11.24.2015

Why I Still Talk About Sports at Times Like This

It's been a hard fall for me to write in these spaces. Every evening I try to sit down to write, I find a dozen other things to do. There are papers to grade and recommendations to submit and people to actually be married to. So while I love to write, and even though I want to write, it slips through my fingers more often than I like.

This past week, I had the time, I had the energy, but every time I opened up this page, I stopped and stared. And as the feeds from North Minneapolis streamed into my phone, as people I love and trust engaged in louder and louder protests for more pressing matters than quality sports analysis, I couldn't find it in myself to write.

So as I sat in front of the screen, I could think of nothing to say that wasn't horribly, dreadfully irrelevant. And when I went in to work, to discuss issues of the day with young people who lived blocks from the fourth precinct, who spent all night raising their voices for justice, all I could think was how insignificant it would be to write down potential snarky nicknames for Byung-Ho Park or warmed over jokes about how I liked St. Vincent and the Grenadines better when it was Bill Murray and a light syrup.

What reason could I have for publishing my millions of minor notions about these silly little games, while a senior boy--a young man I've worked with for four years, an academic on track for college and a major in architecture, a person I would trust to rule justly and fairly as Grand Poobah of the Universe-- while this friend of mine confessed his intense fear that the last thing he would ever see would be the somebody's boots on the curb, and the last thing he would hear would be the cocking of a gun, as he lay on the street with his hands behind his back?

The truth is, I (and many people like me) have the privilege of turning off the news, of tuning out the rhetoric, of tending to our hobbies and interests, because we don't live near the fourth precinct or worry that our lives will end with a bang and a brief, perfunctory, utterly unsurprised comment on the local news.

It's particularly easy for those of us who love sports to see successful people of color in our community, to cheer for their successes, wish them the best and forget that people like them in our community are struggling. We can bleed purple with Adrian and Teddy and dream on the futures of Byron, Miguel and Byung-Ho.  We can debate the upside of Towns and Wiggins and marvel at the cross-cultural partnerships of Ibson and Alhassan and remind everybody that we loved Maya Moore and Simone Augustus before it was cool to do so. We can, and do, hold our local heroes close whatever their background, even though--as fans in the stands--we have always looked more like Killebrew and Mikan than Hunter and Garnett.

But what's dangerous is if we start to feel that, because we know the men (and women) who wear jerseys emblazoned with Minnesota, we don't need to know the men and women, the fathers and mothers, the sons and daughters who walk the same streets, work in the same buildings, and attend the same institutions that we do.

If we confine ourselves to watching the games from the comfort of our couches and our big screens, we miss the joy of watching together. If we insulate our passions to the podcasts on our headphones or isolate our opinions to small talk with family members and friends, we turn our very public institutions into extremely private pleasures. But, if we insist on sharing our loves, if we make a point of socializing around the colors and emblems and players that we adopt as "one of us," then these silly little games can unite us in a way that few other things can.

Right now, with the ways we consume sports changing rapidly, it's easy to isolate ourselves in our fandoms. And for those who attend games on a regular basis, it's even easier to forget that what you see on the field or the court or the ice isn't reflected in the stands (even adjusted for our metropolitan demographics).

As mere fans, there's little we can do. No championship trophy is going to unite us all or solve the systemic problems that have left so many so desperate for change. We can't have one good conversation at a sports bar, or over the water cooler and end injustice.

What we can do is be open. What we can do is to talk about what we love and learn what others think. What we can do is use sports as the icebreaker, as the gateway, as the conversation starter, to come together and build a better community.

We might have to go out of our way to find new opinions. We may need to visit a bar on Lake Street rather than in Northeast to watch a Champions' League match. We may need to share more than a nod with a neighbor or coworker who wears team gear after a big win. We can invite them to watch the game on Sunday (or Saturday, or whatever day). We can take an extra ticket that a friend flaked on and try to pass it on to someone different rather than just resell it. We can donate to the team funds that make attending a game easier for others. These things won't bring justice or peace, but they will bring us a little closer together.

I talk about sports, even at times like these, not because I want a distraction from work or the worries of the day. I talk about sports because it reminds me of how great it is to be part of something bigger than myself: bigger than my job, bigger than my worries. Sports reminds me of what it is to be part of a community of fans, and how much better we are together than we are alone.

I'm not sure when I'll have time to write again, or if it'll be about sports when I do, but I know I'll ask the boy from over North--the one who still wears a Mauer jersey through every snorting laugh from his friends--what he thinks of the bullpen for next year; I'll ask the girl from Lake Street who moons over Ronaldo if she's seen Christian Ramirez up close yet. And after we talk about that, we'll talk about the next thing, and the next, and the next, until we stop being two individuals talking and start being a pair of fans in community.

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