If I were to be accosted in a dark, unfamiliar alley by hoodlums, inter-dimensional beings or any creature of the night, I would almost surely stand still and accept whatever doom was impending. No matter how afraid I was of the grisly teeth or the rusty switchblades wielded by my attacker, I would be so overcome by a separate fear that I would in effect play possum. That thing that I am so overwhelmingly afraid of is simple, basic running.
The threat of prolonged, physical exertion is enough to give me sweaty nightmares. It’s not only running that inspires such fear; jumping, climbing and swimming produce a similar, wide-eyed palpitation. The tools of the human getaway frighten me more than any beasty I might deem necessary to get away from. Thankfully, sit-ups have never developed into a self-defense technique.
I aim to say that I’m particularly out of shape. It’s a fact that makes me ill-suited to participate in sports that even toddlers are meant to get the hang of with ease.
It’s not just my squishy and unbending body that keeps me from becoming an athletic superstar; I throw a wonky spiral, my free-throws clink and clank off of rims (if I’m lucky), I skate like a seizing duck and I hack, thrash and cheat my way to triple-bogeys. I will never have a tall,oak trophy case brimming with golden medals, my name etched on each, and those childhood dreams of fourth quarters, third periods, bottoms of the ninth, last laps and buzzer beaters will remain just that: dreams.
The truth is I have nothing to be sour about. The number of folks that actually get to participate in a game-winning drive or a match-ending ace is miniscule. I’m among the majority, and among friends when considering how many children fantasized on front lawns about victory parades and crowds gone wild. It is a common storyline in the saga that is the dashed American Dream.
We tend to avoid things that have scarred us in the past, specifically things that scarred us in a dramatic way and at a developmental stage. As a kid, I was always picked last for kickball, and I was never able to climb the rope in gym class. On the field, I was repeatedly tackled into a sobbing ball of skinned knees and bloody noses by those lucky few with strong genes and an eye toward athletic scholarship. Why then do I, after being scorned and humiliated by sports, return to watch them with such fervor? Why do I invite the pain, season after season, back into my life?
Maybe it’s because when my guy hits a grand slam, or rushes for a touchdown, it feels a little bit like my wishful thinking helped swing that bat or kept those legs churning. It is inexplicably comforting to holler and cheer and cry alongside a crowd of thousands that know just how I feel. Hell, it could just be the Illuminati programming me to love something that can be merchandised. Or, conversely, it could be because I hope that we’re pushing toward a day when the competitive nature of humanity manifests not as violent crimes, corruption and war but as athletic competition, finally fair. Or maybe it’s just some big, damn mystery that I’m never going to solve.
In any event: I’d like to continue the search. I’d like to dive into the nature of sports and how they are shaped by and help shape our society. Sports can be funny, sensational, empowering, traumatizing, comforting and occasionally just plain old strange. Something as simple as a game can have a resounding, global effect on our human community. I’d like to discuss why and how sports do the things that they do to the world that we live in.
I can read my future like a box score. It’s full of spilt beers, screaming at televisions, embarrassing face-paint ruined by crooked-faced crying, ludicrous superstitions and boneheaded declarations, sleepless nights, and oh-so-much disappointment. But I look forward to every moment of it — even if I can’t begin to tell you why.
Nic R. Krause was born a cranky, curmudgeon of a child in a Minnesota suburb. He was plucked from the muggy tundra and relocated to Colorado Springs 22 years ago. From intramural jai-alai, to his complicated relationship with the Minnesota Vikings, Nic, plainly stated, is bonkers for sports.