I have a secret: I’m not much of a sports fan.
I haven’t told my editors, so I hope this doesn’t come as a shock to them, and I hope you’ll still be able to find my column here next week. But it’s time to come clean.
Maybe you’ve gotten that sense already. Maybe this isn’t a big surprise. My knowledge of sports is relatively thin and somewhat dated. I devoted more time to following sports in middle school, seven or eight years ago, than I have in recent years. And I’m not really sure what’s happened since.
The Pats, LeBron, a World Cup or two — I catch the big stuff. But it’s a blur. Headlines come and go, and I have no reason to remember most of them. I’m a baseball fan, really, and I sell myself as a sports fan. That’s how I got here.
I do have one connection to the world of sports, though. Once upon a time I listened to sports talk radio. And I listened obsessively. I devoured it, tuning in hour after hour, day after day. I spent so many hours with my radio that, for a few years, I neglected my family in favor of the personalities of WFAN. Mom, Dad and Lydia, I’m sorry.
Sports talk radio stations now span the country, but WFAN is the godfather of them all. When it went on the air in 1989, it was the first 24-hour sports talk radio station in the country. The FAN has logged nearly 160,000 consecutive hours since then, each one devoted to sports.
More impressively, many of the station’s early personalities are still going. Mike and the Mad Dog in the afternoons, Steve Somers in the evenings and several others have kept the same shifts since the early 1990s. Regular listeners know their voices as well as they know the station’s jingle, “Sports radio sixty-six — The FAN! — W-F-A-N, New York!” If you’ve listened to The FAN, you know what I’m talking about.
But I stopped listening to the station in high school. I found new interests, and, as I grew, my world grew. The radio was eventually turned off altogether. When Don Imus, WFAN’s morning host, was fired earlier this year for using racist and misogynistic slurs on his show, I followed the story as an outsider, a former listener who now cared as much about the events as about the radio personality himself. I miss The FAN, but sports have taken the appropriate role in my life. No longer front and center, I now appreciate sports as one part of the fabric of the greater world.
Discussing poker last week, I suggested that sports — even real, true, athletic sports — are little more than entertainment. The rules are more clearly defined, but athletes live comparable lives to actors and serve similar functions in society. We pay to watch performances and draw little distinction between the scripted and the unscripted.
It seems inappropriate that sports receive so much attention throughout our culture. Why does nearly every tabloid paper devote its back page, and sometimes its front page, to sports? Even this paper gives its sports desk prime real estate. Entertainment gets buried when it’s art but promoted when it’s athletic, even at the college level.
Something about this imbalance must be questioned. Sports receive disproportionate coverage, and yet, at the same time, I believe they are wonderful, deserving of all the appreciation Americans have. So what should give?
Over the years, I’ve tried convincing my sister — a dancer — that baseball is beautiful. There’s little more graceful than an outfielder sprinting and lunging after a ball, sliding along the grass or climbing a wall to snag a would-be home run.
With my dad, I often discuss the history surrounding sports. His interest in professional sports ended around 1965 and barely resumed this decade, as his son became a sports fan. We compare our respective eras, each of us subtly suggesting that what we grew up knowing is best, but always gaining appreciation for the other.
My mom and I share interest in what happens off the field. We enjoy the personalities, the people behind the games. She’s more likely to remember when one of my favorite players got married than when he won the MVP. With each member of my family, my sports connection involves something greater than athletics and competition. It’s the people, the art and the context that we can share. These are the greater themes that make sports relevant to a country, city or community.
At a college, sports fill an appropriate and beneficial role when they are used to enhance the rest of the community. A school does best for all its students when athletes are integrated with non-athletes and held to the same academic standards as all other students. Varsity sports contribute most to a school when they are appreciated alongside its intellectual and artistic performances. And everyone would benefit by appreciating sports in context. Sports are not the most important thing in life, but even this form of entertainment can provide valuable lessons in life and opportunities to bond.
I guess I’m advocating the abolition of the sports page in general. When newspapers get it right, sports will be effectively integrated into the rest of the paper. And there will be no need for sports columnists. When you don’t hear from me next week, hopefully it will be because someone heard my calls and not that I was replaced by a better sports fan.
Pete Martin is a sophomore in Morse College. His column appears on Wednesdays.