Why I Give Up On Sports

For years, I’ve been saying that it’s tough being a fan. The loss, the heartache, the cyclical hope. Nothing compared to a hurricane or other legitimate tragedy, of course. And I mean it in jest. However, losing hurts. Your team losing hurts.

I was never a true die-hard fan, truth be told. I’ve never owned season tickets. I’ll never make it to the Super Bowl. A flat-screen at the local pub is probably the closest I’ll get to any packed stadium for a championship game.

Playing

Without a doubt, I love sports. There’s a purity to much of it, and I believe it brings out the best in people. My wife and I have kept the kids rolling through athletics for much of each year (with soccer, my favorite, being the default activity). At this level, as an assistant coach, I can connect with the kids, encourage them, and see correction for obvious errors or tactical problems. Last year, my son’s soccer team, Orange Crush, ran the table going into a state tournament. His head coach brought out the talents and best use for each sixth-grader, and the results were an awesome 13-0.

The other day, my daughter’s squad pounded their opponents 5-0. There was no attempt to run up the score. The other team simply didn’t have much of an attack (despite my daughter’s letting them through on a hilarious defensive whiff).

The Debacle

Contrast that with what happened that same night, a continent away…

Pen sketch of a USMNT soccer player kneeling and covering his face

The USMNT basically phoned-in an effort against Trinidad & Tobago–a game that should’ve put the Yankees in the 2018 FIFA World Cup for a ninth consecutive tournament. The American side lacked hustle and cohesion. Going by the highlights (or lowlights) our men didn’t look ready to compete on the world stage. Aside from Christian Pulisic’s goal, this seemingly rock-bottom showing paved the way for a much-needed housecleaning at US Soccer. And while us fans had so much hope for 2014, with Klinsman at the helm, we’ll be watching 32 other countries try to advance in this mother of all tournaments next year.

And these guys…

For years, I’ve been a fan of University of Tennessee football. Under Phil Fulmer, there was enough success (one national title, a .750 winning percentage) to keep Rocky Top happy during lean years. Then his offense got stale, he was canned, and a carousel of coaches has made the fan-base reminisce about the winning days in the rearview mirror. To become accustomed to such success is, inherently, a problem. Losses become crushing, embarrassing, disheartening–especially against the same squad every year, or just when your team appeared to have gotten its act together (see US 4, Panama 0).

Spikes of success, a packed stadium and ‘Believe’ banners aren’t enough to influence a miracle touchdown grab or stoppage-time goal down. It can be said a true fan wagers a lot of emotional capital on an outcome he or she can’t influence. At the end, half the players who walked on the field will walk off as so-called losers. Moral victories are a nice sentiment, but they’re hardly enough to sustain the faith in next season, for the next tournament.

Conceding defeat

So I’m turning in my expectations card. I’ll watch the Super Bowl, I’ll catch highlights of WC ’18 and I might make it to an MLS Sounders game next season. If the Mariners make it to the playoffs or Seattle gets a pro basketball team again, great. Call me a sports curmudgeon or fair-weather fan, that’s fine. I’ve got too many other things to worry about than a ball making it into a net.

For now.

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Mishap

It’s going to happen–that catastrophic rip or crunch. I’m not a graceful person to begin with (ordera drunken moosae) and the statistics don’t work in my favor.

The other day, minutes into my pickup soccer game, I collided with another, more experienced player named Paul. It was nobody’s fault, as we were going for a loose ball. He held up a little bit (it is a pickup game where we don’t even keep score) and I’m grateful that he did. His knee went into my upper shin. That he was a step farther into his run made his body the hitter and mine the “hittee,” I guess. If it had been knee to knee, it could’ve been catastrophic for me. If he’d been going a little faster, as in full sprint, his patella could’ve snapped my tibia in two. It hurts. It happens.

(Ironically, contact took place above where the shin-guard I wasn’t wearing would’ve ended, so there’s no if-onlys regarding a few ounces of molded plastic.)

Justin Edison's legs showing a lovely soccer-related bruise

Ouch

Keith Jackson was fond of saying football (American) is a game of inches. In truth, all of sports (and much of life) has outcomes depending on tiny distances covered–or not–at a high velocity. Lionel Messi, the absolute wonder, has made a career of juking defenders and squeaking the 22-centimeter ball through with the slightest half-centimeter margins. For someone like him, that’s the difference between an attack interrupted and a keeper thinking obscenities (as he tries to stop what is largely unstoppable).

A teammate named Alex once took a rocket-ball to the face–hard enough to bloody his nose. As a slow-motion camera would’ve shown, if the opponent hadn’t struck it cleanly, or at just that moment, the ball would’ve scraped Alex’s cheek or ear, instead. He was fine, after the leaving the field, but I’m sure all he remembers is the blur coming faster than human perception allows.

For myself, this time, I got lucky. Though I’m not a high-traffic player (people with better skills are suited to that) some unfortunate collision or foot-twist is going to happen. Pain and injury are part of the risks.

The best advice I ever got from someone outside the family was, “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” For sports, as I tell my soccer-playing kids, the risk of injury qualifies as small stuff.

When I take the field tonight, like always, I’m going to focus on the fun of the Beautiful Game. It’s a healthy addiction, as guys put it. Amazingly, the second I step onto the field, I won’t be limping or considering the what-could-happens. Sports are sports, and I’m happy there.

 

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