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Opinion: I just don’t get watching organized sports

Editor’s Note: This is part of an occasional series, “I Just Don’t Get It,” a contrarian look at a popular person, thing, activity or cultural phenomenon.
The NBA Finals are about to start, or so I’m told. It’s usually these professional sport high holidays where I’m cornered into admitting I’m sports agnostic.
One summer afternoon in a Brooklyn park, while cheering on my daughter at a peewee softball game, another dad approached me because of the hat I was wearing, a Baltimore Orioles cap. He asked me if I’d seen last night’s game.
“No, I was an Orioles fan as a kid,” I said, “but I don’t follow them now.”
Undaunted, he recounted the highlights of the recent game I wasn’t aware of, named players I didn’t know and, excited about the close score at the bottom of the 9th, tried hard to connect as if I were a fellow fan. I’m not an Orioles fan, though. I’m just an Orioles cap fan.
Even without hats to indicate sports enthusiasm, this sports mix-up has happened to me numerous times. Presumably due to my gender, I will occasionally get mistaken for someone who cares.
I did love going to Orioles games with my dad as a kid growing up in Baltimore, and cherish the memory of attending the first game of the 1983 World Series when I was 10. But the real appeal then was hanging out with my dad. My parents divorced when I was a toddler and I was raised by my mom, so I looked forward to these games less for the sport of it all and more for the meaningful connection. In college, the joy of going to basketball games was being there with friends and all the shared enthusiasm. When those specific experiences ended, so did my interest in those sports.
David Allan, modeling his Baltimore Orioles cap. Photo courtesy of David Allan
The connection between those times and watching one of those teams now on TV would be the difference between enjoying ice cream, and then later remembering the taste of ice cream by seeing someone else eat it.
Jerry Seinfeld noted that following a team over many years, as players cycle in and out, is little more than rooting for a uniform. “You’re actually rooting for the clothes, when you get right down to it,” he said. “You are standing and cheering and yelling for your clothes to beat the clothes from another city.”
Cheering for laundry. That sums up the absurdity I feel when forced to watch sports that don’t involve my children (which carries the same joy as watching them performing on stage or in a recital; in other words, not specific to sports).
The winning and losing of watching professional sports is a faux drama, a soap opera with injuries. I see no real-world stakes. Election contests, by contrast, is drama with actual implications. I’m a politics guy, and I’ve stared at my television screen with the same gut-twisting nervousness that sports fans must feel as the shot clock runs out.
The difference is, of course, that the wins and losses of politics don’t benignly reset at the start of the next season.
I’m not anti-sports. I know participating in them offers legitimate physical, mental and social benefits. I’ve enjoyed playing sports. Yes, some are violent and brain-injuring and I wish they’d phase those out so people weren’t paid to flirt with dementia. But I was in a boxing league as a kid myself and it was great for me – practically therapy.
It’s the watching, and caring about, professional sports as an adult that eludes my understanding.
At the end of one Super Bowl – an event I will often skip unless invited to a party – my friend Jesse cried when his hometown team lost.
I felt badly for him but was also puzzled and a bit unnerved by his emotions. This is a sport with professionals who are literally just playing a game. There’s even a pause in the middle for a song and dance number. I wondered, what bearing did the loss of his team have on him as an adult?
So I asked Jesse recently. Why exactly had he wept like the family dog died when no one, fictional or actual, died when the other city’s team costumes won the shiny trophy instead of his city’s costumes?
Forgetting who he was talking to, he began his explanation by comparing his home team to another professional underdog team. When I pressed for more, he replied something about happy childhood memories, feeling invested, and how at the time of that particular Super Bowl he was living on the other side of the country from his hometown.
I couldn’t relate to any of that. It was like trying to get a dog to appreciate literature, music or…sports. It’s just not for everyone, though sometimes it feels like everyone sees the appeal except me.
I enjoy making connections and having community, so part of me would be happy to have sports do that for me. The problem remains my apathy for the subject itself. If my friends were all into pickleball, that doesn’t mean I’d run around small nets with pizza peel paddles just so we’d have something to talk about.
If I could have, that Brooklyn dad and I may have become best friends, after we bonded over a shared love of the Orioles. Then later we could have wept in each other’s arms when they lost a World Series.
I still have election nights, though. And if you want to come over and get emotional over those contests with me, you’re welcome to. My wife makes delicious nachos!
Other things we just don’t get: Taylor Swift, hot dogs



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