For Aaron Gordon, sports aren’t a definition. They’re a reference point.
If you don’t have a reference point, you can’t have perspective. Sports are my reference point for the world. A lot of people might read that and think You are a sick human being, and maybe they’re right.
In high school, I spent a lot of time wondering if anything other than sports mattered. Now that I have a job and a livelihood to sustain, I realize that lots of things other than sports matter—and matter a hell of a lot more than sports, too—but that’s exactly why I need sports in my life. Sports don’t matter, so it helps me realize what does.
Tom Matlack recently wrote about whether sports has robbed men of their souls. At first, I thought he might have been right, and that scared the shit out of me—I don’t know if I believe in a “soul”, but if it does exist, it sounds like something I would want—but after thinking about it, I realized sports neither gives me or takes away my essence, but it does help me see the kind of person I am.
In high school I wore the same Patriots hat every single day. After four years of exposure to the sun, dirt, water, dogs’ mouths, a horse, and a sewer, it had faded from a sharp navy blue to the color of regurgitated NyQuil. This hat was the most important thing I owned for a long period of my life. I retired it from use when Ben Watson, the Patriots’ 2004 first-round pick, signed it. I will never forget the look on his face when I handed it to him; he had clearly never been asked to sign such a disgusting, dilapidated, grotesque piece of clothing.
Ben Watson wasn’t the only one who thought I was odd. Due to my mood’s dependency on Patriots outcomes, my teachers were afraid to call on me the week after a Patriots loss. I stopped doing homework when the Patriots lost, fearing no reprisals. I was defined by my love for the Patriots.
I then went off to college at Maryland, studied abroad in London, and met a girl who lived in California. I still watched the Patriots every Sunday, I still cared immensely about my team, but I realized comparing a love for a sports team with a love for a girl is factually incorrect. It’s like comparing Earth to the Universe.
Sports stopped being my definition and started being my reference point. If I could care more about the upcoming Patriots game than, say, an exam, then I knew I wasn’t too worried about the exam. But if I got into a fight with my girlfriend, and I didn’t feel like reading the most recent blog entry about Tom Brady’s deep pass completion percentage, then I knew I had to apologize. If something was more serious than the Patriots, then I needed to deal with it.
I was with my girlfriend the day Mark Sanchez was drafted by the Jets. This is only significant because Mark Sanchez was her neighbor. The second Goodell proclaimed Mark Sanchez to be a Jet, she knew she had to become a Jets fan, and she knew what this meant. As far as I can tell, she actually believed I was going to break up with her.
I joked with a high-school girlfriend, once, that if she had to break up with me, she should say it was because I was too obsessed with the Patriots. (I can never thank her enough for actually saying that was the reason when she did break up with me.) It seemed funny at the time, but the thought of breaking up with a girl over sports allegiances is now downright infantile. I remember, after Sanchez put on his Jets hat, I kissed my girlfriend and told her I would love her even if Sanchez beat the Patriots in the playoffs. (Karma’s a bitch.)
In the end, it didn’t work out with this girl. (I think that LA-DC thing had something to do with it.) I didn’t break up with her because of sports, but sports helped me realize I had to break up with her. When I realized I was so troubled by the nature of our relationship that I couldn’t even get excited for the upcoming football season, I knew I had to end it. Likewise, for a few months afterward, Patriots games were my favorite time of the week because they were the only hours I forgot she existed. Eventually, when I started to forget about her during normal times of the day, I knew I had moved past her. Sports helped me sort through reality.
It’s not just with women, either. I watch every Patriots game I can with my dad, ever since I can remember. We don’t have to ask, “What are you doing for the game?” if we are in the same city; it’s assumed we will be watching the game together. I flew home from college to watch every playoff win—and loss—with him. I have literally had nightmares where the Patriots are on and my dad isn’t there. I don’t need sports to tell me I love my dad, but sports help me fear how much I’ll miss him when the inevitable day arrives when the Patriots are there and my dad isn’t.
My dad doesn’t need to talk to me about “politics, sex and love,” like Matlack suggested (although he does). He just needs to be there when I want to talk about those things, and I know he will be there every Sunday. And if it makes us look away from the game, then we will know it’s important.
So Tom, you can—and should—turn off ESPN, WFAN and WEEI from time to time. You said it yourself; you’d rather hold your wife than listen to WEEI. That’s what I’m trying to find, and sports will let me know when I find it.