One of my personal hobbies is running. Not just a little running to keep some weight off, but I’ll normally put in around 25 miles every week when I’m not training for a marathon. And I’ve been doing a full marathon every year for the past several years now. So while it’s not a label that I mentally ascribe to, I’ve heard people call me an “athlete” because of that. Running is pretty much the only sport I participate in now, but when I was growing up, I did play on the local kids’ league baseball, soccer, basketball, and football teams at various points.
I’m starting my column with that background today because I want to be clear that I know how many of the most popular sports are played, and I have a deep and personal appreciation of the physicality involved with becoming a professional athlete. That said, I don’t care for watching sports. Professional, college-level, the Olympics… none of it really holds any interest for me. I can appreciate a short clip of someone executing a difficult play or shot for the level of skill involved, but I really don’t care who actually wins or loses, regardless of who’s playing against whom. While so many of you were watching the Super Bowl yesterday, I was watching that fan cut of The Hobbit that surfaced a couple weeks ago.
With so little interest in professional sports, and an ongoing mild annoyance when large sporting events consume so much of everyone else’s attention, I (and a number of others) have taken to using terms like “sportsing” and “sportsball” as a catch-all for whatever sport happens to be the subject of discussion. A not-very-coded signifier that I really don’t want to talk about sports.
“Sportsball” seems to have gained a lot of traction recently as the Super Bowl was approaching, and I heard more than a couple people take exception to it, one person even chiding the “geeks” who used it as behaving in exactly the same way that they didn’t like being treated back in high school.
Setting aside the physical abuse that geeks often faced, there’s some validity to that arguement. The derision with which they use “sportsball” is similar to what they heard when others demeaned their interest in “funny books” or “Dungeons & Dimwits” or whatever. The fictional heroes geeks often looked up to were idolized in much the same sports heroes often are as well, and the knowledge of arcane trivia goes just as deep for fans of Blake’s 7 as it does for fans of the Chicago Bulls.
Except I think there is a marked difference. I think most of the insults directed at geeks are spoken out of (often willful) ignorance; they assume that the geek’s interests are so inherently inferior that it’s not even worth learning the name of the property. Whereas, American culture in particular is so enamored with professional sports that it’s virtually impossible to escape some basic knowledge of football, baseball, and basketball that’s all plastered all over media outlets and nearly every commercial endeavor. In fact, it’s frequently assumed that if you live in an area near a sports franchise, that you’re inherently a fan simply by your proximity. So when terms like “sportsball” are used, it’s not out of ignorance, but rather a conscious decision to opt out of that aspect of culture. They’re familiar with sports culture, and actively choose not to participate. “Sportsing” is just a quick verbal signifier that essentially states, “I am aware that sports are a primary and ongoing concern for many, but I elect to place a significantly lower emphasis on their importance in my life.”
Admittedly, that longer statement could often be said without much additional effort, and “sportsball” does have some negative judgement attached to it. But in my obviously biased opinion, I can’t entirely find fault with a snide comment or two as a minor payback for being stuffed in lockers, tripped down stairs, and generally beaten up for not liking the same things everyone else liked.