Why do you like sport?

This is not a question I get asked very much. Not directly, anyway, but every single time I post about sport someone writes and asks me when I’m going to post about interesting topics again. That’s right, the biggest complaint I get from you, dear readers, is that I talk about sport too much.1

Now I ain’t never gonna stop writing about sport, no matter how many of you are bored into a coma by it. I writes about what I wants to write about. You can suggest topics if you want but if I can’t be arsed to write on that topic then it ain’t gonna happen.

I digress. The complaints do get me thinking about why it is that I like sport so much. Seriously, for me to learn the rules of a sport is for me to become addicted. I’ve had to start studiously avoiding contact with new (to me) sport just to have enough hours in the day to, you know, get books written. I try very hard to only pay attention to cricket, the Tour, and women’s basketball. And the Olympics. I cannot get any work done when the Lymps are on.

I’m not that fussed about playing it. Tennis is great fun, I love swimming and riding my bike but I have zero interest in doing any of them competitively. (Gah!) But I can watch pretty much any competitive sport and I can do it for days and days and days. For me it brings together the aesthetic pleasures of watching athletes at the top of their form, with the soap-opera like joys of a long-running story (what can I say I’m a narrative junky in all its forms), together with the gossip and politics. A good sporting scandal is prolly my most favourite thing in the world.

Clyde Walcott, one of the West Indies' greats.I love how knowing about the history and politics of cricket (West Indies not getting a black captain until the 1950s and then only after a long-running campaign orchestrated by C. L. R. James; the long campaign to get an Untouchable to play for India), and about women’s basketball (Title IX, and when it was allowed into the Olympics, and how little coverage it gets in the mainstream press) adds so much to watching any individual game.Picture purloined from abc.net.au

I love the majesty and pomp. I love supporting (and hating) individual players and countries.

Why do you love the particular sports you love? Sing it, please!

No offence intended but I’m uninterested in why any of you don’t like sport. I’ve been hearing it long and loud from my fellow arty-farty types my entire life. I get that you’re an oppressed minority. I feel for you. But enough already! Let us sport obsessives bond for a bit. And, yes, I will delete anti-sport diatribes.

So fellow sport lovers—time to share that love!

NB The first image is of Sir Clyde Walcott who died earlier this year. He was one of the greats of West Indian cricket. Bless him.

The second is of the Australian women’s basketball team winning the world cup. Bless ’em.

  1. It’s particularly weird as I’ve hardly blogged sport at all this year. Very little mention of cricket, the World Cup, or the Tour de France; pretty much nothing about the Liberty’s unhappy WNBA season, and hardly any mention of all the various Australian triumphs this year. I’ve been busy, okay? []


  1. Rebecca on #

    My favorite sports are soccer and the Olympics. I can occasionally by arsed (hehe) to watch basketball, especially since my team (GO SPURS GO) started winning championships. My two best friends make me look pitiful in the basketball arena, however. I love watching Olympics because I love how all the countries come together for one big event, and how the whole world, in some way or other, is involved. And I love the kickass opening ceremonies. I also love that, for the most part, Olympic athletes seem to be down to earth and normal, in spite of being famous. I like seeing them fool around and celebrate, like at the free skate and at the closing ceremony.

    Soccer (is it football in Oz?) is the. best. sport. EVER. I used to play it. Unfortunately, the intramurals program at my college is rather lacking, and I haven’t played on an actual team for nearly two years. But one of my favorite things about soccer was the team feeling. We all came together, even if we weren’t people who normally hung out together during the school day, and we put so much effort into these games. My senior year of high school, my team was scheduled to play in a tourney, but in the end, so many players got cut due to injuries or grades that we only had eight players. we were jv2, the lowest level team at the school, and nobody expected us to do too much, especially not with eight players. we played five games. we lost two, tied two, and won one. it was the best day of our lives. we came in fifth out of seven teams, which just seemed so amazing. the eight of us played harder that day than we’d ever played (and i lost a toenail to the cause :P). i can’t explain why, precisely, but it was the best day ever. we’d placed ahead of two teams with only eight players!! i still get so happy just thinking about it.

    One other thing that I love about soccer: I played outside mid and occasionally defense, and there was a lot of clobbering going on. i frickin’ love running into people. it is so much fun. like when there’s a high ball, and me and another player are racing at breakneck speed from opposite ends of the field, and WHAM!! We collide. I perfected the art of rolling, which was especially fun during the january games when it was wet and freezing. seriously. i love it so much.

  2. molly on #

    Justine! No one is talking about sports (sorry, I’m American) with you! Alas!

    To be honest, it’s still a funny topic for me – I was a hard-headed anti-sports fan for years, even when I had a roommate who was totally in love with the NY Mets. But then I met this boy. And he convinced me to love basketball. Specifically, college basketball; even more specifically, the University of Oregon men’s team, which really, really stinks lately. I’ve not been won over to football (American style) yet, though I do love the World Cup (not American style), but men’s college basketball has me totally, totally hooked, to the point where I’m counting the days until the first UO Ducks game (lord, get me out of football season!).

    Why is a difficult question, though. I love the idea of being tough. I love the speed and the skill, as I learn to appreciate it. I’m still wary of overidentification, of the fans who say “We won!” when the team wins a game. That still seems very weird to me. But the arena of open competition is fascinating, and I think for me part of the interest is that I never learned about these things when I was young; they would give us a basketball in gym class and say, “Go shoot free throws!” with no explanation. I hated it. I’m learning to understand now.

    But here’s a funny question for you: What’s the association between Australian basketball and the University of Oregon? We’ve got two female Aussie players (Eleanor Haring and one whose name I can’t remember) and we had a big Aussie center (Ian Crosswhite) until he got kicked off the men’s team. There aren’t even that many players from in-state high schools! It’s very interesting.

  3. shelly rae on #

    I like playing sports much more than watching them. i do keep tabs on cycling (seriously bummed about the results of this year’s Tour de France) and I like to watch surfing, horse races, and my nephews or niece playing soccer but I’m far too antsy to sit around watching sports in general. I did a couple of triathlons this year, a century bike ride, some 10k and 5k runs and a whole mess of other stuff. So basically I just don’t have enough time in my day, week, or month for watching stuff–but then I don’t have tv either so moot point.

    I’ve always found your fascination and enthusiasm for sports to be more interesting than the sports themselves. You’ve tried to explain cricket to me a couple of times–usually over vast quantities of beer–i still don’t understand the rules. But then the same could be said about baseball rules (why doesn’t the pitcher hit the ball–oh wait sometimes he does? what is with that?).

    As for those whiners–it’s your blog–if they don’t like the sports they don’t have to read it.

    Did you watch Bettini take the world championship? Great race that!

  4. Linda Sue on #

    I knew there was something I liked about you. 😉

    Kindred spirit checking in here. Apologies for being so American, but here are the sports I follow to the point of what some might call obsession:

    –major league baseball (NY Mets)
    –American professional football (NY Jets)
    –English Premier League soccer and international soccer (the World Cup and the European Championships)
    –the Olympics
    –the tennis Grand Slam events
    –the golf majors and the Ryder Cup
    –the NCAA basketball playoffs, both genders

    I also enjoy the occasional display of less popular sports–almost anything that evinces the amazing combination of talent, hard work, and the human body. Dance, surfing, etc. (I’m sure I would love cricket if I understood it. I lived in England for seven years but was busy gestating and lactating during those years, so never did figure out the game…)

    When you get to my age, you no longer feel the need to justify a love of spectator-sporting…I just sigh and feel silent pity for those who don’t get it. But I also keep an evolutionary-biology theory handy that I whip out when people get especially condescending.

    I am currently working on a sports story that might grow up to be a novel one day….

  5. veejane on #

    As you know, Bob, I was possessed by the spirit of baseball and have not yet been returned to my wits. It’s funny, comparing my experience with the experiences of people who grow up sports fans, because a lot of the time they don’t know why the like something — they just do.

    I like baseball (and can tolerate other sports, and enjoy the Olympics reasonably) because it is a narrative with intricate rules and outcomes. Also, because it is a sport where you can have 4 home runs in a row in the bottom of the 9th, and then a walkoff homerun in the 10th, and a shocking, unbelieveable victory, and it is not considered authorial cheating even though there was no foreshadowing.

    (I mean, any sport where the commentators go into hysterics on the air is awesome, but one where there’s no time clock, so it is phyically possible to come back from *any* score — the best!)

    In sum, I enjoy your sport entries, especially the cricket ones, because I do not feel like such a weirdo when people other than me are doing it too.

  6. Cheryl on #

    Speaking as someone who has been told, in all seriousness, that I’m not welcome at science fiction conventions if I like sport…

    But I do happen to like sport. Not playing it, because my lungs don’t work too well and I have all of the hand-eye coordination of a brick, but definitely watching it.

    As to why, well you can start by comparing it with what else is on TV:

    – unlike movies and TV drama I don’t find myself analysing the plot and characterization (except perhaps when watching the Raiders);

    – unlike movies and TV drama I can’t often work out what the ending will be after the first five minutes;

    – unlike movies and TV drama I don’t have to concentrate on what is going on, so sport makes much better watching while you are having a meal (which, let’s face it, is almost the only time I have for TV).

    Then again, as other people have mentioned, there’s the sheer physical brilliance of what goes on. I’m very happy watching the likes of Shane Warne, Roger Federer, Ronaldinho and so on ply their craft.

    As to individual sports, I watch them for different reasons:

    – cricket for the history, the statistics, the tactics, and because it is a great way to spend long summer days;

    – baseball because it is so finely balanced; the whole game can turn in a matter of minutes, and a game is only rarely over until it is over (and, of course, to hate the Dodgers);

    – soccer because you can’t avoid it, and because for rare and precious moments it is truly beautiful;

    – rugby because I’m Welsh so it is my religion;

    – NFL to pit my wits against the coaches, and for Joe Montana (still);

    – Aussie rules for beefcake.

  7. Jenny Davidson on #

    I fear I risk deletion–I am just an idiot as a sports spectator–but I wanted to put in a plug here for great WRITING about sport. C. L. R. James’s Beyond a Boundary is the great cricket book, everyone should read it–and I feel I’ve read several very good young-adult novels about sports recently (of course really we all love the Quidditch reporting in the HP books), Catherine Murdock’s “Dairy Queen” is a great novel about (American) football and Meg Rosoff’s new one has good things about cross-country running. Also a running theme in Peter Temple’s Jack Irish books, one of the many many reasons I love them, involves Australian Rules football (which I had to get one of my brothers to explain to me); not sure if horse-racing counts as a sport, though to my mind it does…

    i have had a year-long spate of athletic activity by the way and i do love (it’s ridiculous, it’s not training as any real athlete would recognize it!) self-mockingly but truthfully saying that i’m in training for the half-marathon!

  8. sara z on #

    I love American football. It’s dramatic, it’s exciting, anything can happen, and the NFL is full of heroes and anti-heroes and hubris. I like the particular kind of teamwork involved – how if one guy whose name no one will ever remember throws the right little block, it makes a touchdown by the hero possible. I like the numerous ways there are to accomplish the goal – the drama of the deep pass or the perseverance of down after down of 3-6 yard gains. And I love going to live college games! The cold outdoors, the marching bands, the college cheers! Oh yes, I heart me some football.

  9. chance on #

    First, I love love love your sports entries. Especially the cricket ones, even though I don’t particularly understand them.

    Sports I love? Baseball, first and foremost. Partly because we’d play pickup all the time when I was a kid and partly because I just love going to the games.

    Love basketball when it isn’t all about showboating – so mostly college ball.

    Love ice hockey, especially the women’s games. Mostly because it’s fast and physical and the game momentum can change in seconds.

    I used to love the olympics before NBC decided that no one actually wants people compete and what we all really want is “inspiring” stories.

    Yeah, really I love most sports.

  10. Dave Schwartz on #

    I’m all about the baseball, especially right now. Last night, when the Twins clinched a spot in the playoffs, I cried. My family’s always been into baseball. Baseball makes great stories. Bull Durham, Eight Men Out, Brittle Innings, The Iowa Baseball Confederacy, You Know Me Al . . . baseball is about containing infinity without denying it; a home run, essentially, is a ball that flies forever. Extra innings create the possibility of an endless game. There’s a rhythm to the movement of a fielding team that is simply gorgeous; moving, backing up, covering, picking, tossing, leaping . . . it’s poetry.

    [A message from this blog’s overlord: A section of this email was deleted because it dissed other sports—particularly some sports said overlord adores.]

  11. Christopher on #

    I follow one particular college (US) football team pretty closely, and when the mood’s right I’ll watch pretty much any sport on television. There are some I don’t love so much, but not not so much as to not generally know the rules, the main teams, the main players. I try to know _why_ people like particular sports, teams and players, even if I don’t get it.

    The best sport in the world (for me) is cycling. I follow domestic and international women’s and men’s cycling. I go to local races, heck I’ve even participated in local races. Part of my love for it is tied up in the fact that it’s not just a sport, it’s a fabulous activity that makes the world better when more people participate in it.

    I have to go write a Chaucer paper–Saturn’s freaky speech in the Knight’s Tale (“Mine is the scary gloominess, mine is the deadly deathiness” etc) or I’d go on and on and on…

  12. Stuart on #

    I love watching international cricket and soccer, but I am very passive about both. I’ll watch if it’s on, which is rare for soccer in the US and pretty much never for cricket.

    My favourite cricket moment was an interview aaaages ago after a test match ended half a day early, and the BBC got two bowlers into the studio; one English, one Australian I forget who it was. At the beginning of the interview they threw them a ball each and asked them to show the cameras a grip or two…and then they gave a twenty minute interview.

    At the end of the interview the interviewer asked to have the balls back to show the cameras…and both bowlers, having a cricket ball in their hands the whole time, had absent-mindedly picked the seam. my dad and I were laughing hard for half an hour.

    A british accent can be bad in NY – I’ve been in bars where a baseball game is on TV, people at the bar have heard my voice as I order, and then I’ve been unable to get away for ten minutes as I struggle to explain the rules of cricket to people who can’t grasp the concept of not running around in a circle to score a run.

  13. Justine on #

    Thanks for testifying everyone! I’m adoring this thread. More please!

    Rebecca: you have to find yourself another team! (We call it soccer, mostly. Footie is either AFL or rugby league.)

    Molly: No need to worry about me—I get to talk about sport all day long. The old man and the rest of my family and many of my friends are as obsessed as I am. It’s just my blog readers who turn on me!

    You should totally start trying the WNBA—the women’s pro game has almost all the virtues of college ball plus it’s usually even better and you don’t have the constant player turnover.

    Shelly Rae: You would understand the rules if only you paid closer attention!

    Don’t be hard on the non-sport lovers, particularly in Australia and particularly in high shool they have a very hard time of it.

    Linda Sue: No apologies needed. Some day we will get together and I will explain cricket to you in a way I guarantee you will understand (Shelley Rae notwithstanding).

    Feel free to share the evolutionary biology theory. Those are always excellent for enraging folks what we are arguing with.

    I’m looking forward to reading your short stoy or novel. I have plans for an epic cricket novel one of these days . . .

    Veejane: Why thanks! I enjoy your baseball ones too. Nothing like reading the musings of a fellow fanatic. Some day I must teach you, too, all about cricket.

    Cheryl: I totally agree about the unpredictability of the narrative. If Hollywood had been running the WNBA championships the Houston Comets would have won because Dawn Staley was retiring and had never won a championship before, but it didn’t pan out that way.

    Jenny: The blog overlord approves your comment. If you enjoyed the C. L. R. James then you must read Ramachandra Guha’s A Corner of a Foreign Field which is my favourite cricket book of all time (and there are many many fine ones by the likes of Gideon Haigh etc). It’s a history of India through the lens of cricket. No knowledge of cricket or India is necessary.

    Wasn’t Dairy Queen delightful? I adored that book.

    Sara Z: I need to have someone sit me down and explain Gridiron to me. So far I’ve just been really distracted by the incredibly frequent ads.

    Chance: *Blushes*. Now I feel like I was fishing for praise. Wasn’t. Honest!

    You have to check out the WNBA—there’s no showboating at all. I adore women’s basketball precisely because it’s a purer version of the game.

    I totally agree with you about US coverage of the Olympics. It causes me actual psychic pain. And try finding out how anyone other than the Americans are doing if you’re watching it over here . . . Gah!

    Dave Schwartz: I love Bull Durham. Awesome movie! I have the same family thing about cricket. It’s like an extra member of the family or something . . .

    Got any baseball stories in the works? (I cover myself in shame if you’ve already published some . . .)

    Christopher: I was wondering when you’d show up. More please on your bike obsession. Cause you really really are obsessed. Totally agree with you on it making the world a better place and not just cause of the lovely things it does for a person’s rear end.

    Stuart: My Oz accent gets the same thing going. But I loves it. Explaining the rules of cricket is truly my most favourite thing in the entire world.

    I am so not surprised. Every bowler everywhere in the entire world picks the seam! Particularly the swing bowlers. I mean come on, people. Which is why the recent scandal was such a joke. You’re telling me England didn’t have a wee pick at the ball last Ashes? It swung like that all on its own. Yeah. Right.

    David Schwartz: On your bike, sunshine. You were warned!

  14. Dave Schwartz on #

    I confess I did not read the instructions carefully. Sorry for the negative waves, Moriarty.

    No baseball stories published so far, but I have one that I wrote as a short story that I think wants to be a novel, so one of these days . . .

  15. Diana on #

    some day, justine, you shall have to explain cricket to me.

    I have about enough sports affinity to follow one team, which is why I was never able to do the thing so popular in my house in the fall, which is watch football (or as you would say it, “the gridiron”) constantly, morning to night, all weekend long, pro games, college games, etc. etc. etc. My family are huge fans of our home team and we’ve had season tickets since the 80s, and when I’ve been at home and gone to the games and watched them al on TV, and know who the players are and can follow the playing and the strategy and etc. THEN I’ve loved watching it and been totally addicted and cried when we won the super bowl that one time…

    But watching a game between teams I don’t know and don’t care about has no meaning for me. When I was in Australia it was durin the last rugby world cup and I got tickets to the US/Scotland game. I had a blast, not least because all the Scots sitting around us in the nosebleed seats were incredibly huge fans (they’d flown from Scotland to sit in nosebleed seats in brisbane) really got into explaining to the idiot yanks in the stands how to play rugby and what the american team was like (mostly australian, from what I could tell) and we had fun cheering them on and noticing how things that would be absolutely death in football were actually good strategies in rugby.

    And then, in college, I could follow my football team (which, at the time, was the team that had won the most games *ever* though I think we’ve since been overtaken by people who didn’t invent the game) and read up on their record and watch all the games and there, football and _T_he _G_ame (caps anywhere but on your blog) is such a huge tradition, and I loved that.

    At other times, I’ve gotten into other sports (huge fan of my high shcool volleyball team. We were amazing!), and I do love watching the olympics. But I can’t follow a whole sport, just a team. And I can’t do much more than one or two at a time.

  16. marrije on #

    i love the tour de france, mainly because it is so looong, and it just gets better and better with every hour you put into watching it and thinking about it and observing the organisation around it and the scenery and even listening to the endless natter (and believe me, there’s a lot of natter here in holland on tv during the tour). it’s like the ramayana or the iliad or something. it’s a pity i have to work these days, or i’d spend all day in front of the tv during the mountain stages. well, not all day, but i’d have it on all the time.

    i also love things like men’s gymnastics (particularly rings, bars and um, what’s that called, the horse? the horizontal thing with the two handlebars?). While I watch it i always feel i could do that, too, i know how to make those moves and how they feel and it’s exhilarating. Same goes for the polevaulting and the high jump. And for the brilliance of really good icedancing.

    I think I could watch surfing for the same reason, but we don’t get much of that here on tv. Oh, and all kinds of dance (breakdance! yeah!), but I like to see those live and up close and they’re not strictly speaking sports.

    I used to watch lots of tennis, too, but that was in the time of the young Boris Becker and andre agassi (mats wilander!), when I had time. there the time aspect was really good too, it all took so long and i’d get quite schooled in the different playing styles and noticing when they were ready to give up, etc. not so much the discussions afterwards there, though. just the zen of long long games.

  17. Cheryl on #

    “and what the american team was like (mostly australian, from what I could tell)”

    Hmm, you are probably thinking of Mike Hercus who was born in Virginia because his parents worked for QANTAS and were on secondment there at the time. But I think he is a US citizen and he played his club rugby at Golden Gate in San Francisco before the World Cup. (Afterwards he went on to better things, culminating in a year at the Sale Sharks.)

    But many of the Eagles are home-grown. There’s a sprinkling of failed NFL players, a few Polynesians. If we had more Australians we wouldn’t keep getting whipped by Canada…

  18. sara z on #

    re: football. it’s best to have a really thick fashion magazine to read during the commercials. or use a dvr, start watching an hour into the game, and fast forward through commercials. or use the commercial time to make muffins, do a pedicure, copyedit manuscripts, procure salty snacks, chill beer, etc.

  19. shelly rae on #

    Cool! Christopher, marrije, and I should talk cycling sometime. I just did my first century a couple of weekends ago–there were mountains, and cows, and hills, and more cows, and whole wheat fig bars!

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