I myself am not the sporting type. I drop, fumble, miss, fall, trip and generally mishandle any and all sporting goals, procedures and customs. I was born this way. Over the course of my childhood and adolescence then, as you can imagine, I watched with a kind of envious bemusement as my friends and contemporaries slogged it out on the football pitch and tennis court, and observed, with some covetousness, my dad’s ability to hedge his misery or elation on the success of Manchester City.
The strange thing is, I thirst for this kind of connection. And in many ways, by my own analysis at least, I am of the exactly correct disposition: I love competition, especially between individuals or teams with a significant stake in the fight; I enjoy resource management games of most types, and trying to balance different characteristics against one another; and lastly, in narrative form, I do adore physical spectacle – and this includes, but is not limited to fight scenes, chases, acrobatics and martial arts: in short, many spectacles that are as close as can be to sporting competition without actually being so.
For brevity’s sake: I am keeping YouTube in business with my repeat watching of the Star Wars prequel light-saber duels – that’s right, the prequels.
So, all this considered, why am I so unmoved by sport? The answer to this question will, I hope, shed light on its less narcissistic mirror query: why does everyone else like sports?
1. Group Identity
According to Allen McConnel of Psychology Today, association and affiliation with successful sports teams provide fans with rather vicarious but perhaps much-needed puffs to their self-esteem. This can be seen most starkly, McConnel argues, in the tendency among fans to use first-person pronouns in the event of a win – we had a great win; we scored a great goal; we had a great strategy – and third-person pronouns in the event of a loss – they suffered unmitigated humiliation; the goal scored against them represents an indelible mark on their very soul; their strategy makes me feel ill even to think about.
This is a convenient out for me, as it would imply that my apathy to the world of sports springs from a deep well of inner strength and psychological balance. However, I do not think this can be the case.
I am just as likely as the most rabid hooligan to wish harm and destruction on those that fall into the psychological category of “those not on my team”, and, as McConnel would put it, am equally disposed to outsource my need for self-validation to a competent other.
When a writer, musician, or public figure I like comes in for praise, I cannot help but feel it as a win for some nebulous cultural squad to which I too belong, and when one of “our” enemies is decried, I too revel in the baying for blood, calamity and vengeance.
So no, that’s not the reason.
2. Lifestyle Integration
This would roughly fall into the “fake it till you make it” approach, or, to put it another way: the reason I don’t like sport is that I’ve not enacted the sport-liking behaviours enough from them to take root and blossom into a genuine enthusiasm.
There seems to be something patently false in this approach, and in the implication that all sports fans, and even really all fans of anything, are only fans of X, Y or Z for the reason that they were at some point cajoled into behaving the way that a true devotee would. That said, it does not seem unreasonable to me that the degree to which sport is present in the everyday fabric of one’s life will, over time, change how one feels.
A good example of this would be sports betting. A look at any respectable sports betting page will reveal a concordant matrix of data, pattern and deterministic modelling so sophisticated as to constitute a forum of play – or a sport, even – as if not more involving than the sport itself. In the above example, the opinions Nick Luck and Tony Elves – both authoritative sources in the world of horse racing betting – are weighed and balanced among a host of other voices.
Indeed, the emergence of a popular brand of betting-help-and-strategy web content would seem to suggest that placing a wager has now become a kind of meta-sport, with its own criteria for skill and oafishness. This corroborates the notion that long-term exposure to sport will give rise to at least some form of relationship with a particular game or athlete – or, as in the above case, the creation of a parallel interest.
However, I have to reject this as a reason for me not liking sport; as my self-imposed 100-hour-plus sentence of “watching every Wimbledon until I get into it” and my punctual, late-June feelings of dread and trepidation attest: it is not for a lack of trying.
3. I Was Born this Way
Funnily and premeditatedly enough, the subject of tennis brings me to my conclusion. In an essay entitled How Tracy Austen Broke My Heart, the author, and idol of mine, David Foster Wallace – a tennis prodigy himself – describes, with great felicity, the pleasure of seeing a truly great athlete, as it were, “perform”.
And while I can appreciate the brevity, wit, clarity, what have you, of this particular section, I cannot on any intuitive level connect with the feeling he describes, and I put this down to genetics.
I was born with very mild dyspraxia, which essentially means if you were to toss a tennis ball at me 1000 times, I’d drop it 20% more often than the average person. The significant part, however, is that every fumble would fall at the exact moment that a normal person might have excelled themselves, or, in the (paraphrased) words of DFW, enabled an abstraction like power, grace, or balance.
What this means is that I am, by my own analysis, more or less congenitally blind to these moments of physical nuance in others, much in the same way we are deaf to subtle tone variations in foreign languages we speak but are not fluent in.
And without such fluency, how am I to appreciate an elegantly executed backhand or a fine touch on the ball at the apposite moment? This answer is simple: I cannot.
So go forth all ye fluent speakers, wielders of the mother tongue and voices of such abstractions as grace, beauty and power. Enjoy what I will never know are far more than games, and do not cry for me, for I am already (not) deft.