Confession of a Sports Non-Lover

I admit it. I don’t carry my weight in the company of men. I don’t discuss sports.

Baseball Fiends vintage drawing

For most men, talking sports is as basic and natural a transaction as watching TV, tossing back beer or going to the toilet. It’s a universally understood way for strangers to structure interactions, for friends and family to build bonds.

I only wish I could be involved in the dime-store philosophizing, the displays of technical sophistication, the vicarious passions of virtuosity, victory and defeat. There is a sweetness to this tradition of caring so much and so artfully about something that matters so little. There is a sense of belonging that better men than I have long embraced.

The extent to which sports mean nothing to me measures my alienation from my gender and my culture, but I can’t help it; when talk turns to the most fundamental bond of our fraternity, my overwhelming response is tedium.

Though friends know this, and usually give me wide berth on sports topics, strangers naturally assume I’m in the club. That I look like a paunchy ex-grad student gives no hint of disqualification. Men who never caught a ball on less than one bounce are no less eager in their sports talk than the most gym-hardened jock.

This means I spend a significant part of my life maneuvering around the issue. Confined spaces such as elevators, where athletics conversation can’t be escaped, make me panic. Taking a cab is likewise like rolling the dice. The proliferation of immigrant drivers has eased the pressure some, but even they quickly learn to discuss the score, any score.

Going into bars is asking for it, so I work hard to keep to myself. As for that ultimate haven of maleness — the barbershop — my first concern is not the hair cutter’s skill but his reticence. Even at home I have to hustle, jumping for the remote whenever a coach or player is going through the hundredth iteration of why they won/lost.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m don’t feel the need to obstreperously express disdain for all sports. When I can, I pretend knowledgeability to head off embarrassing silences and spare others discomfort. When that fails, I diffidently explain that I don’t follow the activity under examination.

And if pressed, I point out that it’s not the playing that bothers me. I go to a baseball game every other year or two, after all, and if necessary I can even admire the athletes’ prowess in the final minutes of a basketball playoff.

The problem is the baggage that has long since smothered the play. Call me stubborn in my refusal to get interested, but I have better things to do with my leisure than surrender it to the commercialized, banally competitive, jargon-ridden, overexposed, overbearing domination that sports exercises over our culture.

I do resent it that so much of my society’s time, money and attention is consumed by something I don’t care about. I do resent it that even close friends become droning pod people when sports comes up. I do resent it that sports talk serves as such a casual superstructure of exclusion for so many men in the office, the tavern, on the radio, or wherever.

But mostly I just hope for a crumb of reciprocity. I don’t assume you want to hear my thoughts on, say, the use of bottle caps in folk art [Well….], so perhaps you could back off when your concern for some quarterback drains the life from my face.

In the meantime, the only haven is across the gender divide where, sex-role stereotyping be praised, sports talks intrudes only rarely. Subjects like shoes and child-rearing may not be my favorites, but even at its most retro, thank god for the company of women.

This essay was the one time I wrote for a newspaper sports section, the Chicago Tribune, August 14, 1994, under the headline, Give Him A Sporting Chance. The only point worth adding is that I now make exceptions for watching two kinds of sports — soccer (thanks to my daughter) and the Olympics.

7 thoughts on “Confession of a Sports Non-Lover

  1. Bryan hall says:

    I just want to thank you for the article. Im a former athlete and have trouble explaining these feelings I have to friends. Thank you for your help

  2. Bobby's Poo Farm Was South Ya Idiot ! says:

    Thanks for this. No more suicide for me, besides I can’t even tie knots. Go figure skating. And count me out !

  3. mark says:

    I’m a fairly average straight guy, played some soccer in high school, played baseball as a kid and enjoy a televised hockey game now and then. But ever since Jim Bouton published “Ball Four” and ever since the time I drove my GF all the way into Manhattan from Chatham, NJ to see the Ringling Bros circus at the Garden only to be turned away because the Knicks made the playoffs at the last minute I have developed a healthy disdain for the business of sports and eventually I stopped regularly watching it all. Not that I don’t appreciate great sportsmanship and talent (e.g. Derek Jeter) but like Mr. Swislow I have a hard time when guys get together because I’m clueless about who got traded and/or all of the inane stats these guys (and a few women) seem to be able to recall from ancient history. Not that I don’t watch at all; now that I’ve lived in Pa for years if the Phillies happen to win a few games in a row I might start watching and have even attended a few games at the beautiful Citizen Bank Park. I’ll even watch pro football championships and the Superbowl if I get in the mood. I just have a hard time understanding though how a made-up team of players from all over the country and sometimes the world can get people so worked up about “their” team when few if any of them actually grew up on the area. Maybe it’s just me but I just don’t see the point in keeping up with all the minutae of sports stats. Maybe because I lost my Dad at the age of 15, maybe because I had to work to help support my Mom instead of playing in high school and college, maybe because the fan and crowd/mob mentality can be stupid and cruel sometimes, maybe because I’m missing a gene, I don’t know. Maybe because there are fewer sports heros than when we were kids, fewer sane and law-abiding role models thanks to the Internet and bulldog investigative reporting and athletes who publicly act like assholes.

  4. Bobby says:

    Love to play all sports. Never liked watching any of them, though. Ever.
    I think it’s because I’m selfish.

    I don’t care about other people, unless they’re on my team… unless we’re going to war against other people (another team). I need physical interaction, not intangible images.

    When a person asks me about a team that won the other day, regardless of the sport, my reply is basically – I couldn’t care less. Then, after I see the person frown or whatever, I ask if they want to play the same sport against me in a competition.

    I’m highly athletic and extremely competitive.

    More often than not, any challenge I issue is rarely met. The person so concerned with my opinion of sporting events just a few moments earlier is suddenly trying to change the subject to something else.

  5. Max says:

    Man, can I identify with this! Thanks for the great post!

    I didn’t grow up in a “sporty” family. My small town was lucky to keep itself going and barely had funds to keep a high school football program in place. Sports was never a part of the lives of the people around me and I grew up never caring about sports.

    Present day, I’m a 50yo man in Chicago days after the Cubs won the World Series after 108 years. I’m happy for them and the happiness they brought others, but I can’t identify or empathize with the men around me. I once again feel like the outsider.

    About a year ago I decided to stop stressing over the fact that I don’t care about sports. If someone talks to me assuming I’m a fan, I let them know I don’t follow the sport. I get raised eyebrows as if I grew a 3rd arm most of the time. And I don’t care. I’m too old to worry about what someone else things anymore. And if they think less of me because I don’t share their sports enthusiasm, then that’s their issue, not mine.

  6. Maverick says:

    Of all sports to watch, you watch usually-boring, long-winded, often-scoreless soccer? Different strokes, I suppose. I’ll take it that you’re indicating that you watch your daughter play soccer for school? Otherwise, it seems to me that soccer epitomizes everything negative about sports which you pointed out.

    It’s the most over-exposed, overrated major sport in the world, with the worst fans in the world. All sports see their share of negative aspects, but soccer takes the cake.

    At least with other sports, they give you various things to talk about, like a myriad of strategies, fewer teams to talk about, and variety of ways to score in the game. Soccer gives you a tiny amount of strategy, way too many teams, way too many “cups,” and only two ways to score: Accidentally or barely.

    I mean, soccer fans literally fighting each other at frequent rates, over a sport that’s the softest, lowest-scoring major sport in the world? Even hockey fans aren’t nearly as rambunctious as soccer/”football” fans tend to be.

    Anyways, if you desire to find a way to “fit” in sports to some degree, have you considered looking into non-“major” sports, like billiards, bowling, or poker? Believe it or not, those sports do have quite the loyal following, and without all the fuss associated with other major sports.

    In any case, I don’t judge you for not liking sports. It’s no sin or anything. Folks have their preferences. I just find it a bit funny that of ALL sports, soccer’s among your exception, seeing that it embodies pretty much everything you highlighted as what’s generally off-putting about sports with folks like yourself.

  7. Well, other than the Olympics, I only watch sports on TV if someone else has turned it on — the bar, my wife, my daughter — and rarely all the way through. All the pro sports tend to drag on. And while I’m aware of soccer’s over exposure and sometimes thuggish fans, as an American I’m pretty much insulated from that. I’m sure if I lived in a soccer country, my feelings about the sport would be very different.

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