How Sportswriting Can Keep Us Sane

If you’re a frequent visitor to this site, you should be nicely acquainted with our Jamesian analytical skills, our Pryor-like (not Pryor-like) wit, and our Canseco-esque delusions of grandeur. But today, I want to take a break from the drudgery of crunching numbers and making fun of overweight players to discuss something that’s a little different. It’s in our nature to be snide, but our joke-cracking ways can sometimes belie the fact that we’ve all found a hell of a lot to like about sports. Today I want to focus only on the good, and leave discussions of Christian Ponder for another time.

Okay, I promise I’m done with the cheap shots.  I’ve known I wanted to be a writer for a long time. It’s fun, and I’m good at it, at least compared to my track records in chemistry, physics, or competitive eating. My problem was that I didn’t quite know how to expend my writing energy in the best way. I’ve dabbled in fiction, poetry, and criticism, and I’ll likely continue to dabble in those forms for a long time. But then I got this idea in my head that I should write about politics. I’m interested in the philosophy surrounding politics, and I like to debate, so why shouldn’t I express my beliefs in writing?

I shouldn’t express my beliefs in writing because it turns out that everything I love about sports is largely absent from politics. You’ll often hear non-fans raise the objection that sports “don’t mean anything.” Why should anyone care if the right fielder for the Marlins is named Mike, Giancarlo, or Trey Wingo when there are hungry people in Uganda and Haiti? It’s a fair question. Certainly, there are people capable of solving these problems that aren’t doing a whole lot about them.

The answer is that, although most of us may want to help, not everyone is capable of saving the world.  Some people just don’t have the skills, ingenuity, or patience to dive out of harm’s way every time that rock keeps rolling back down the mountain. For years, I tried to be a world saver. I started as an Internet activist (sorry), became a Capitol Hill intern, and essentially wound up a shill for the [redacted] Party. I had ideas in my head about how the world could be saved, and I only had to convince every other living person I was right.

But all of those attempts to convince became more about the anger of disagreement than the joy of exchanging intellectual ideas. Friends, classmates, and professors became Warmongering Buffoons, Dogmatic Sheep (AKA sheepdogs), and Kooky Commies. I stayed awake at night thinking about just HOW IN THE WORLD certain people held the opinions that they held, and devising every possible argument that could help them see the light.

I eventually realized that, even though we disagreed, all of the qualities that led me to like and respect Billy Joe and that kid who sat in front of me in Ethics and Dr. Redd were still there, and harboring resentment toward them wasn’t doing anyone any good.  Sports allow us to hash out our conflicts while preserving mutual respect and dignity. Even if they think my opinion’s ridiculous, no one’s going to label me a freedom-hating demagogue just because I think hitters should always get the red light at a 3-0 count. Even if tax policies and education laws don’t turn out exactly the way I would like them to, that doesn’t take away my ability to bond with a good friend in PNC Park’s upper deck. So why should I let it?

Since I began transitioning from political writing to sportswriting, my output has been met with a lot less partisan hemming and hawing (by me and my readers) and a lot more comments like “hmm, that was interesting! I’ve never thought about it like that before,” or  “you’re right, Andy Murray does look like an ostrich in that picture.”

I am not suggesting that we should abandon all political thought and live in a fantasy land where Ryan Roberts’ tattoos are the most pressing issue of our time. There are a number of political issues that significantly impact the health and wellness of humans, plants, and animals, and these issues should not be downplayed or ignored, even by apolitical types. Ultimately, though, our goal should not be to save the world, but to bring the most joy to it that we possibly can. Fortunately, there are people much smarter and more patient than I, who are somehow able to find joy in politics. Let them figure it out; I have my noncontroversial way of chipping in. Which leads me to my next topic: let’s take facemasks out of football.