Friday, August 10, 2012

A million questions about sport and the Olympics, like, do swimmers ever urinate in the water?

With the Olympics concluding and Matt’s last entry on my mind, I’ve been thinking about the nature of sport in our times.

Why not cooking? Or travel? Or gardening? Or cat rearing?

Why sport? Why does sport occupy our minds and our times? Why is it so compelling that we chatter about it all day, listen to other folks chatter about it all day on the radio, listen and watch it all evening on the radio and television, bet on it, collect it, use it as metaphor to explain about every human endeavor?

Why do old farts like me go out to dusty ball fields and play doubleheaders when the temperature is peaking at 103 degrees?

The cat I played third base next to this week illustrated sports' poignancy for me on the bench between innings. He was remembering a father’s day a lifetime ago when he suggested he and his dad celebrate by taking in a Met’s game. His dad said, why don’t we just stay home, put our feet up, listen to the game on the radio and keep a book?

 If you’re a lifelong baseball fan, that story sends a chill up your spine.

My wife, Kathy, who is not a sporting person by any measure, has been glued to the Olympic spectacle. I come in from playing ball evenings and she fills me in on what I’ve missed, complete with absolutely unexpected nuance. Bolt ran well, but he almost shut it down too soon. The divers are missing their entries. When this one archer cocks his brow (not his bow, she says, emphatically when I suggest she might have the wrong word) you know it’s a 10. Too much drama among the gymnasts tonight, had to take a break.

But she also has questions to which I have no answers. Why don’t women compete on the pommel horse? Why is beach volleyball on the screen every 15 minutes? Why aren’t rings part of the men’s all around?

This last is a loaded question which makes me jealous. She finds men on the rings quite compelling in ways I really try not to speculate. Something about the muscles, about being suspended in air…

But then, I’m less adverse to beach volleyball than she is.

She wants to know about those bright track shoes and whether the pool has chlorine like the pools of our childhoods. She wants to know how in the world a person learns to do tricks on the uneven bars in the first place. Like, what happens the first time? How do horses get across the ocean to the Olympics? Do swimmers ever urinate in the pool? What the heck is water polo? Why is basketball a summer Olympic sport?

The answer is that basketball is no longer a winter sport just for gym rats. The NBA season never ends. The NBA now aspires to be the sport for all seasons.

She wants to know why they don’t pole vault indoors where the wind won’t spoil the jumps. And she wants to know why some hurdlers knock down the hurdles but keep running to the finish line while others just limp off the track. She wants to know how a small, gentle looking guy like Rowdy got his name. She wants to know why the women swimmers smile and laugh before their events and the men snarl and pose. She wants to know why Paul McCartney didn’t sing “Imagine” instead of “Hey Jude.”

Of course, I cannot answer even one of those questions. And the main question I can’t answer is why we find sport so compelling. I mean… think about all we have to worry about in this world.

Oops… I think I just answered the question.


Photograph courtesy:  Unfortunately, they don't tell us where they got it so we can properly credit the fine photographer who created the image...

1 comment:

  1. not to discount your theory (which has its merits) i tend to think it's like explaining the ineffable; unless one has actually seriously competed at a sport -no matter at what level- the passion others exhibit for sports remains opaque.

    although neither theory explains an interest in the nba: that, imho, has more in common with the ancient romans’ use of arena violence as a sophoric.