I used to teach at an alternative high school in California where, on study breaks, I’d shoot around with students on the basketball court out back. Clumsy, gangly, and weaker than anybody I know, I am not an athletic person; but as we played a little 3-on-3, one of my students remarked that he was impressed with how I knew my way around the court: I could set a pick, do a lay-up, box out the opponent, and so forth.
“You don’t understand,” I replied. “Growing up in Chicago in the 90s, you had to know this stuff.” The Bulls dynasty was so influential that it deeply infiltrated my suburban elementary school, and if you weren’t wearing a BJ Armstrong jersey (because Jordan and Pippen were too obvious) or coming into class stating the number of points Jordan had scored the previous night, you might as well have been an alien. It wasn’t even an issue of being cool vs. uncool (I have always been very uncool, a trait that wasn’t helped by the fact that I wore a beret almost every day throughout all of 5th grade); it was an issue of “If you can’t talk about the Bulls, are you going to have any basis of communication with your fellow humans?”
I believe that this coerced basketball fandom pressured me into feeling like I had to be knowledgeable about all sports. If I overheard people talking about Cubs vs. Sox, I needed to chime in for the good guys. If I happened to catch a big play (like Keith Traylor’s interception in 2001, which is the only Bears play I will ever remember), I’d feel such pride if somebody else mentioned it, too.
This pressure to keep up with sports only mounted as the college social scene depended so much on watching games at sports bars or attending match-ups against our rivals. After graduation, weekends were punctuated by this can’t-miss game or that hyped-up event. So I’d watch with friends, looking forward to the slow moments where we could actually talk, until one day it occurred to me: I don’t have to care about sports. I don’t even have to know about them.
There’s no reason to keep up with this culture that I had, and have, no interest in. I have nothing against sports or the people who follow them, but I just didn’t want to be a part of it anymore. And it’s not like the teams and leagues really needed me, either.
I now feel such a lightness, and can only imagine how at peace I will feel when my brain is no longer bogged down by facts like Robin Ventura wore #23, Toni Kukoc is from Croatia, Mark Grace played first base, and other details that at one time were so vital. And since letting go of sports, I’ve felt much better about letting go of other things that I felt pressured to be connected with—that friend who always had drama but never seemed to care how I was doing, that job that took up all my time but left me unfulfilled, that grudge I held that was only really bothering me, and so forth.
It’s almost like it was never the sports themselves that I needed to say goodbye to.
So, I’m done with sports for now, and done with all those things that I dedicate my time and energy to but that just don’t have my heart. But, Dad? Please keep inviting me to White Sox games. I like that time as a family, and I love the nacho cheese at the ballpark.
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