Thursday, January 5, 2012

Why I Love Football & Hate Myself (For It)

I didn’t get to play football as a kid.  My parents wanted a baseball player, but got a fat kid instead.  A big, fat kid who couldn’t see baseballs.  Because he needed glasses.

Deep in left field, running like I’d never done it before, I did nothing but drop the ball and embarrass my parents.  I endured a never ending barrage of heckles.  From my own team.   They booed me when I struck out.  And chanted “tugboat” when I didn’t.  I couldn’t win.  My parents were disappointed in me, and my athletic peers hated me.

I tried my hardest to quit every season, reasoning with my parents that it would be “best for everyone”, but they still made me play.  Year after year.  I never got any better.  Just found new and different ways to be bad.

In 6th grade some of the other fat kids in my class started playing for the local peewee football team.  They got to wear their jerseys to class, brag on the tackles they made, and size seemed to be working in their favor.

One afternoon I asked my mom if maybe I could play football instead. She made a face and turned back to the stove, “No.  It’s stupid.  And too expensive.  You’ll just quit, anyway.”

I asked a few more times throughout the year.  The answer was always no, but my interest in the sport slowly grew.  Video games, television, and neighborhood street ball.   I found ways to keep my budding but oppressed interest alive.

For my birthday, after pleading, my father reluctantly took me to a Rams game.  I bought a  Bengals flag and cheered at the wrong team.  It made the people around us really angry.  They made fun of us and smelled like too many beers.  My dad had a horrible time.  “See.  People who like this are stupid.  They’re slobs and drunks!”

In high school I awkwardly tried to befriend some guys on the team.  I’d wear a Rams shirt.  Or bring my football.  But these people were men.  Men with fathers who knew better than to buy junior-sized footballs.  Busting with muscles I could barely understand, they had no patience for my weak stature or boyish demeanor.  They laughed at me and threw my rubber football over the fence.  I quickly learned to stay away, but they still found me somehow, managing to pull my pants down or slap the pizza out of my hand.

Naturally, I grew to hate what I understood as sports and the idiots that played them; and eventually, my alienation and hatred evolved into a love/passion for the arts.  I stayed in classrooms at lunch, nodding my head to They Might Be Giants and reading about dragon wizards.

I abandoned/rejected athletics and the culture that went with it.  I chose a college sans football team, started bands, wrote stories, and never looked back.

Until now.

Suddenly, I find myself, a 34 year-old man, in love with football.

Sitting on my couch, Sunday after Sunday, I have to sometimes remind myself that these people hate me.  I shouldn’t be doing this.  Watching Michael Vick take the ball and deftly dance his way through eleven men trying to kill him, I am reminded that these are the same people that beat me over the head with my own shoe.

I’m that guy, you know, the one who seems to perpetually fall in love with women who could care less about him.  I’m that idiot now, pathetically obsessed, wanting something I can’t have. I have interest, skills, hobbies with potential.  Why waste my time on this this sad parade of aggression and growth hormone?

Don’t get me wrong, if pressed, I could list a hundred reasons beyond it’s seemingly barbaric appeal why I find it so engaging.  Rationalizing to my girlfriend’s playwright father, I hear myself rambling about the skill; grace; hundreds of creative and complex plays designed by old men that have been thinking about football for 50 years; the camaraderie of a group of guys bound together, acting as an athletic entity greater than the sum of its parts, and completing that legendary trick play worthy of six slo-mo replays.

But the more I think about it, I realize that it’s something else that allows me to enjoy the sport as much as I do.  Past the the highs of impossible plays and deeper than the intellectual aspects of the game, lies the source of my interests and emotional vestment, swaddled in a bassinet of regret and oblivion I've accidentally created for myself.

Unlike most of my creative aspirations, football never got to waste ten years of my life and then send me packing.  Since I never played, I was never really rejected.  I can watch an entire NFL game and never once feel a twinge of bitter jealousy or cynicism.  Because I never had the chance to find out I wasn’t good, let alone good enough, I get to fully indulge in an untempered fantasy.  Instead of bitterly wishing I’d made it to the pros after a disappointing run in high school or an injury in college, I get to throw my hand-crafted, fair-trade, free-range, organic football to my girlfriend in the park and believe that I actually have a pretty good arm. You know, for a guy who likes quinoa.

I have no idea how good I’m not, and I don’t care.  I’m absolutely free to whisper to that the little fat kid inside me.  “We could have gone...all...the...way.”   We just...didn’t.

I’ll never get to play football.  My time has passed.  And even as I acknowledge how this very fact has allowed me to enjoy the sport as much as I do, I can’t help but think I will inevitably try to pass this interest onto a child of my own one day.  Pushing and prodding, I can see myself eagerly teaching tiny hands to grip the ball, to send it flying across the park in a perfect spiral.  Sure, I’m hoping to end up the dad in the bleachers, clutching my camcorder, documenting my son’s natural propensity for short, tight passes. But just in case, for his sake, I promise not to look too disappointed when he tells me he’d rather play baseball.


  1. This is great! Your a great writer and I enjoy getting a snap into what makes you tick. I didn't know you watched football religiously and actually enjoyed it. It is wonderful to read, and I hope for your sake you get that kid you can scream for on the bleachers on those cold Friday night football games!

  2. @Kimberly Balling. Shot calling. Distracted by everything. I've been working on some stuff. Will post soon!

  3. Wow. I relate to your hate for sports in high school. I was in track, but that was just to get out of doing regular P.E. Of course, the difference between you and I is that now...Well...I still pretty much hate sports. Maybe it's the weakling I was in school and the weakling still hidden inside or some hidden envy for those who are athletically inclined. I don't plan on going to therapy in order to find out.