I’m a sports fan.
Statistics, studies, and common sense tell me that it’s likely you’re a fan, too. It seems every American roots for one team or another, cheers for their favorite gymnast, ice skater, or thrills for that airborne, over-oiled pro-“rassler.” We wear logo-covered T-shirts or sweatshirts, or we slather our bodies with the team colors when no shirts are available. We pay money for our favorite sport’s TV channel…NFL…MLB…Indoor Lacrosse?…English Premier League Hooligan’s Channel…or simply the Home Shopping Network.
How did this happen to us? How did it come to be that a certain percentage of our emotional well-being is tied up in the athletic performance of someone else?
Of course, in the beginning we ourselves actually played sports. You took figure skating with your BFF, or your mom ran you to Saturday morning gymnastics in the big padded room. Dad was the assistant coach of your little league team or he kibitzed your Pop Warner football practices. Whether you went to cheerleading camp or made a kid cry with a header to the face at YMCA Saturday morning soccer, you were part of the game.
Then something happened. Basically, it centered around the realization, sometimes slow, sometimes sudden, that we all came to understand that we weren’t really very good at our beloved game. We couldn’t dribble with our left hand without staring cross-eyed at the ball while we tried it. A triple toe loop was two toe loops beyond us. We couldn’t throw a pass on a quick out to the flat that had more velocity than a dirigible in a headwind. Or, in my case, I couldn’t hit a curve ball.
I mean, I was a good baseball player. I could move in the field like Shelob chasing Frodo. My arm was as accurate as Al Roker in June. I could hit any 70 mph fastball you threw at me. Then, I ran into Monty Montrose. Monty had a curveball. It was a stake in my heart made of Kryptonite. My major league career dream switched from a rocket flight to Yankee Stadium to Evel Knievel taking on the Caesar’s Palace fountain. I was washed up. By the way, so was Monty. He had elbow surgery at 17 and ended up a wealthy construction company owner instead of a AA minor league phenom for two summers in Duluth, poor guy.
Anyway, I had only one place to go. I put away the glove and became a fan.
Becoming a “fan” has a miraculous effect on our own athletic skill set and knowledge. Suddenly we know things that were beyond us when we were stuck in the mundane world of actually playing the game. Suddenly we can see the open man on the post pattern and drop a dime to him undeterred by coverage that’s tighter than undersized yoga pants. Suddenly we know which pitcher should come out to close the game, and after watching the manager refuse our psychic advice, and the grand slam that beats us, realize how we are six intellectual steps past sabermetrics…whatever the heck those are. By being a “fan” we become geniuses.
As fans we acquire the right to judge every player and coach on “our team.” We get to shout (Though usually, we just “comment” on social media…actual shouting is only done when we are alone with our big-screen watching the game in the evacuated family room and scaring the dog.)“Fire him!” “Bench him!” “Kill them!” Yeah, we actually say stuff like that. Even my wife shouts at gymnasts from time to time. Why? Because we are fans.
There is a 24-year-old kid on my favorite football team. When he plays well, I am ecstatic. When he doesn’t produce some miraculous outcome that I desire, I am sad. No, I am melancholy. No, I become morose. I despair. I see the world and life itself as a dreary burden that I can no longer bear. This is the life of a fan. It is not good. I have decided I have to get out of this bleak circle of athletic co-dependency. I must change.
I swear I will never watch that kid and his darned team again. I will no longer be disappointed. I’m going to play again.
Because Monty Montrose just called to challenge me to a game of pickleball.
Otis Twelve hosts the radio program Early Morning Classics with Otis Twelve on 90.7 KVNO, weekday mornings from 5-9 a.m. Visit kvno.org for more information.
This column was printed in the October 2019 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.