I don't like sports. I'm not making the statement lightly. We're in the middle of a long, hot summer, and I don't want tempers to flare, or anybody to get hurt, especially me. As a patriot, I realize it's almost as un-American to not like sports as it is to embrace Communism, burn the flag or spit on an apple pie. Besides, only a few desks away from me is an entire staff of sportswriters, who I would like to state right now are some of the nicest, most admirable and good-humored people on the face of the Earth (especially Bob Queenan, and I'm not singling him out just because his nickname is Bear).
But I need to tell my story, in hopes that I can help just one of the few -the apparently very few -people out there who still think that it's Michael Jackson who had the incredible career in basketball. It hasn't been easy, being a guy, growing up in Ohio and Indiana, knowing almost nothing about our national pastimes. Almost everybody I know loves sports, from my parents to my brother to my relatives, co-workers and closest friends. Most of them follow football like religious zealots, and they bleed baseball and basketball. I like...backgammon.
It's not that I wish sports would vanish from the planet. Hardly. I appreciate the concept of teamwork and individual achievement. Which is why I tuned in when Mark McGwire hit that historic umpteenth home run, and years ago, when Pete Rose did whatever it was that he did. And I truly enjoy the Olympics, for its spirit, and the fact that I only need to be a die-hard fan for two weeks, every two years. I get misty-eyed when I see Gary Cooper re-enacting Lou Gehrig's famous speech, and among my favorite films are "The Natural" and "The Bad News Bears." I enjoy playing a game of catch, or trying to shoot hoops. And before he took a stab at a different kind of fame, I marveled at O.J. Simpson in those Hertz commercials.
I love the idea of sports, but to actually sit down and watch...? Maybe it's the MTV culture I've grown up in, but it's hard for me to remain still long enough to become a devoted fan of any sport. A baseball team, I'm told, will play 162 games and then possibly the playoffs. If a typical game lasts three hours, that's 486 hours a year I'd have to devote just to be true to one team. I can't comprehend how real sports enthusiasts do it - keeping up with several teams, as well as football, basketball, hockey, tennis and golf.
What's wrong with me wanting to see the Reds win a World Series in a convenient half-hour montage set to a pulse-pounding rock 'n' roll theme song?
I don't like sports, but I wish I did. I realize it's a common link among many men. Guys may not be able to talk about emotions, but we can discuss cars and sports. Actually, I know nothing about cars either. I think I drive a Ford. And because of my lack of knowledge in male-dominated subjects, like cars, hunting, fishing and especially sports, I'm often at a loss in social settings. (The first time my Uncle Larry suggested we see the UC Bearcats, I thought he was referring to a new exhibit at the zoo.) Just last week, in the break room, a well-meaning editor beamed with paternal pride and asked me:
"Hey, how about those Reds?"
Since I was quite sure he wasn't referring to the latest thaw in Russian and American relations, I froze in fear and answered: "How...how about those Reds?" Then I quickly pretended to be intently involved in retrieving my Diet Coke from the vending machine, as though this was the first vending machine I had ever seen. He went away. But usually, the conversation will continue, and I'll hear something like: "The Reds have been doing really great this season." And then I'll respond, "Yup, they sure have. The Reds are red hot."
My confident yet vague answer is my downfall, because if it sounds like I know what I'm talking about, I'll invariably be pitched the following: "What if Ron Villone has a no-hitter going with two out in the eighth, but a walk and two straight errors load the bases? Do you leave him in, or bring in a reliever?"
"Uh..." I'll cleverly respond.
I rarely admit the truth, that I don't know the World Series from the World Cup, because I too often receive a blank, confused and hurt stare - as though I've just been caught in the master bedroom, looting the wall safe and rifling through the sock drawers. And so I don't plan on changing my game plan anytime soon. I have a girlfriend whose father is a real man's man - he loves boating, camping and tinkering with car and truck engines. He hasn't brought up sports yet, but when he does, if there isn't a vending machine in sight, I'm going to quickly challenge him to a game of backgammon.
Geoff Williams is a reporter in The Cincinnati Post's Living department.
Publication date: 07-08-99 www.cincypost.com