Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Sports, men...and the women who love them

A friend of mine posted a blog about her family’s enthusiasm for that basketball phenomenon known as March Madness and how she and her sister—even though they’re women—fully participate, keeping up with the tournaments, cheering favorite teams, making up brackets, etc. She made a remark that got me thinking, and writing too much for just a comment. She said:

“I know I'm the oddball girl who actually gives a rip about sports, but I can't help but wonder what's wrong with all these men who know nothing about them!”

This isn't technically a question, much less one that demands a response, but for the sake of her (and anyone else’s) further education in the World of Men, I decided to respond anyway. [I started out using a professorial tone as a joke, but it kind of fell apart at some point, I realize. Oh well. Not like I'm being graded on this, right?].

Easy answer: nothing. Meaning, not caring about sports that much does not indicate a deficiency (in testosterone levels or anything else). The expression of manliness takes many forms, some more obvious than others, some more productive, some more alien to the feminine mind (and some even men find pretty gross). Not caring about sports does indicate an availability of resources (time, money, emotional energy, etc.) that can be put toward other activities, such as model shipbuilding, woodworking, auto mechanics, home remodeling, taking trips to Home Depot, and other productive and creative endeavors. In extreme cases and when necessary, for some men it also may leave more time for speaking to their wives or girlfriends, children, extended family members, pets and neighbors. I would think this would be a reason for celebration for any woman, rather than doubt. But there are exceptions to every stereotype.

More in-depth answer: An equally valid, and more compelling, question is "why does anyone care about sports to begin with, especially to the manic level some do, if they're not playing or betting or potentially deriving a direct benefit (financial or otherwise) on the games?"

From what I've seen, for many folks (and especially for females) it's a device for bonding with the father or father figure, whose relational avenues are typically relatively limited due to the inherent quality of men to prefer relating via indirect & external vs. direct & internal means (i.e., they'd rather say stuff like "hand me that wrench" or "how 'bout them Vols" than "I feel like you're upset with me; let's talk it out over an espresso"). For some family members it's their only channel to relationship with that father figure; for others (happily) it's one of many, but a cherished one nonetheless, and the positive associations between sports and "daddy love" can last a lifetime as a normal and very healthy thing.

Same principle, different arena: I know two young women that really liked an alternative Christian rock band called the 77's, though both leaned more toward the style of Amy Grant and Point of Grace. Turns out both liked/loved guys who listened to the 77's. "Fanatics" by association are everywhere.

As for why men like sports, my theory (cobbled together from sources of varying credibility, including John Eldredge, Dr. Phil and my own experience) is that it has to do with the need to belong to a "tribe", and the need for a champion--someone to struggle to victory on behalf of the tribe. The more invested a man is in the tribe (emotionally, temporally, statistically), the more empowered he feels by his inclusion, and the greater the feeling of accomplishment at victory, even if all he did was sit in his easy chair for 3 hours and shout at the TV. And even the "agony of defeat" is tempered by the knowledge that at least he is not facing it alone. Sports is a safe place for a man to express his emotions, his aspiration to greatness, and even his affection for his fellow men (hence the butt-patting that would be completely unacceptable off the field--at least among the men I'd want to associate with).

"Man is never so manly as when he feels deeply, acts boldly, and expresses himself with frankness and with fervor.”
Benjamin Disraeli

Personally, though all the above motivations apply somewhat, and I do like watching football for the game itself, my interests in sports are mostly secondhand. I take a fair amount of interest in Tennessee football, but mostly because I live in Tennessee, I'm a UT grad and I attended games at Neyland Stadium, so that's a direct association to my own experience. I graduated in the then-new basketball arena, and shook Lamar Alexander’s hand (curiously, he didn’t seem to remember this when I met him again not long ago). And I also watch from a professional broadcaster's point of view. During an internship at a local TV station I followed the plays with a camera, up and down the field, for a high school football highlights show. It was long ago, and only for two games, but I've watched the game differently ever since.

But then, as I realized years ago, I had other ways to make sure I was within my dad's viewing range; those included our shared interests in religion and humor, and an enthusiasm for TV. I remember one time how, after I had gone to bed, the irresistible sound of the audience laughing at a comedian on the Tonight Show brought me back to the living room to check it out. My dad started to resist, but gave in pretty quickly when I told him I was just there to hear the jokes, then I'd be off to bed again. He probably sensed I was there not only for my own enjoyment, but also to continue my self-guided course in the art of comedy. And no doubt he could relate. He wasn’t exactly the class clown, but he does enjoy creating a laugh. This is a man who made a “sponge cake” using actual sponges and took it to a church social. I’ve seldom been more proud of him. So who needs to memorize meaningless sports statistics? Or has time? There are important comedic principles to master.

The world of sports has a lot in common with music. They both have their fans who range from the casual to the truly obsessive/compulsive. Each has been elevated to having its own place among "legitimate news" (especially sports) and some even speak as if the related events are "history"...as if the Normandy and British invasions of 1944 and 1964 (respectively) had an equal impact on the world (OK, that's not completely implausible). Ultimately, in the absence of some compelling motivator such as the bonding I've referred to, both music and sports have their useful metaphorical applications to life, but really only matter as much as a person chooses for them to matter. It doesn't affect my life one way or the other (any more than anything else in the world of cause & effect) who wins any national championship, but of course I'd rather Tennessee win. Otherwise, to paraphrase the Preacher, it's all vanity (of course, the Preacher could’ve been the ancient equivalent to the Vandy football fan, I don’t know).

So…how ‘bout them Vols?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Whoa--your dad really took a "sponge" cake to a church social?? That's hilarious!!

I notice that the "Sports, men..and the women who love them" quote on this posting page is in orange type. Any special "Volunteer" reason for orange:-)?