Why Yes, I WILL Root for the Home Team, Thanks
by Rebecca Bobecca
Like a lot of people, I started watching sports because I wanted my dad to like me.
It didn’t work.
Now, my dad loved me. (Don’t worry. This is not that essay.) But he was a former combat Marine turned blue-collar, man’s-man kind of guy, and I was a very girly little girl. He liked me, but he didn’t really know how to relate to me. Not like he could relate to my brother, who—though barely a year younger than me and much smaller—liked the sorts of things my dad liked. Like sports.
So somewhere along the way I started watching baseball so that I could talk to my dad and we could have the sort of friendly get-alongs that he had with my brother. But it never really worked. I’d say something blandly enthusiastic about how my [non-Big 10] college’s basketball team was faring, and Dad would say something over my head about defense and then turn to my brother with a “Did you see the Illini the other night?” Off they’d go, and there I’d be, back outside of the conversation again.
But somewhere along the way I picked up a genuine appreciation for sporty viewing. I’ve spent countless hours watching baseball with the kindly older gentlemen at the Esquire, or listening to WGN broadcasts while I putter around the house. I’ve still got VHS tapes of short track speedskating from the 2002 Olympics. I played softball and kickball and volleyball, admittedly not that well, but well enough. I’ve edited books on baseball and bodybuilding and soccer drills. I follow more than one hockey statistician on Twitter.
And yet, I’ve found myself at a point and a place in my life where I have a hard time rustling up compatriots to watch the Stanley Cup playoff, or the World Cup finals, or any baseball game at all. “Have fun watching your sportsball,” my friends say as they turn down my invites. “Hope you enjoy watching overpaid thugs play games while adjunct professors get food stamps!”
Thank you, I say. I WILL.
I know that the commercialism of pro sports in America is over-the-top insane. I know that if I had kids I wouldn’t be able to afford to take them to a stadium. I know that owners of these teams are billionaire jags and that the athletes are hired guns who feel no loyalty to a team or city, that many sports are actually physically damaging the people who play them, that the money we spend on sports could feed and clothe and educate an awful lot of people who need those things. I am not unaware.
But I like it anyway. On some level, I think there’s something in team sports that taps into our inherent tribalism. Having a team gives you something to belong to, a culture complete with costumes and rituals and history and identity. Being a fan of a team means being a part of something.
As Americans, we don’t go in much for the sports where we might field a persistent national team. For one thing, we’re too big. In a country the size of, say, Portugal, one of the guys on the national football team came from somewhere near any Portuguese home town. (By American standards, well hell, ALL of the guys on the Portuguese national team came from somewhere near your Portuguese home town.) Here, though? I am relatively certain there is no one on the US Men’s National team from anywhere within 100 miles of my hometown. So we go for sports where we can define ourselves by smaller geographies—Portugal-sized geographies, more or less. And we know that the guys on Blackhawks didn’t actually grow up in the shadow of the Sears tower, but we’re a nation of migrants, a nation on the move. *I* don’t even live in my hometown. I moved to a new city and called it mine, so it’s not that big a deal to adopt a team and whoever comes to it as belonging to me, too.
But you know what? I think it’s really even simpler than that.
Life is crazy complicated. Hamas and Israel are a mess, Ukraine and Russia are a mess, somebody’s probably stealing my password right now, ebola is killing people and we don’t have any drugs for it, Iraq is falling, the Republicans think birth control will make me a whore, and the whole entire US government just can NOT get its shit together. It’s a MESS, everything is a mess. The world is going to hell in a handbasket, and I don’t know what to do about it. I feel overwhelmed and helpless and tiny and dumb.
But then I watch sports. And for a couple of hours, things are simple: The blue guys are good, the red guys are bad. Let’s drink beer and root for the blue guys.
I know it doesn’t do one single thing to make the world less of a mess. No matter how many pink-bat days they hold, they’re not curing cancer; no matter how many soldiers and sailors and Marines they honor, they’re not resolving world conflicts. I know that. But for a little while I can put that aside and enjoy the beauty of a diving catch in the outfield, or Patrick Kane improbably swooping through three defenders to get the puck to the net, or watch Serena Williams perfectly place a backhand where her opponent can’t hope to get it, and just feel glad.
The world will still be a mess when the game’s over, I promise, and I’ll go back to worrying uselessly about it. But for now, pass the Old Style. It’ll wait until the end of this inning.