention the community feel that comes from being part of the local team.
I also love the virtuosity of the athletes! What they can do is amazing! I find sports to be an escape from the complicated, nuanced world we live in. I love this new part of life and the joy it brings me. I am also glad to let go of the burden sports felt like as a kid. I do, however, feel bad when I am talking sports with someone and I see another friend or family member roll their eyes like “Gross, sports.” I want to say, “Hey, I get it! I used to feel that way too but trust me, it’s better than you think and you may even come to love it!” So I say, play ball!