(hey, literature students can like sports, okay?)
I’m doing a thing this week on the blog; from now until next Sunday, the posts will consist of updates and revisions of previous posts, partly so that I can measure how my interests and means of presenting those interests have changed, but also to make some of the more recent readers among you aware of some older posts and topics that I reckon are better-written or -argued than my newer posts. So without further ado, here’s a redux of my second-ever post, Why Sports Are Stupidly Cool, where I argued that sports are communal, bring us closer to our heroes, and offer health benefits.
The first thing to realise about sports is that they’re quite daft, and almost entirely pointless – there’s no intrinsic reason for thirty people to chase an egg-shaped ball around a field they can only throw backwards, and get unusually violent in the pursuit of said egg, but that hasn’t stopped rugby from being a thing. With this in mind, it’s easy to see sports – like fashion, motoring, or basically any hobby – as an indulgence in the unnecessary, a break respite from a world where we have to work insane hours to provide for ourselves, or we have to have near-literal fistfights with call centre workers to get our bloody Internet going again. Our society has become one of obligation, and annoying, repetitive and scary obligation at that; it’s quite comforting to know that we can watch people sweep the ice around a big puck on TV, and it be totally cool.
I touched on the communal element of sports in the first post, but I only really thought about this side of things in explicit relation to the sport in question, namely that you can meet new people, and enjoy tossing a ball to them. But having been to bars, parties and clubs with people I know exclusively through sports, I’m seeing participation in these games as a means to an end of engaging with people (which I do find more fun than even the most intense dodgeball session), rather than lumping playing time and socialising time into the same end.
This approach means I’m meeting a much wider range of people than I’d know if I just stuck to people on my course, for instance; I love my literature mates and their interests in books and tolerating the existences of other human beings, but sometimes it’s fun to hang out with an arsehole doing a science degree, who’s a bit of a cynical, amusingly offensive, frakker. Engaging with people through an activity where your shared interest is based on your physical body – i.e. sport – leads to a much more diverse group of friends than meeting people through activities that focus on one’s character and ideas, i.e. a university degree or a society based around an art form or whatever.
Sports are also objective: there are winners, and there are losers, and while it can be debated if the winners ‘deserved’ to win, this clarity and sense of solution at the end of a game is a nice contrast to the worlds of art and history, where so much enjoyment comes from the grey areas, and the discussions around which is the most influential piece of art, or what a particular leader’s motives and interests were at any given time. Obviously, a world without debate and discussion is a rather Orwellian world, but it is nice to step out of the endlessly discursive world I’m usually in, what with my literature degree and writers’ societies and whatnot, and be able to stand with confidence and declare ‘we lost by 35 goals, we suck ass’.
There are still problems with sport – think the ridiculous gap between the highest-paid and lowest-paid individuals involved in the sporting world, the gender gap, the historic racism here in the UK and Italy – but I’d now see them as problems with the people who do sport, rather than the concept itself. As with any hobby, it is what you make it, and while I see it as an opportunity to meet people who are different to oneself, others may see it as a simplified version of socialisation, where annoying things like ‘ideas’ and ‘opinions’ can be shunted aside because you’re only going to Powerleague for an hour. But those simplified versions don’t reflect every athlete and armchair coach in the world, so regardless of how many people are shoved off trains for stupid, ignorant reasons, I’m going to keep following and participating in sports, because they’re still stupidly cool.