In which I disrespect your favorite sports

Both of my sons are now Little League baseball players, and I’m thrilled. They are too. (In fact, Jonah is so happy playing baseball that at a recent practice, after he batted a base hit, the coach had to remind him to run to the base — not to skip.)

But Little League baseball is only a few months out of the year, so recently Andrea handed me information about signing up the kids for football in the fall. I immediately vetoed the idea. Andrea was surprised by my vehemence and challenged me on it.

I cited football’s greater likelihood and severity of injuries, but she found this unconvincing, insisting I quote actual statistics, which I didn’t have at hand. Pressing me further, she got me to admit that there’s more to my opposition than just injury statistics. This is the surprising statement that she eventually drew out of me:

“There’s something ugly at the heart of football.”

What?! she said. “Something… belligerent,” I tried weakly to elaborate. I said that, though I enjoy watching football, I didn’t want my kids playing it because of its fundamental unwholesomeness. “It’s not like baseball, the ‘thinking man’s game,’ which is civilized, noble.”

I don’t blame Andrea for thinking, at this point, that my statements about sports were getting wilder and wackier. I don’t often make bald assertions that I can’t substantiate when called upon to do so. But my strong opinions on this subject would not be denied.

“What about soccer?” she asked. “Soccer’s just stupid,” I said, and rightly so. “Good teamwork is nice to see, but mostly it’s just running back and forth and almost never scoring a goal” — in which respect it’s the cousin of basketball, which is the same thing but with too many goals.

After I got through offending most of the sports world, Andrea theorized it’s only because of the movies I’ve seen. There are baseball movies that I just love — Field of Dreams, The Natural, and A League of Their Own, among others — but I haven’t seen any good football or soccer movies. “What about Any Given Sunday or Jerry Maguire?” I countered — movies that were just OK. “Those are more about the business of football,” she said. “Behind the scenes. I’m talking about a movie about football itself.” I asked her to name some but she couldn’t.

Maybe there’s a reason there are a lot of emotionally resonant movies about baseball but not football or soccer, I said. Maybe on some level filmmakers know the same thing about sports that I do. The sport of football can’t be the hero of a movie. Only baseball is innately uplifting.

9 thoughts on “In which I disrespect your favorite sports”

  1. I can’t think of a lamer game than baseball. Maybe cricket. Baseball is just a huge snooze fest. I am embarrassed that it’s the “national pastime”. A bunch of dandies sitting around in the shade half the time. No, your team is not “at bat”, they are sitting on their asses. Only one guy is at bat. Give the whole team bats and let them chase the guys who are trying to catch the ball. Then you’d have the beginning of a real game.

    Football, that has real strategy. Real-time strategy too. Where are they positioning their players? How close are they to another first down and how will that affect their decision to pass or rush. What attacks have they been favoring, given the makeup of their team. How fast is the wind blowing? Where should we position our men in light of all that information. In candy-ass baseball, the only real-time thinking is when you are trying to be sneaky and “steal” something.

    And do they have to play so many damn games? I guess they can because it’s certainly not a strenuous “sport”, if you want to call it a sport instead of what it is, a “lawn game”. I can’t count the number of times I’ve missed something good on TV because they had to finish up their stupid little game.

    Face it, the only reason people like baseball is because it’s the only sport where spastic school kids had a chance of not totally embarrassing themselves. The real reason people don’t like football is that the kids who played it were bigger and intimidating and got to screw cheerleaders.

    (p.s. I understand of you have to delete this comment.)

  2. Hm, I hadn’t thought about the screwing cheerleaders angle. I may not be doing Jonah or Archer any favors by keeping them out of football…

  3. Anyway, I don’t dispute that football is a more exciting game to watch than baseball. Kinda the way war is more exciting than chess. But which activity do you think I’d prefer for my kids?

  4. As long as they’ve got something real-time and full body, like a martial art, I don’t think it matters which organized sport they participate in.

  5. I thought The Replacements was an outstanding movie. Any Given Sunday also has a lot to say about the spirit of the game. Varsity Blues. Rudy. Brian’s Song. Remember the Titans. Invincible.

    Any sports movie has some non-sports stuff in it. Otherwise, you’re just watching sports.

    I really hated Jerry “you complete me” McQuire. That was a chick flick with some football in it.

  6. Tony D’Amato: I don’t know what to say, really. Three minutes to the biggest battle of our professional lives. All comes down to today, and either, we heal as a team, or we’re gonna crumble. Inch by inch, play by play. Until we’re finished. We’re in hell right now, gentlemen. Believe me. And, we can stay here, get the shit kicked out of us, or we can fight our way back into the light. We can climb outta hell… one inch at a time. Now I can’t do it for ya, I’m too old. I look around, I see these young faces and I think, I mean, I’ve made every wrong choice a middle-aged man can make. I, uh, I’ve pissed away all my money, believe it or not. I chased off anyone who’s ever loved me. And lately, I can’t even stand the face I see in the mirror. You know, when you get old, in life, things get taken from you. I mean, that’s… that’s… that’s a part of life. But, you only learn that when you start losin’ stuff. You find out life’s this game of inches, so is football. Because in either game – life or football – the margin for error is so small. I mean, one half a step too late or too early and you don’t quite make it. One half second too slow, too fast and you don’t quite catch it. The inches we need are everywhere around us. They’re in every break of the game, every minute, every second. On this team we fight for that inch. On this team we tear ourselves and everyone else around us to pieces for that inch. We claw with our fingernails for that inch. Because we know when you add up all those inches, that’s gonna make the fucking difference between winning and losing! Between living and dying! I’ll tell you this, in any fight it’s the guy who’s willing to die who’s gonna win that inch. And I know, if I’m gonna have any life anymore it’s because I’m still willing to fight and die for that inch, because that’s what living is, the six inches in front of your face. Now I can’t make you do it. You’ve got to look at the guy next to you, look into his eyes. Now I think ya going to see a guy who will go that inch with you. Your gonna see a guy who will sacrifice himself for this team, because he knows when it comes down to it your gonna do the same for him. That’s a team, gentlemen, and either, we heal, now, as a team, or we will die as individuals. That’s football guys, that’s all it is. Now, what are you gonna do?

  7. Baseball has always been my favorite sport because it was more flexible than the other sports. When we were kids, you could still play “baseball” with a few number of kids. Even “practicing” baseball, e.g, fielding grounders, catching fly balls, taking turns batting, were fun activities that could be done with a small group.
    Baseball’s downfall perhaps might be that it is too common. Baseball’s 162-game season is more about making up for inevitable mistakes and giving a greater opportunity for the fans to watch a game in person. If you lose tonight, there’s another game tomorrow. If you lose this series, there will be another one later in the season.
    Additionally, with football and all the timed sports, with some extraordinary exceptions, by late in the final period, the game is over. With baseball, the game isn’t over until the final batter has his chance.

    I have discovered that when comparing sports, the discussion usually centers around a person’s concept of “fairness.” If you want exact dimensions for playing, then the timed sports provide you a court/stadium with the exact same size everywhere. If you want equal opportunities to win, then baseball is more “fair.” You can’t “steal” the ball from your opponent in baseball, as you can in the timed sports.
    On the other hand, if you want the home team to have the edge, then baseball is more “unfair” since each team has their own ballpark, with its funky dimensions, characteristics, and ground rules (read: Green Monster in Boston).

    I don’t know of any church picnics, work picnics, or group get-togethers where baseball/softball doesn’t have a place of honor. I have not been to such an event where football/soccer had a similar position.

    Sorry, more than two cents’ worth.

  8. I hated little league as a kid, but that’s probably because I was terrible at it and asocial.

    Baseball is 2 minutes of action jam-packed into 4 hours of tedium; (American) football isn’t much better though! I saw some article where they calculated that the ball was actually in play for roughly 11 minutes (out of 60 minutes of “game time”, spread out over probably 2-3.5 hours of wall-clock time).

    I don’t think there’s that much actual strategy in baseball (tactics, sure, but not strategy) (please correct me if I’m wrong). American football has plenty in terms of strategy: offensive play choice (over the whole game), defensive scheme tweaks, whether you go for field goal / touchdown and whether you go for one or two point conversions (this latter bit is often a slam-dunk decision but I have seen games that were decided on both a coach’s choice at this moment and the team’s execution of his choice).

    I enjoy watching basketball; it took me a long time to learn how, though. I agree that it’s rather like soccer but I disagree with your argument that it’s “just running back and forth and almost never scoring a goal”. The exciting thing (for me) about watching basketball is observing the flow of the game (and this takes many forms: lead changes, unanswered streaks of points, a particular matchup between two players). I suspect that the same could be said of soccer but I suppose I just don’t have the patience to see the same flow in soccer. I agree that soccer is unwatchable. Almost as unwatchable as baseball 😉

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