As you might expect, I am transfixed by TV this weekend, exulting and agonizing along with my favorite golfers as they take on the annual trial-by-fire that is the US Open. At the same time, one part of my brain is wondering what on earth is wrong with me. Why should I be mesmerized by a bunch of strangers swatting a little ball about or trying to poke it into a hole in the ground?
It makes no sense. These guys have nothing in common with folks like me. They belt their drives 300 yards and more. They make the ball dance on the green like a kitten on catnip. They scoop the ball out of the deepest sand traps with effortless precision.
The golf I play is nothing like that, of course. But at least I play a version of the sport. Not their version. But a version.
I don’t play ice hockey – can’t even skate. When I lived in Canada, I strapped on a pair of skates once and took to the rink, but my ankles turned over and I ended up sliding into the boards with the insides of my feet scraping along the ice. Two tots skated up to me and each took one of my hands, guiding me about the rink so I wouldn’t do harm to myself or others.
Yet I can be as mesmerized by hockey as anyone. Or even figure skating.
And baseball… I never saw a baseball game in my life until I came to North America. Yet I am glued to the TV screen when the World Series comes on.
I can even get caught up in football – American football! And that’s as alien to my experience as anything you could imagine. Soccer I’m fairly familiar with. But American football? Why should I care about two squads of over-sized millioniares trying to squash each other?
But I do.
Crazy, isn’t it?
What is it that makes me – and so many others – entranced by professional sports? Why do these guys make millions to play while the rest of us get pennies to work?
It’s not as if I had some personal “skin in the game” (as we sports fans might put it). I don’t bet.
And it’s not as if pro players really represent my community. They get traded back and forth so much that today’s hometown hero could be tomorrow’s alien invader, wearing the uniform of a different team, trying to keep “our” team from winning.
Is it the drama that captivates us? Are our lives so bland that we must turn to make-believe conflict to get our adrenaline flowing? Are we such a bunch of losers in real life that pro sports offer us our only chance of being winners? Is it simply the momentary escape from reality?
In ancient Rome, the masses watched gladiators hacking each other to death. Today we watch sports.
Of course there’s the skill factor. Sometimes those pros do things that are quite magical. But those are just moments. Much of a professional sports contest is routine. Someone throws a ball. Someone tries to hit it. Or catch it. Or whatever.
Some people lose themselves in the theater. Some are transfixed by the virtuosity of a violinist. Some soar with a singer’s magnificent voice.
Me, I watch sports. Go figure.