Mike Wendling, a sports addict, tries—and fails—to go cold turkey.
I admit it. I’m an addict.
It started when I was shockingly young—maybe four or five years old. At first, I learned it from my parents. Later, friends and family helped feed my habit. Over the years, it got worse and worse. Oh sure, there were ups and downs. There were big wins and awful losses. Every once in a while, I managed to rip myself away from my vice, but I would always return in the end.
I’m addicted to sports, and now I want to quit.
Like most addicts, I hide it well. When I mentioned to my wife that I was thinking of writing this article, she said, “You’re not that obsessed with sport.” She’s English, you see, and we live in London, where games aren’t pluralized. In the newspapers, they are monolithically upper-case and singular: SPORT.
But the thing is, my wife is usually asleep when I get back from the pub, which shows NFL games on Sundays. She doesn’t know about those afternoons spent idly watching some soccer game between two teams I couldn’t name, just because it happened to be on the TV above the bar. Or that trip back to the US during which, despite a very busy schedule, I managed to cut back on sleep and imbibe prodigious quantities of NFL, NBA, and that drug more dangerous than crystal meth, Sportscenter.
(I suspect the CIA invented Sportscenter. You know you’re hooked when you’ve already seen it a couple of hours earlier, you know all the scores and all the games coming up—and yet you still watch the whole show.)
At times, sports have served me well. Like pretty much any kid growing up in western New York, I was a huge Buffalo Bills fan. As a teenager, I played almost every game going, and the exercise habit keeps me in pretty good health to this day.
For a summer job, my uncle got me a cushy number in the accounting department of Buffalo’s minor league baseball team. The job came with decent wages for work that wasn’t too taxing, cut-price hot dogs, and most importantly, free admission to every home game.
Throughout my career, I’ve never worked exclusively as a sports journalist, but games have always been a part of the job. As a reporter, I covered Cleveland’s sports teams and compiled college football box scores for a wire service. Later, when I moved to England, I ended up working on Radio 5 live, the BBC’s rolling news/sport radio network, during a World Cup and a couple of English Premiership seasons. More recently, I’ve been digging into the opaque world of online poker. OK, so maybe poker’s not a sport. But on the other hand, it involves players, strategy, luck, and you can bet on the outcome—so actually, yes, it is a sport.
But now the bad is starting to outweigh the good. Perhaps it’s my age, but I’m getting sick of pampered millionaires, sex scandals and hissy fits—and that’s just among the owners. I’m ready to quit sports because of the money—the cash spent on tickets, online-viewing subscriptions, losing ten-dollar bets against the spread on Monday night. Not to mention the time that could be spent pursuing other, more fruitful, and less frustrating hobbies.
But most of all I’m ready to quit sports because of the pain involved in watching a bunch of mostly losing teams reach inevitable conclusions. I’m tired of having hopes raised every year, only to be dashed, kicked, burned and beaten—and then for some reason, in the face of mountains of evidence to the contrary, rising again the following season.
This would be an ideal time to duck out of the stadium to avoid the traffic. The Bills are, well, the Bills: halfway through a rebuilding phase that is scheduled to last until 2018 or debating a traitorous move to Canada, whatever comes first. The Buffalo Sabres have been sold by one billionaire and bought by another—how this changes anything, I haven’t a clue.
Here in London, our local soccer team Queen’s Park Rangers has just moved up to the one of world’s best leagues, the English Premiership. This may sound like a good thing, but as QPR are preparing for comprehensive drubbings by the likes of Manchester United and Chelsea, it could really be very bad.
To top it all off, a couple months ago, my first son was born. I know I could spare him a lifetime of sorrow if I only I steer him clear of dad’s favorite (or “favourite”) teams.
In a pub recently, I was talking to a friend who is a die-hard fan of legendary soccer club Liverpool. If he had the choice from birth, he told me, he’d never have chosen to get interested in Liverpool or any other team. Despite their fairly impressive trophy cabinet, he explained, there’s just too much hurt involved in losing to make the winning worthwhile.
I tried to argue with him, recalling the Bills’ glory days, strings of early-90s playoff wins, and games like The Comeback. But now my heart’s just not in it.
I’m ready to quit, even if the NFL season is just around the corner. I’ve had enough. I’m ready to go cold turkey. Although, come to think of it—one last game wouldn’t hurt, would it?