Friday, March 1, 2013

Let's Not Forget: It's Only a Game

Fan (noun) 1. an enthusiastic devotee, follower, or admirer of a sport…short for fanatic: a person with an extreme and uncritical enthusiasm or zeal 

It was the moment I began to fall out of love with professional sports and being a sports fan, at least being a sports fanatic.  Leaving a Boston Red Sox game a few years ago on a beautiful spring evening (not even sure who won), a really drunk fan next to me began chanting the modern BoSox slogan.  “YANKEES SUCK! YANKEES SUCK!”  Then…something kind of clicked to “off” inside me.  My passion for sports, born long ago in the innocence of childhood…well, after that night it just didn’t burn as brightly anymore.    

How many times had I heard some yahoo like this buffoon start that childish chant at Fenway Park?  Put up with him and his wasted friends as they swore in front of kids and sloppily spilled beer on me and my fellow fans at Fenway?  How many times had I been at a Patriots game, avoided with disgust and fear inebriated screaming “fans”, many of whom would soon be locked up in a sheriff’s paddy wagon at Gillette Stadium?  How many times had I thought, “Finally: a sports hero I can and honor respect” and then been let down? 

Cyclist Lance Armstrong who doped through all those Tour De France races.  Live Strong? Manny Ramirez who used steroids during the Sox run to two World Series championships. Was the curse really reversed legitimately? Baltimore Ravens star Ray Lewis, so worshipped by the culture at the 2013 Super Bowl.  A decade earlier Lewis avoided jail time for murder by turning states’ evidence. A thug in shoulder pads.

It is hard to be a fan these days, at least for me.  Yes, like much of the New England citizenry I anticipate with joy Opening Day just a month away.  Spring is not spring in these parts until baseball returns and the grass is again so green and the sky is so blue in centerfield.  The games begin. Play ball.  Play the game. THE GAME.

But then I read the sports pages of the Globe and the Herald which now are as much about gossip as statistics: Terry Francona’s tell all tattle tale book about beer in the clubhouse and soap operas among grown men. I turn on sports talk radio and listen as callers and hosts opinionate, cogitate, spout off oh so self importantly about games, as if these things really matter all that much in the scheme of life.  Cancer—now that’s real.  War—that matters.  Elections and politics—these truly shape life. But sports?

Sports are finally just that: sports.  Games. Amusements. Competition between the lines on a playing field.  Who won, who lost is exciting to witness but finally these outcomes make little or no difference in the truth of this life. Pro sports are fun to watch.  A diversion when life gets too overloaded and serious. Entertaining, like a good movie or a smart TV show.  Discussion fodder for the workplace or at church.

But in 2013 professional sports are now outsized, out of control, and out of whack.  Consider how much communal energy and money and time our culture devotes to professional sports.  Witness the obesessiveness of so many fanatics about that which is only a game. 

Me? I just want to be a fan again. Return to the backyard of my childhood home, play wiffle ball with Joey from next door.  Then I fantasized that I was Carl Yastrzemski trying to hit a home run over the Green Monster. He was Rico Petrocelli scooping up grounders at short.  We were fans, not because of 24/7 cable sports channels or over priced “official” $175 jerseys or tickets that cost a fortune. 

We were fans, simply fans, because we loved the game.  Fans, who as we grew older could walk up to Fenway on a hot August afternoon, score some cheap bleacher seats, soak in the sun, drink a beer and have a little fun.  And when that game ended, win or lose, we remembered that it was only a game after all. 

So this year I will be rooting for the Red Sox for my 45th season.  I’ll watch the boys of summer and their exploits, read about them in the papers, jaw about them with fellow fans.  But I’ll enjoy it all for what professional sports have always has been and will always be: a game. Nothing more. 

So…PLAY BALL! This fan is ready for a new year.



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