Monday, June 23, 2008

Sports, a 365-days-a-year obsession

Sports are akin to the younger sister or brother who won't leave you alone, who commands your attention even when you have other things on your mind.

This month has been a dreadful reminder of how binding sports are. When I married sports about 10 years ago -- give or take a year -- I didn't know what I was getting into. Now it couldn't be clearer.

Two weekends ago, the morning after my sister's graduation, I woke up in the resort where we were staying and made a beeline for the television. The French Open final was on -- Nadal vs. Federer! -- and the rest of my family be damned, I wasn't missing it for the world (especially considering that the night before I'd been dragged away to an Italian restuarant before the running of the Belmont Stakes!?!).

So as my parents and high-school-graduate sister were packing up their belongings, preparing for an 11 a.m. checkout and a long drive home, I was glued to the couch, shocked by the dominance of Nadal as he embarrassed the world's No. 1 player in a lopsided match.

Fast forward a week and a few hours. There I was, at my family reunion on the beautiful North Carolina coast -- a once-every-three-years event. But what was I doing Sunday night? Why, what else but watching the dramatic final round of the U.S. Open and then changing the channel on the analog TV to Game 5 of the NBA Finals.

Only my immediate family stuck around for the end of the Celtics-Lakers game.

And now it's almost July, what I've always considered to be the deadest sports month in this country -- a time to think about such novelties as family, my professional life and, um, maybe a girlfriend?

My cousin wants to do a big hike July 4th weekend. Sounds great, right? I don't even like fireworks, and I haven't heard of any crazy parties around (although I'm sure they're happening; I'm just not exactly in the "loop"). But, more importantly, that's Wimbledon's final weekend.

Would I actually rather wake up to cicadas after sleeping in a tent or to Strawberries and Cream combined with a potential Nadal-Federer rematch on grass? Yeah, sports has me by the throat, locked up like Avon Barksdale (except for much longer than two years).

And there's no end in sight. That's the thing about sports -- they're a never-white-flag-waving cycle. They're both good and bad. They're great because I can always count on them to entertain me, to "wow" me, to boost my spirits. On the downside, maybe I wouldn't need them as moral support so often if I didn't spend so much time entangled in their weeds.

Regardless of where I am or what I'm doing, sports are constantly on my mind:

Example No. 1: During my fraternity's formal junior year, I checked out of dinner every 15 minutes to check the score of the Carolina-Duke game. And after dinner, I quickly chased down a cab for my date and I back to the hotel so we could watch the end.

Example No. 2: During my fraternity's formal senior year ... well, you get the point.

I guess it's no surprise I had different dates each of the four years I went on the trip.

Example No. 3: Because of my obsession with checking scores of games I can't watch by texting Google for scores, I exceeded my texting limit for two straight months this year, pushing me to tell my boy Tick that I'm on "texting probation."

Some people say they've cured the need to watch sports during other engagements through TiVo and DVR systems that allow them to watch the games later, after they get back from their dinner date or walk on the beach.

That's garbage. They aren't real sports addicts. I can't even imagine watching a big game three hours after everyone else has seen the final verdict. Technology can't save everything -- some events have to be watched live.

So that leaves me where I was at the beginning of this column: a man with many dilemmas. The worst thing about American sports is that they're so perfectly scheduled that there are hardly any days when there isn't something worth watching.

For instance, one weekend it's the Wimbledon finals, nine days later it's the MLB All-Star game and just two days later the British Open tees off. I usually reserve August for vacation time in New Hampshire -- and that's something I'll never change -- but the Olympics will be a large distraction this year in addition to the PGA Championship.

The only non-sports day I look forward to in the coming months is Wednesday, July 16. The day after the All-Star Game, amazingly, will feature no pro baseball, no anything else.

A perfect day for everything else in life, I guess.

Anyone got plans? I'll provide the Red Bull.


Jonathan said...

Interesting column. When you were saying you were iffy for the hike I was wondering in the back of my head if it was for watching a sporting event. I have one counterargument for you about watching games after the fact on DVR when you have pressing engagements. If you are not watching a game in person, then what exactly qualifies a TV broadcast as live? In my mind, this just means that you don't already know what has happened. So I would argue that watching a game on DVR, if you have carefully avoided checking the score beforehand, is just as good as watching live. Better, actually, since you get to skip commercials. Now obviously you miss out on the social aspect: watching with some friends or at a bar, but if you were missing the game for an important occasion then you were doing something social anyway. Just a thought. And I think that you should come on the hike. Tennis will be on my parents' DVR when you get back, and the squirrels in the forest won't blurt out the score.

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