- The special guest ... Michael from Ready Bare Chested
Once a week (ideally) there will be a special guest columnist. The subject will be sports, but beyond that, anything goes. It could be someone's undying love for their favorite team, a rant about two basketball teams getting into a fight, or their moment when a game became much more.
Today's guest, Michael. Read more of his stuff at Ready Bare Chested.
He'll probably be the first and last of 2006. But once 2007 starts, be ready for some special guests. And if you would like to be one, just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Man = Sports
I was never good at sports. Sure I played sports in high school, that is, until I broke my leg playing football and after I returned the following season was so fearful that someone would tackle me I would literally squirt just a little bit of pee every time someone on the field would come anywhere near me. Needless to say, I played very little. Then there was basketball. I concussed myself running into the hip of a larger player. And, finally, baseball, where every at bat, between the short time the pitcher would catch the ball and throw it, I would work myself into a full blown panic attack fearing I would be hit by the pitch.
(Good question … Why did I play sports in the first place or at least try something a bit less physical than football? Familial pressure, that’s why. My mother’s side of the family, many of whom all went to the same high school as me, is freakishly talented at athletics. One uncle and two cousins were successful, and widely-known, college football players. One even went pro. Being the youngest in the extended family the high school coaches saw me as the end of a great line, a Messiah, the great white hope. They were wrong. I am the runt of the litter.)
When high school ended and I was free of the sporting yoke I dropped nearly all interest in the gaming life: playing it, watching it, discussing it, etc. This led many people in my life, particularly those who enjoyed football, to think I was gay. I know, that sounds pretty strange … people who enjoy football thinking … but it’s true. While they perused their Sports Illustrated and ESPN magazines, I busied myself with Esquire and GQ. This also led people to believe I was gay, which to me was very counterintuitive. There, on the cover of ESPN magazine was a topless Tom Brady eyeing the camera with a come-hither stare. Meanwhile, on the cover of my “gay” magazines, was a beautiful, nearly topless woman.
One year I even refused to watch the Super Bowl, instead opting for a marathon session of Star Wars episodes IV through VI.
I am now 26-years-old and years away from those traumatic high school athletic days and what do I find myself reading every morning? The sports page. It isn’t the first thing I flip to in the day’s newspaper, but I make it there after only a few minutes of scanning the front section. Being a Chicago Sun-Times reader, I flip over the newspaper and read the sports headlines, check standings and even digest at least the first few paragraphs of a particular sports story. In fact, I even enjoy the witty and irreverent sports columnist Rick Telander as well as scowl with delight at the hated Jay Marriotti.
But why, after nearly 10 years of avoiding sports – much to my own derision and delight – have I begun casually following it? Because I’ve given up. I can no longer beat or even buck the system, therefore I must – at the very least – lurk on its outer fringes.
This decision began about three years ago, shortly after my college graduation. Having entered the “real world” of working and dating I noticed I was outside my comfort zone. People didn’t know me as the straight guy that disliked sports yet wasn’t a bad drinking buddy/concert friend/movie enthusiast/etc. There I was one day mingling with some guys at a work event. We had exhausted all the work talk we could manage. Silence crept across the room as we coughed and stirred our drinks. One guy brought up the route he takes to work. “Sometimes I take the split and cruise down the Edens for a while. Get off at Dempster and shoot over to the office that way.” We nodded with disinterest. Then someone finally brought it up. “How about that Monday night game?” And it was there that I was lost, trying to nod in agreement, feigning interest and hoping that someone would please, please bring up that Jonesy continues to wear black shoes with his tattered brown braided belt. Or, even worse, that awkward, silent moment would arise when I was standing at a bar with a girlfriend’s friend’s boyfriend. This was even worse than the work event, since there was even less to talk about than sports.
So I gave up. In our modern world – with all that occurs in the areas of politics and culture – two men, strangers, must rely on sports as common ground. Perhaps I’m not trying hard enough and instead falling back on the lowest common denominator. And of course, I’m admitting a huge lack of self-esteem. Still, every morning I read the sports page so the next time I’m out with my girlfriend, her friend and her friend’s boyfriend and the men are sent to the bar for drinks and there – between the time we order our drinks and I attempt to flake out on actually paying for them – we have something to talk about.
“A gin and tonic and Budweiser, please.”
“Two rum and cokes.”
“So, how about that Cubs spending spree?” I begin. “I don’t know how I feel about them paying tens of millions of dollars for a pitcher whose record is only one better than average.”
I await his response, hoping I’ve gotten my facts right.
“Tell me about it.”
Shit, I can’t tell him anything about it. Change the subject.
“Yeah … But, I mean, it’s not nearly as bad as the Red Sox paying all that money just to talk to a guy from Japan.” Okay, I don’t know his name, but who does? It’s Japanese and most certainly hard to pronounce.
Does he know? Maybe I’ve stumped him. Or maybe he cares as little about sports as I do. Maybe I’ve avoided launching a more rewarding conversation with someone who will prove extremely interesting.
And there it is, just like my baseball playing days, I’ve worked myself into a full blown panic attack over sports.
“So, how’s your fantasy team doing?” He then asks.
I knew it!
My anxiety subsides.
My hunch was correct.
With confidence I tell him, “I don’t have a fantasy team.” Then walk away with my gin and tonic and Budweiser leaving this geek to pick up the tab.