Training Camp: Many Cheer; I Groan

Confession time: I am not a fan of professional organized sports. I suspect that this admission will put me on a black list if I’m not already there. A few people are fuming since I wrote the article “The Poop On Your Dog’s Poop”; some agree with me, and some do not. The free-range dog advocates and the leashed conservatives may be able to find some middle ground with the Board of Selectmen, but in the meantime, if I were you, I’d still watch my step when you go out walking. My sport is walking, so I’m speaking from experience. But this story is about my distaste of other sports. Professional sports.

Basketball, baseball, football, hockey, and even soccer, I just don’t understand the intense interest. Well, maybe I do understand the intense interest. After all, it is one of the ways we homosapiens drain off our pent up stress. Like walking a puppy, you’ve got to burn off the energy or you’ll chew the furniture – right?

So it will come as no surprise to you that as the football training camps start to crank up, the perennial gardens begin to fade and go to seed, the days get a bit shorter, and I’m getting depressed. The Monday night and Sunday afternoon football games will begin soon. Where can I hide?

I’ve learned I can be in the same room when a baseball game is on TV. Again, not a favorite of mine, but at least the types of skills needed in this sport are somehow more interesting to watch. The speed of the baseball, the strength and precision of the batter, the hair-trigger reaction of the shortstop: These are things I can embrace. For me when the pitcher faces down the batter, that is real competition.

Another confession: I find the players much more likable. I’ve given a few pet names. Ortiz is “Eyes,” because he has the most beautiful eyes ever to grace the face of a man. “Baby” is for that young sweetheart Ellsbury: Any mother would be happy if her daughter brought him home to meet the family. And before he left the franchise, “Cutie Pie,” aka Adrian Gonzalez, was easy to watch. I do have some other less flattering nicknames for other players but I think I’ve dug a big enough hole to jump in without divulging those.

Of all the sports, however, football is the one that I have the hardest time with. Not high school or college games mind you, but professional football. It has become way too commercialized. Each of the players is like a brand unto themselves. Each team is a multimillion-dollar enterprise. They are corporations with men in business suits trying to figure out how to make more money year after year. And the fans suck it all up.

Enter my husband. When we first began seeing each other in the late Eighties, sports was the furthest thing from his mind. It was all about going to dinner, long drives on crisp fall afternoons through back country roads, and tickets to plays in Boston and NYC. Why, he even surprised me during one trip with emerald jewelry. Now that’s a way to impress a girl. Don’t get me wrong … my husband is still very romantic; I just have to stay out of the way while the football game is on.

One of my girlfriends tells me that she likes to watch football to witness the ability of the athletes to go the extra mile for the team. She loves the excitement of the effort it takes, how they handle frustration and, of course, the winning. Years ago, while working in the hospitality industry, she met many of the players who traveled to Southern California to play against the local teams. Having the opportunity to see the players up close inspired greater interest in the game for her. I guess being on a first-name basis with celebrities would make me more interested, too. Absent that, hoe hum.

I’ve tried watching the games. When my only child, my son, was a kid, the games would be on the TV, and he absorbed them like the pizza slices I’d provide while he sat transfixed. He even tried playing football in high school. This was before head injuries in sports were discussed, much less protected against. So, yes, he got a concussion and a leg and a knee injury that to this day I regret. For his part, he loves football more today than when he was a teenager, yeah, but as an armchair coach.

Loving our sports teams is not unique to New Englanders, but by golly, we seem to take it to another level. Having traveled throughout most of the states in the continental U.S., and working in the male-dominated electrical industry for nearly 25 years, I’ve been around a lot of guys and guy talk. I’m here to tell you that someone from Dallas (a guy) may talk about the Cowboys, but when compared to his counterpart from Boston, the level of passion is no contest – the guy from Boston will win every time. This is Patriot nation!

It’s not as if I haven’t been exposed to football my entire life, because I have. I remember William “The Refrigerator” Perry and his famous lumbering touchdown. No one was going to tackle him once he got moving forward (a body that’s in motion tends to stay in motion – thank you, seventh-grade science). I super-loved that superstar Joe Namath, especially after he famously put on panty hose for an advertisement! Maybe he should have shaved his legs first, however. More recently, what about the graceful dancing of Emmitt Smith? See, I know a little bit about football.

As a high school student, I was a majorette. There we were in those tiny uniforms and big hats with white plumes trying to toss a baton in 40-degree weather with 20-mph winds, smiling to the crowd of maybe 50 attendees (all family members of someone on the field), while marching in less than perfect formation in front of the band. It occurs to me now that maybe my distaste for football stems from the fact that I froze my assets off for four years and that the cheerleaders were the stars of the halftime show, not we talented twirlers. All the cheerleaders had to do was shake their pompoms, scream cheers, jump up and down, and run in the cute hands on hip way on and off the field. “Give me an ‘S’ – What have you got? – SICKENING!” Oh, sorry, for a moment there I was 17 again.

That might be a part of it. But it isn’t the whole reason why the football season, which lasts much too long, isn’t top on my list of entertaining activities. It is that football is way to macho for my liking, given way too much importance on the scale of things to concern oneself with, and dangerous to boot. Consider the players who have died from long-term exposure to numerous head injuries, or been permanently damaged in other ways. Consider the steroid use. Consider the trophy wives; they have to be suffering carrying around all that bling. For the sake of the wives, stop the madness.

I have a hard time watching football. I’ve asked my husband if he can watch a game with the sound muted. I’ve gotten a glare in return. Apparently, part of the fun of watching the game is listening to the expert commentators blathering on: “Did you see #49 fake that play while pushing the hair out of his eyes! What an amazing contributor he has been all season in spite of his upcoming criminal case.”

And what would the sport be without the off-field in-depth coverage of the players’ private lives. You’ve got to know who’s zooming whom, what haircuts their wives have sanctioned, and all of those endorsements:  You’ve got to purchase a whole host of merchandise. “What is that scent your wearing?” “Oh, its Ode-La-Transpirer. Tom Brady’s wife just came out with it. It what he wears, of course.”

Final confession: There is one aspect of the whole TV football thing I’ll admit to enjoying … the commercials, especially during the Stupid Bowl, oops, I mean Super Bowl. I loved the woodchucks, the frogs, most of the Frito spots, and all of the E-Trade commercials. Those babies and the clever dialogue where the central baby talks about “fat stacks of cash,” “milk-a-holics,” “saving pant loads,” and calling a golfing partner a “shankopodamus,” OMG – what’s not to love?! Those are the touchdown moments for yours truly.

So this fall, when the games are on the TV and your home is filled with the joyful noises of people swearing and screaming at the screen while wearing expensive team jerseys, just remember you can call me. We can hang out and watch reruns of Masterpiece Theatre while sipping tea. Wouldn’t that be fun? We could spike the tea, of course. No, seriously, call me – my husband won’t even notice I’ve left the house.

By Marilou Newell

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