Yes, alright, I did it; I said we needed some sports talk for The Rag Blog, and Charlie Loving responded, janey forgive me, with American college post-season football. If I need to gain 20 pounds, I can think of no better way than watching the lumbering gladiators of the gridiron standing around, between commercials for beer, fattening foods and gas-guzzling vehicles. There were a few years, I’ll admit, from the 1969 UT national championship which brought hippies and Greeks into the streets together in celebration for the first time, through the “bad ‘boy” years of Dallas’ coke-fueled Super Bowl runs, that I enjoyed it enough to watch. I still attend an annual Super Bowl party which features exotic bar-be-cue, lots of col’ beer, and friends I barely see all year ’round anymore who, like me, seldom know who’s playing until half-time. I’ll see Frances there, I hope, later this month. Until last summer, I could count on seeing Jack Jackson there. Until the last two or three years, I’ve looked forward to the party in a professional way, too, as half-time became a showcase for innovative advertising-slash-propaganda. But the stakes for those precious moments is too high, now, and advertisers are playing it safer, like coaches who want to punt on 4th down with inches to go.
When it comes to the Church of Ball, I am professed of the Roundball faith, primarily basketball but with a smattering of futbol on about the same level as my espanol. I think I first played basketball the same year I exchanged glasses for contact lenses, and could approach P.E. without the terror of a blind person on a firing range. Being able to see what my team-mates were throwing at me improved my athletic ability so markedly that I was “saved” on the spot, and I bet I can still hip-check you behind the ref’s back. It’s the only sport besides miniature golf I could ever actually play. The incredible Michael Jordan era in the NBA coincided with my tall, coordinated son’s childhood, and cable television allowed us to follow the season together, an interest we still share. He’s a regular player, and a good one, although apparently not disciplined enough to practice the drills he needs to play with the Austin Toros! But it’s never been about exterior competition with him, but challenging himself to jump higher, farther, and with more control.
My real hope there is with my niece, Melinda, a high school player in East Texas, who can palm a regulation ball with either hand and has the brain, and heart, to play smart ball. I believe she can win a basketball scholarship, and encourage her to dream, at least, of the WNBA. Some young ladies are going to play in that league, why not my niece? Or, European leagues offer fun, travel and adventure. Another brother’s child has chosen volleyball as her hoped-for route to college; I haven’t seen Cari play netball, but I’m told she has a mean spike, and she, too, has the height smoking cigarettes at age 15 cost me. There wasn’t a WNBA then, or Title VIII that fueled its growth, and gave us a generation of American women at home with their own muscles, and healthier and more self-confident for it. My nieces would never use tobacco; they know now, when they need to know, that it would hurt their game, the real game, the game of life.
The things I like about hoops, and about soccer, and volleyball for that matter, that differentiate them from couch-potato America’s favorites (football, and the one where people spit a lot) are a) they move fast; b) they require agility, coordination, and group consciousness; and c) they can be played almost anywhere with minimal equipment. (Baseball used to have c, but the ex-Brooklyn Dodgers proved that baseball can’t be played everywhere after all!)
I’m not an athlete, but I often watch the Olympics because the feats of those who are can amaze and delight me, even in sports of which I know little. I officially deplore boxing, but was a great fan and still adore Muhammad Ali. His voyage of self-discovery and self-determination impacted me as a teenager just coming to social awareness, and helped define my ideas about justice and courage, but I wouldn’t have watched his early fights if he hadn’t been pretty, and proud, and moved like a butterfly, and stung like a bee. Seeing my son soar down the lane in Jordanesque style gives me the same kind of goosebumps; I thought it was some kind of primordial thing about infinite possibilities within oneself. If the Hindus are right, and our earthly lives are but playful projections of gods and goddesses avoiding boredom, sport and play are perhaps our mortal counterparts, where we glimpse our own god-like powers behind the veil of flesh.
In contemporary American society, like everything else, sports is an enormous business, and its metaphors for human conduct defiled by money. Does that make sportsmanship is a hollow concept, or “I think I can” an empty phrase? What is it about athletics that makes it such an successful business, with such devoted followings for teams and for individual stars? Is there something about the exercise of extreme physicality in pursuit of doing something unlikely with a ball, or on a plank, or wearing long waxed wooden shoes, that inspires us to challenge ourselves, or are sports simply substitutes for combat? I might have voted for the latter conclusion after attending a live hockey match in AnchoRage, AK; woo-hoo, blood sport is alive and well on the ice! It took me several minutes to figure out how hockey penalties work: unless an assault on a player delays the game, it’s not a foul! Like much in American which defines the “common man”, the Left has grown disdainful of sports, and by ignoring them, loses yet another link with those huddled masses yearning to breathe free in the end zone.
While I agree with my amigo that televised sports is largely a mindless waste of time, I don’t consider it any worse than soap operas, C.S.I. Deer Corn, the Weather Channel, the Hitler Channel, “classic” movie re-runs, or MTV. When I’m in the mood to bathe in the blue light, unless The Simpsons is on (topic for another day), it’s Men in Shorts for this pilgrim, and tonite reigning and former MVPs Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant will be facing off in the West.
hasta la O.T. —
Mariann “Elbow Bone” Wizard