“No. I don’t follow sports.”
That’s all I’d have to say, and would it be so horrible? Would telling the truth make me that much of a pariah? Shouldn’t I just speak what I feel? Isn’t that always best?
“Do I follow the Giants? No. To be frank, Frank, I’d rather spend an afternoon wrapped in a nice goose down blanket, watching Bravo and eating Stacy’s pita chips than listening to a pair of bombastic announcers analyze eighteen human battering rams. Football does have eighteen players, right? Or is it six thousand? I always mess this up. Want a pita chip?” Crunch.
All that would be fine. Great. Then again, I’m OH SO insecure.
What kind of a man would I be if I admitted to knowing nothing about sports? Well, I’d be the kind I am, and many others are, I suppose—mild mannered folk who think a hat-trick is something a magician does and an RBI is an infomercial-reliant technical school. Sports lovers probably wouldn’t hold it against me. I’d tell them I know more about French-made semiconductors than I do about Babe Ruth (I know nothing about semiconductors) and we’d just talk about something else. Vegetable dip, or hepatitis or something. It seems so simple, until I’m faced with owning up to the fact that I’m an athletic philistine. I can’t stand being completely in the dark about any subject, let alone one that large, intimidating men care about so passionately.
Of course my friends don’t mind my ignorance. My friends that have earnest talks about “the best, cheap brunches in town” and tips to boost page views on under-trafficked blogs. They’re like me. Blissfully out-of-touch with all diamonds, gridirons, links, and hardwoods. When I’m with them, Derek Jeter might as well be a firey public relations intern, LeBron James, the third most famous member of a Des Moines barbershop quartet that hosts Sunday afternoon community center sing-alongs.
As an out-of-shape American male, I’m reminded time and time again of the shockingly small sports-ambivalent minority I help comprise. I’m not like the others in my tribe. I’m a tattered plumb v-neck in a sea of limited edition mesh game jerseys, a can of solid white albacore in a bucket of Gatorade, a guy who doesn’t like sports in a population of guys who live for them.
It’s not that the things I know and talk about are any more important than the score of yesterday’s Knicks game, or that I hate sports. I just don’t care about them. At all. The World Series is as much a concern of mine as Harold Camping’s dancing a pre-Rapture jig on my wobbly dining room table. Same for the Super Bowl, the NBA Finals, the NHL World Cup, the Iowa Corn Cob Derby Olympics, the Toothy Smile Games, and all the rest. I don’t mean to diminish athleticism or its champions’ impressive feats. Hitting home runs, dunking basketballs, kicking field goals. All these things are incredible displays of disciplined practice and God-given talent, and they’re absolutely noteworthy, especially to someone like me who struggles to pull on their socks in the morning because they’re “too tight”. I do understand that much about sports, but that’s about all I get, and I’m okay with that, as long as I’m not confronted by the more informed.
I make my way through a good number of work days without exposing my defection. Men shake my hand just like they would an Ohio State Buckeyes season ticket holder, and they’re none the wiser. We exchange greetings. We conduct business. We offer well wishes and adieus. Civilization continues as it should, as long as my secret’s kept hidden.
But, see, the weekends are different. That’s when the barbecues happen—barbecues where I only know the hosts. Barbecues where all the women are discussing wrap dresses and I’ve got nothing to add. Barbecues where I wander over to a group of guys who’ve cordoned themselves off, content to flip Worcestershire-soaked meat and talk about off-season trade prospects.
I introduce myself and pick off pieces of my beer’s label, trying not to cough from the grill smoke that relentlessly billows in my face no matter where I stand. Sports talk surrounds me and I’m silent, but, unfortunately, not for long. Sooner than later a polite member of the grill team will try to include me.
“You follow baseball, Luke?” he says.
“I do. I certainly do, indeed.” I know I must respond quickly and firmly now. I need to squeeze in lucidity while I can, before I’m asked my opinion on some well-known player’s sloping batting average and my stammering suggests severe stroke trauma.
“Who’s your team?”
“The Yankees.” I say, because it’s a safe choice and I’m afraid.
“Same here. They’ve really had a tough season, huh?”
“Yeah, it’s been rough.” That’s literally the last thing I can offer. I can fake nothing else. I’ve already taken this pathetic, brief charade to its bitter end. Any further comment will make dust of my fraudulent bones. The man who’s asking me things thinks he’s being inclusive. Little does he know my nervous system is slowly shutting down in anticipation of his questions, questions for which I shall have no answer. He thinks he’s having a friendly conversation. I think I’m the first victim in some sort of barbecue genocide, the lone target of a ruinous Murray Hill Inquisition. What could he possibly say next? Why, kind Christ, won’t he please relent? Surely those flaming slabs of meat could use more attentive seasoning.
“How about the game last night?” he pushes on.
“Ugh, I know.” I manage to turn my authentic terror into a convincing dejectedness, assuming the good ol’ team suffered another defeat. I know something’s wrong when my interrogator stares back at me, confused.
“They won. They played great for the first time in 38 games,” he says. “Did you see it?”
“Yeah, um, I was glad.” I dribble out, knowing I’ve been discovered. I’m the recipient of a disappointed look and a conversation-ending excuse.
“One second, I’m gonna check the meat,” the fan says, leaving me to suffocate in my noxious ether of obvious, petty lies.
Could this result be better than that which would’ve followed an honest admission? Maybe. But, probably not. After all, a coward liar probably puts people off more than an honest non-fan.
I look down and notice that I’ve picked off my entire beer label during the course of my panicked ruse.
I promise myself that from now on, I’ll be honest and confident in my real interests.
I take a deep breath and walk over to the cooler, thirsty for something to bide my time.
A burly bald man is there and we begin to talk. After a few short minutes, my newfound resolve is tested.
“You a football fan, Luke?” he asks.
I know this is my chance to rectify all of my trespasses. I think of the embarrassment I just endured, the poor impression I made. I think of being confident. I know what I must do.
“Absolutely,” I say, without the slightest remorse. “Absolutely, I am. But more college than pro.”