Growing up in the rustic isolation of California's great Central Valley, I knew I was the only one. Perhaps in the big cities I might find others of my own kind, but in my formative years I was utterly isolated.
Fortunately, I didn't care all that much. That certainly made it easier to endure my uniqueness.
All of my experiences in school confirmed that I was growing up alone. No one else shared my predilections. I was confident, however, that college would contain other birds of my feather. In fact, I was sure when I received my acceptance letter from Caltech that my isolation was about to end.
It turned out that my brainiac classmates at Tech were just about as fascinated by sports as the students I had known in elementary and high school. This discovery stunned me. I had been so certain that it was just a matter of time before I encountered my peer group. Generalizing from a sample of size one (apparently not a good idea), I had assumed that other really smart, clever, and literate boys would be as disdainful of sports as I was (and am). Nope. My smarty-pants peers clustered around the televisions in the rec rooms and commons just as happily as the denser types of my high school cohort. Damn.
I still recall one small glimmer of light, which I glimpsed in a newspaper during my teen years (as best as I can remember). It was an article published in the Fresno Bee, and I believe it was a story plucked off one of the wire services. I might even have clipped it out, in which case it is lost in the bundled bales of ephemera from my youth (tucked in various boxes and drawers both in my home and my parents'). The title was “The asportual male.” The article reported that the non-sports-obsessed male was more common than generally assumed, but such males were often invisible because they chose to “pass” as sports fans by dutifully sitting through game broadcasts, perusing sports pages, and occasionally traveling with sports-minded buddies to local sports stadia. The horror! Thus I learned that I was not alone, but that most others of my inclination had gone into hiding.
I must not have been adequately socialized during my youth, because I can't imagine enduring long hours of tedious sports viewing just because it's the cultural norm for American males. Perhaps it would help if I had developed a taste for beer, but that remedy doesn't appeal to me. (You can imagine how attractive I find sports bars.) Perhaps the oddest thing about me is that I never felt compelled to pretend an interest, although I can see in retrospect why other young males would prefer to conform. We are a mostly gregarious species.
In my entire life, I have never watched a football or baseball or basketball or soccer game on television. Sure, I've seen plenty of snippets. I have a father and a younger brother who never miss a chance to watch whatever organized sport is going on after the holiday feasts at Thanksgiving and Christmas. As Dad gets older and deafer, I have to retreat ever greater distances to escape the blaring boob tube and breathless babbling of the commentators. One works out accommodations.
I have, however, managed to sit through two high school football games, one of which was the junior varsity coach debut of my college roommate, who had just taken a math teaching job at a local secondary school. I sat with his parents in the bleachers and replied honestly to his father's question about the team's prospects by saying that (a) I had no idea, (b) I had never seen one of their games before, and (c) that I had never seen a football game before. The man's eyes bugged out. He turned to his wife in utter astonishment and said, “Did you hear that? Can you believe it?” I was in my twenties at the time. The experience of those games was more than enough to sate my virtually nonexistent curiosity.
A few years later I was working in downtown Sacramento, an aide in state government. I had an office in a big office building that housed several state agencies. My agency was a small operation and my few colleagues soon learned not to bother to ask me if I had “seen the game last night” or what I thought about some recent newspaper article about Sacramento's perpetual quest for respectability through acquisition of a national sports franchise. (I think they eventually got one. Like I care.) Others in the building were slower to learn, many an elevator ride lapsing into an uncomfortable silence after my typical response, “Oh, was there a game last night?”
At least the couple of years when I had a college roommate, before I could swing a deal for a single apartment, had fewer complications. My roomie was delighted to discover that the newspaper's sport pages were instantly available to him. The subscriptions were mine, but those sections were always pulled out and tossed to one side, where he would eagerly pounce upon them. Of course, it was occasionally a bit awkward when I'd decide to grab lunch at a local lunch counter. I'd be there browsing the daily news and someone would ask me if I was done with the sports page. You betcha! I'm so done with it that it's not even here. It's back at the apartment where my roommate is probably chewing the pages in rapt bliss.
A glance at any other newspaper-browsing patron would usually reveal a guy poring over a sports section. Sometimes the business section, but that was a distant second.
Staying the course
While the sports-loving tendencies of my Caltech classmates had been a big surprise (and, frankly, a huge disappointment), surprise #2 was waiting in the wings. Years later, now out of government service and working as a teacher, one of my faculty colleagues invited me to his birthday party. It was a convivial event, with plenty of soft drinks for teetotalers like me. My colleague and his partner had a circle of interesting friends, many of whom were gay. And several were eager to chat about recent sports news. As the clueless idiot I was (and, probably, mostly still am), I had assumed that sports talk was the province of straight guys. It was a neat explanation for why many asportual males nevertheless felt it necessary to pass as sports fans. As with most neat explanations, it was much too simple-minded to be universally true.
People like sports because they find them entertaining. I don't find them entertaining, so I have no obligation to pay attention to them. Sports fans find the world full of instant friends and instant opponents. It's probably more interesting as a topic of conversation between strangers than, say, the weather. While I'll never go through a conversion experience that makes me sit through a game again, I suppose I have a clue why others do. I can continue to use the many hours I save by not watching sports to improve my life in other ways. Better ways. Such as reading books. Appreciating fine music. Constructive ways.
Anyway, I'm not really alone. I hear that Russell Baker wrote a column in which he came out as an “asportual male.” His example gives courage to others to similarly declare themselves. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer ran several column-inches of comments from readers who were apparently reacting to some game or another that is scheduled for this weekend. (Honestly, I can't tell you at this moment who is playing in the Superbowl, although folks are always prattling about it. None of that registers with me.) I enjoyed the frank admissions of those who said they were going to find something else to do tomorrow, as will I. It appears that I am not alone, even if I don't know these people.
Of course, there will always be some bozo like this:
It's not necessary to have an obsession with sports but an interest is definitely needed. Not every American man needs to be fanatical, but if you're watching “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” on a day classically known as one of the biggest sports days of the year, you're wandering into feminine territory. I believe it is important for men to be physical to be considered masculine. Whether it's participating in sports (or other physical activity) or living vicariously through the athletes on TV, I do believe it's necessary to enjoy sports every once in a while.Thanks, BS. Love those initials, man!