12/05/2005

A Sports Fan's Regrets

I've always like sports. Ever since I was a kid when I got my first baseball glove and strapped on my first skates I've liked them. I used to watch hockey games every Saturday night as a kid, in fact my bed times were always set according to periods. I knew I was getting old when I started being allowed to stay up for overtimes during hockey playoffs. But something has happened in the ensuing years to change the way I think and feel about them. Perhaps I'm just old fashioned or something, I don't know. But the direction things have taken has made it really hard for me to be a fan anymore. There's very few occasions where I actually care about the outcome of a game (at least now a days, thirty years ago I lived and died with the Montreal Canadians) Most professional sports leaves me so cold that I have a hard time even watching them any more. Part of it is the manner in which they are presented. When the commentators have become more important; have become personalities that overshadow the game, than there is something wrong with sport. Nothing turns me off more than having to listen to somebody going on and on because they like the sound of their voice while I'm watching a game being played. They seem to become aware there is something happening on the field or the ice only as the play winds down. People used to wonder why I would watch a game with the sound off, and my answer was that it was easier to follow the game that way. I know the important rules of any sport I might watch on television. Like most people I've played the ones I like competitively at one point or another in my life, and can understand just as well, if not better sometimes, what's going on in front of me more than too many commentators. I don't need to be told that somebody passed the puck to somebody else and scored, I can see. Part of the pleasure I used to get from watching a hockey game was watching something develop. I admit that comes with having been a devotee of the game since very young, and being able to pick up on subtle nuances that tell you a goal scoring opportunity is immanent. Having a feel for the game though is essential as far as I am concerned to appreciating it and enjoying it. What hope in hell do you have in gaining that understanding if you're not free to watch unimpeded by someone who is four steps behind the action. The primary reason I don't watch basketball very often is that I've never really played it, and can't feel the action in the way I can hockey, baseball, and even football to some extent. Watching it on television is never going to give me the experience necessary to gain that understanding. I've tried. I've watched final four N.C.A.A. games, N.B.A. games and even ones at the Olympics and I just don't know it well enough. That's where a commentator should be of use you'd think, but they're too busy talking about extraneous stuff that has no relation to what's going on down on the court to say more than "On nice shot from the paint" It took me forever to figure out that a "field-goal" in basketball was not worth three points, and I'm still not quite sure what the hell they're talking about when the term is used. Isn't every shot taken from the field, or is it just shots from outside the key but not three pointers? Who knows, and by now I don't care anymore so please don't leave a comment explaining it, all right? Thanks. Now I understand that sports has become a big business, players need to be paid and the owners want to see some money in their pockets at the end of the day. Fair enough, there's nothing wrong with any of that. It's what's being done to young kids in the pursuit of the dollar and fame that's most ruined sport for me. Now I'm not talking about exceptional talents like Lebron James in basketball, or Wayne Gretzky in hockey starting their professional careers at a young age. Both of those men were ready to make that step at that time. I've not seen any signs of it adversely affecting Mr. James or Mr. Gretzky. The real problem is what's happening to kids who are just starting out. I was never a great athlete, not enough weight or strength, but I was good enough at hockey and baseball to enjoy playing them in leagues. I even went to a hockey camp for two weeks one summer to improve my skating ability. But there were never any expectations of having a career expressed beyond the usual childhood dreams. I'm sure there's a large percentage of men my age who at one in point in time didn't fantasize about scoring the Stanley Cup winning goal, hitting the home run that won the World Series, or some sort of variation on that theme. What seems to be happening now is that those dreams are being perverted and in some ways even betrayed. Aside from baseball where all you need is a glove and maybe some shoes if you want to play, and soccer where you need even less, parents are being forced to shell out huge amounts of money to equip their child in order to play organized hockey and probably football. With the advent of "brands" equipment prices have soared through the roof disproportionate to inflation. If a kid starts playing hockey when six think how many new sets of equipment their parents are going to have to buy even if they only play until they're thirteen. How many thousands of dollars is that going to be just to have fun? I'm sure the same must apply to football; although once kids get older they are usually playing for school teams and equipment is supplied and so unlike in hockey parents are eventually freed from that obligation. What's happening is that there is more pressure being put on kids to deliver on that investment. Instead of just going out and having as much fun as possible they have to achieve results. I spent three thousand dollars on equipment for you, drive you to games at six in the morning on a Saturday, you'd better damn well give me something in return. It doesn't even need to be said in so many words most of the time. Kids aren't stupid; they pick up on shit like that without having it spelt out for them. Even if the parent is pretty relaxed the kid's got to know when he reaches a certain age what a bite his equipment is taking out of the family's budget and that's bound to have some effect on his ability to play just for the fun of playing. Than of course there are the parents who are the "encouraging" type. The ones who get the jail sentences for threatening coaches because they haven't played their son enough, the ones who sue leagues for damaging their son's chance at a professional career, and the ones who murder parents of other children in fights after the games. Maybe I played my hockey in the wrong league, but I didn't see any of that when I was a kid. That was back in the early seventies before the huge salaries were being signed. A couple of players might be making over a hundred thousand a year but they were a rarity. Nike and Reebok were only gleams in someone's eyes back then, and although there was some pressure on performance it was more the usual competitive winning type, than what we have now. I stopped playing when I was no longer good enough to have fun playing with people my own age who developed physically bigger and stronger than me. That's what most of us did in those days. It was playing. The only difference between the organized league games and our pickup games was we wore equipment and sweaters, and had set line mates during league games. That's the really sad part, no one plays anymore, except maybe the youngest kids. The business of sports has permeated so deeply that the notion of having fun seems to have been forgotten. There's nothing wrong with the competition that comes along with playing team sports, it gives you the little shove to make you try your hardest and to feel good about yourself for giving something your best effort. But now it's not about winning the game, it's about winning the contract, and that's not healthy. The world we live in is full of enough harsh realities that kids become aware of sooner with each passing generation, that it seem criminal to be cheating them out of fun now as well as innocence. I've never been one for revering sports figures, hell I've never been one for revering anybody really, but I used to be able to respect the sports they played and the abilities demonstrated by some to the exceptionally talented players. But since they started turning them into some sort of business entertainment conglomerate so as to milk as much money out of it as possible I've lost interest. I'm a sports fan, but I'm not a fan of what's been done to sports. From the professional levels down to the house leagues for kids there's a rot that's taken the fun out of it for me. I wish I could still get the fun out of turning on the television on a Saturday night that I did as a kid, but those days are long gone.

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