With one enormous glass ceiling finally shattered by women last month, it’s time to break down the last remaining one: understanding why men love sports so much.
So this is to you, my fair ladies, who have spent your lives sometimes perplexed, sometimes angry and often feeling isolated as your husband/son/father/grandfather spent seemingly every free second of their lives sitting in an easy chair or a couch in front of a TV, watching other men running around chasing, throwing or hitting different shaped balls … or each other.
The inspiration for this journey, which frankly discloses my own behavior for decades as well as literally hundreds of other men I’ve known, was the seventh game of last month’s World Series, won by the Chicago Cubs over the Cleveland Indians.
The Series didn’t evoke strong emotions for me because it was played between 2 teams I neither root for or against. Most of the first 6 games were long and boring. But the 7th game built to a crescendo that captivated and satisfied as the experience spread from late into the night into early the next morning.
This game had an epic comeback to tie the game by the Indians in a no-hope-at-all situation. Ninth-inning heroics didn’t materialize. As the game went into extra innings, as if the fans needed a pause to reset their emotions, heavy rain started falling and the game was delayed. When it restarted, Chicago scored twice and the hero was a mostly anonymous pinch-runner whose smarts and hustle led to 2 runs. The Indians didn’t go quietly and pushed a run across before finally dying heroically.
For Chicagoans, it ended a 108-year drought without a World Series title, setting off massive emotional celebrations that you didn’t have to be a Cubs fan to understand and appreciate. And thus this event is prototypical of why sports reflects the human spirit and we men sit in the easy chair or on the couch waiting for the next magical moment.
Let me break down the reasons why, so you better understand:
1. It’s real. Sports is reality television at its best. It’s in real time. No scripts. No directors. The outcome is final and fulfilling.
2. It’s human. The experience of playing sports is universal. While almost all of us cannot compete at that level, we all understand and appreciate the skills on display. We understand the elation of victory and the harshness of defeat. All events include mistakes made by the players, the coaches, the referees and even the announcers.
3. It’s our heritage. Most of us religiously root for the teams our parents and grandparents rooted for. Most of us pass that passion down to the next generation. And thus we are connected to the past and the future.
4. It’s historic. Few of the events we watch are on the epic level of a World Series 7th game. But collectively, every game we watch can create an emotion or a memory. A seemingly mundane event can turn significant with a fantastic finish, a never- seen-before play or a long-standing record broken.
5. It’s exciting. When I watch sports, most often I’m quiet no matter what the situation. If I yell, it’s generally at an incompetent referee or TV announcer.
But inside I get insanely nervous. I’ve been with others who constantly yell at the TV over almost every play. No matter how you display your passion the need to feel passion is addictive and doesn’t fade as you age.
6. It’s a path to communication. In my experience, women are more likely to connect more quickly, more openly and more easily than men. Sports is one of the simplest ways for men to bond and sometimes the only way.
So, the next time you look at a favorite man sitting transfixed on the TV and you know it’s a hopeless task to try to reach him, at least you’ll know why. But you should ask yourself, would it be so bad to join him?
If you want to give it a try, here’s my advice. Just learn the basics. You probably know most of them already. Don’t concern yourself with knowing intricate rules and strategies. You don’t have to know the infield fly rule (baseball) or the pick and roll (basketball). You can always learn in the future with his guidance.
Do concern yourself with the human element of sports. Learn about the players and the coaches; knowing their strengths and weaknesses, their back stories, their accomplishments and setbacks and seeing how they perform is what makes each game special.
I used to detest the sport of soccer as boring and repetitive. Seven years ago I started following Inter Milan and became as passionate about the team as any other I’ve rooted for. I don’t like the sport much more than I used to but I watch it regularly. I got to know the players. I can judge when they do well and do poorly. I even care enough to yell at the referees and the announcers.
I just don’t know anybody at Aberdeen who’ll watch it with me. But you don’t have that problem.
You don’t need to spend another weekend afternoon alone. Get your own easy chair. Grab a seat on the couch. Yell or don’t yell at the TV. Let yourself get nervous. You’ve already found your passion, so go sit next to him.