The sports divide

The usual occupant of this space writes, it’s fair to say, like an angry old man. As a man older and possibly angrier than he is, I know two things: 1.) Angry old men have opinions they express freely — and loudly, and 2.) Angry old men generally listen to sports-talk radio. My dad did. I do. Why do some people follow sports vociferously, while others rabidly detest professional games?

My dad was a fan of the proud Chicago Bears from the ‘20s until he came to Detroit. Family tradition since includes self-flagellating status as loyal losing Lions supporters. Our attachment to the Ford family’s pussycats is in the blood.

An anti-sports friend reacts against such sports fanaticism. He now blows jazz saxophone. His high school band played at halftime of football games, and he marched spiritedly. Mondays he’d ask his friends if they’d seen him. “What position did you play?” “Band,” he replied. “Aw, man, I was getting a hot dog and soda!” The jazz man now sneers at sports “thugs” and “overgrown freaks.”

Sports can be like a Rorschach test, an indication of our enthusiasm or disgust. This one-shot quiz can determine your place on the love-hate sports spectrum.

The glorious Detroit Super Bowl XL Sunday arrives. You:

1) Max out your credit cards at and before discovering they are phony Web sites.

2) Take in an undisturbed Wings game at forlorn Joe Louis Arena.

3) Are two hours late for your calligraphy class in Grosse Pointe Farms, stuck in traffic amid a pile of Honolulu blue-and-silver SUVs.

A Metro Times co-worker compares sports to organized crime. Team owners are quick-move artists, stadium prestidigitators (saying abracadabra with taxpayers’ dough), even entire season destroyers (hockey); it’s fitting that George W. Bush once was part of this unsavory crowd. (He was an owner of baseball’s Texas Rangers.) On- and off-field player violence adds to the anti-sports argument. At least no NFL player has ever been convicted of criminal murder, the pro-sports type says. Such is the good news.

Gregarious fans see sports talk as a conversation-starter, an ice-breaker. Chatter on a Detroit-bound bus on a Pistons game day confirms this notion. It’s said sports allow us to “let off steam,” which, true to metaphor, should break the ice as well.

What Howard Cosell called “the toy department of human life” continues to appeal. The spectators’ joy is seeing challenges overcome, excellence displayed. Watch Michelle Wie’s acrobatic swing, her gigantic drive, and then her modest shrug; we marveled at unselfish Pistons (and Spurs) teamwork.

Of course, it’s all a matter of your point of view. The ancient Greek biographer Plutarch makes the sports page about as often as I attend a nude Greco-Roman wrestling match. Here’s his perspective on the need for perspective: “...though the boys throw stones at frogs in sport, yet the frogs do not die in sport but in earnest.”

A non-sports friend nonetheless lets it all hang out at Wayne State University Warrior football games. “Go Warriors!” he bellows, heard across three counties. The same friend tells of a Metropark quasi-nature lover who shuts out bird and brush sounds on hikes for all-news, all-sports on his headphones. As neophyte football coaches might say, “It’s just a game.” Maybe it’s all just a game.

To each his own — just look out for the frogs.

Dennis Shea is a Detroit poet and Metro Times proofreader. Send comments to [email protected]
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