Dreams and Hangups

When I was as young as 19, I had a feeling that sports writing was going to be a passion for me. I had always been a fairly smart sports fan in my estimation. I can still remember studying for some high school finals while the Mets let Edgardo Alfonzo walk and signed Tom Glavine, and thinking what a damn travesty of a decision that was. Then watching 2003 opening day via MLB Gameday in a computer lab while Glavine got torched in his Mets debut by Corey Patterson. I’d watched from afar as people like Aaron Gleeman climbed the rung from anonymous sports blogger to semi-known sports blogger to website content writer, and I thought “one day that will be me.”

Me and a few close friends had started a site called Future Considerations (see sidebar) and started pumping out some quality work. We got some Deadspin links, I think around four or five of them. I wound up doing MetsGeek (again, see sidebar) for a little while, and eventually the combination of SB Nation’s growth with Amazin Avenue, the 2007 collapse, and my own haze of personal drama and questioning led me to hit the sidelines of sports writing and miss out on some pretty great opportunities.

I guess the one thing that kept me from going full throttle towards sports internet/journalism guy was the lack of a bigger purpose. The more I learned about it, the worse it seemed to get. When I was a child and knew nothing about sports but the players, the rules, and the competition, I felt a lot better about the situation. The older I got, the more I learned about what a creative trap sports is. You’re shelling out millions more than the players make to line the pockets of the already rich, who, by the way, extort stadiums out of every major city in America. The entire sports industry is smothered in nepotism, traditionalism, and greed. Fans are given the middle finger at almost every opportunity, asides from carefully crafted PR stunts where people pretend like they give a damn. You put your heart and soul into cheering on something you have no influence over; something that could be incredibly retarded to common sense, like the Kansas City Royals. What sense does this make? You might as well pick a corporation and root for it to go up on the stock market.

Then to top it off, there’s the question of why, exactly, sports matters. Oh sure, theres the feeling of “togetherness” in fandom, and theres the joy of say, rooting on your country in the World Cup. But don’t tell me that this brings people together and act like this is a great thing. Lots of things bring people together. Communism brought people together. Protests bring people together. I bring people together to play Monopoly. It doesn’t cost the same constant effort and money that sports does to bring people together. In the end, sports really donates nothing in the way of goodness to mankind that couldn’t be found elsewhere at a lower price. It isn’t solving any of the world’s problems, that’s for sure.

So an industry built on exploitation and a product that does nothing to better the world. Why would anyone want to get involved in something like this? At times I’ve felt guilty (and some of my friends/relatives/acquaintances have made me feel the same way) for spending such an amount of time on something that, admittedly, doesn’t further much in the world. So I sort of drifted on and on. I had some mini-comebacks, but for the most part, I was content to let the dream fade and try to come up with something else. Maybe I could be a serious writer and send stories to snobby literary magazines and no one would know what the hell I was talking about.

But I guess somewhere along the way, I figured out that it really has nothing to do with what you surround yourself with. Right now I have a pretty good family, a supportive partner, a few friends that I trust. It doesn’t make me a better person; my moral compass was decided a long time ago. You can find stories of metaphorical roses growing out of turds from the beginning of recorded history to present day. Just because I find work in a field like this doesn’t mean that I am going to fall prey to the kinds of cycles that define the field.

I hate tooting my own horn, but I’m damn good at sports writing. I enjoy sports. I don’t enjoy that someone is making money off of them, but that’s okay. I enjoy analyzing and strategy, I enjoy the athletic muscle memory it takes for a supremely talented athlete to destroy a fastball and send it 450 feet away. I don’t enjoy that said athlete may have used 800 chemicals to themselves to get that way, but that doesn’t really bother me like it bothers some people. I’ve reached a place where I know that sports is a logistical fraud, but I enjoy myself in it anyway.

I like to make people think. I like crafting a comparison that makes someone laugh. I like the escapism of drowning the mundane and irritating tidbits of life away for a few hours and enjoying competition between the strongest and the toughest we can find. I don’t like that some people turn sports into a testing ground for their morals and beliefs, but that’s okay. I happen to think my way of enjoying sports is more pure than that.

And if that means I’m wasting my talents, then so be it. This is what I want to do, and this is what I’m good at.

~ by Rivers on 2010/07/22.

7 Responses to “Dreams and Hangups”

  1. Pretty deep stuff.

    You know you miss Tommy Traitor…

  2. You don’t want to toot your own horn, yet that was the entire focus of the piece?

  3. As someone interested in political science, and constantly alarmed by the tribalism that politics encourages, I think sports is a good outlet for that. I’ll let the anthropologists, the biologists, the sociologists and the psychologists ruminate about whether or not tribalism is something inherent in human nature, but it’s certainly a part of our culture.

    People cheer for the Kansas City Royals because of the “Kansas City” part. This is an idea I’m sure you’re not foreign to. And anyone who cares enough about baseball to still consider themselves a fan of the Royals should know enough to realize that they aren’t going to be any good any time soon, that the owner of the team almost seems to have a great deal of contempt and disrespect for the fans. To continue to be a fan, as you note, is irrational. However, I’d rather sports be the outlet for this sort of irrationality than what we see in November every two years.

    Sports is indeed a distraction to the more important things in life. If it’s anything, it’s entertainment. Entertainment has all sorts of forms and this is only one of them. But I don’t think that makes the whole enterprise useless. The mind needs the occasional park bench to sit on. No one can ply their craft all hours of the day.

    Sports also provides an outlet for the exercise that modern man is encouraged to forgo. And perhaps it’s because I’m training for a marathon, but the further along I go, the more I think sports really does build character. An argument could be made that ESPN doesn’t need to be around in order for people to be interested in sports, though.

    I’ve had a similar sort of crisis-of-conscience as a sports fan recently with the reports of brain damage in football players, much more so than I ever was about steroids and human growth hormone and amphetamines in baseball. “Exploitation” is the right word for this aspect of the game, I feel. While players chose to put those chemicals in their bodies, the brain damage that players are subjecting themselves to in football seems to be the result of either outright neglect by the league, or by the very nature of the game itself.

    As for the owners who make loads of money off of the apparent inevitability of profit by owning these teams, I generally agree with you. I think it is shameful that taxpayers are hustled for stadium money. I think it is shameful how players are exploited. However, someone needs to finance the huge costs of these teams, and not all owners are equally despicable. Some are probably pretty decent human beings.

    What needs to happen from a fan perspective is an usurpation of this “real fans stick around in the bad times” culture. This is one of the areas in which that inevitable profit comes from, I feel. Fans do this to some extent already, but the “real fans” need to take it a step further: stop showing up to games, stop buying jerseys, and stop buying baseball caps when your teams are absolutely atrocious and make a mockery of the game. You’d see the practices of owners change pretty quickly as a result.

    At any rate, no, a sports writer will never be held in as high esteem as a Peace Corps member, or a doctor, or a school teacher. But that doesn’t make it worthless. There’s value in sports writing because there’s value in sports.

    • Let me say that I think the way that sports positions themselves makes them almost immune to the kind of scenario you talk about in your second-to-last paragraph. Those Royals, for instance, have corporate underlings who buy themselves the box seats, a massive TV contract that pretty much makes networks guarantee that they have to advertise the games, and a slush fund by the commissioner of revenue sharing funds. One could argue that they have their base income whether or not 30,000 or 3,000 show up for a game. They might have to cut player costs to keep raking in the number they want, but they’re certainly likely to break even at worst.

      What sets sports apart from me, in terms of your generalization of it as entertainment, is that you are actively investing yourself in something for a long haul. If you buy a video game, a ticket to a movie, a movie, a book, an album, you’ve made the final purchase and are free to move on at any point. Throw the book away if it sucks, tell your friends the movie was awful, etc. If you’re a sports fan, the time investment is absolutely insane and you’ve effectively lost the power to decide things. Once you’ve invested say, a year, into being a Royals fan, you’ve reached the point where you want to get something out of it simply because of all the time you’ve given them. You keep going, hoping things will change, and it never will. Dayton Moore still doesn’t know shit about baseball, star players won’t actively seek out Kansas City, etc.

      So while it’s entertainment, it’s also a scary form of entertainment where it goes against human nature to walk away from a situation where things are bad. You won’t find many hardcore Royals fans, certainly not outside of KC, but there are certainly a non-0 number. Maybe like, 100,000. That’s 100,000 more fans than the movie “The Karate Dog” has, despite the two having about the same long-term value. It can be human nature to be trapped in something like that, and thats why the whole enterprise, from a distance, is a little frightening to me.

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