Tom Matlack is disillusioned with the Patriots, Celtics, Red Sox, and Bruins. He wants a new sport. What should it be?
It all started last spring when I took my son Seamus and his friends to a Red Sox–Yankees game on a Thursday night. We live a quarter mile from Fenway Park, so we walked over on a pleasant sunny afternoon. After four hours of long pitch-counts and Dice-K’s excruciating between-pitch routine, the Sox were ahead 2-1 in the top of the seventh. It was a school night, and I needed to get the boys home. But even more troubling was that I just didn’t give a shit if we lost to A-Rod and those other Yankee A-holes. I had lost interest. We left, and I never checked the box score the next day.
Wasn’t I the same guy who lived and died on every pitch of the Sox’s come-from-behind victory in the ALCS in 2004? The same guy who watched the silly DVD recap of that whole season probably 20 times?
For Game 7 of the Lakers-Celtics NBA finals I found myself at, of all places, the bar at Bubba Gump Shrimp on Fisherman’s Wharf. Our family was on vacation and had ventured out too close to game time. Seamus and I frantically looked for a television set as tip-off approached. We sat at an outside bar, watching a tiny screen until my wife secured space at Bubba’s. All five of us sat through the entire game, drinking Diet Coke, eating fried food, and increasing our heartburn. I watched in horror as the Lakers played volleyball on the boards. My Celtics went from a double-digit lead with six minutes remaining to hanging their heads in defeat, making me sit through Ron Artest thanking his shrink for helping him combat his many demons.
I happened to be at a party a couple of weeks after the Celtics debacle with the team’s owner, Wyc Grossbeck. All the men at the party snuck to a back room to catch the tail end of Game 7 of the Bruins-Flyers series, culminating in a humiliating end for Boston, who fell to Philadelphia after a 3-0 series lead.
Then there’s Tom Terrific and the Patriots. Football is the one sport with a real salary cap, so there are no LeBron James press conferences or New York Yankee payrolls. It’s a pure sport in the sense that each team has to develop talent on a budget. It looked liked the Patriots had done that as well as ever as they headed into their playoff game against the loudmouthed Jets last month.
I went to the game with Seamus and my wife, Elena. We watched from the 50-yard line. Everything was perfect—until I caught Tom Brady snorting ammonia before the kickoff. When he took the field he looked as confused as when he tried to figure out how to dump a pregnant girl next-door actress for a Brazilian supermodel. Watching the Jets players run around the field like bald eagles, flapping their wings, was about as painful as it gets for a Boston sports fan.
The Celtics look damn good right now. The Sox have reloaded. But I’m not biting. I’ve been to one Celtics game all season, and I’ve watched a grand total of two on television; seeing them beat the Lakers in L.A. lifted my spirits for an hour or two.
Here’s the thing: professional sports pretty much suck in my book. I’m not just saying that because I’m a bitter Boston fan (OK, maybe just a little). But really, baseball games go on forever. Tim Donaghy, despite being a convicted felon, is right about the NBA: the refereeing is awful. Hockey and football are both purer sports, but let’s face it, Big Ben, the rapist, and Shawn Thornton, the Bruins thug, are hardly role models. For a while I was thinking about the Boston Breakers, the indoor lacrosse team in Boston. But then they had a lap dance contest at halftime, which quickly put them out of the running..
I live within walking distance to the Boston University rink and a short ride on the Green Line to Boston College, where Seamus regularly goes to basketball and football games. So I’m thinking about giving up pro sports entirely. I’m fascinated by college football in the south. Recruiting violations aside, it’s more like what sports should be about: athleticism, team spirit, sportsmanship, manhood. Thankfully, I do have March Madness to look forward to. Seamus and I participate in a “suicide” pool that’s a lot of fun.
In the meantime, I’ve become a huge fan of Seamus’ freshman football and basketball teams at Boston College High. I’ve also been coaching my five-year-old son’s YMCA basketball team and taking him to this cool indoor baseball camp called Frozen Ropes. And I’ve been riding my bike and practicing kickboxing. I need to reorient my love-hate relationship with sports. I don’t really hate all sports, just the ones that I know about right now. I love being a fan, but don’t know where to put my loyalty in this upside-down sports world we inhabit.
I asked Good Men Project readers what they thought should become my new sport of choice, and here’s what they said.
Rodeo cowboys and cowgirls are among the most popular, respected athletes in professional sports among adults and children alike. They compete at the highest level in a sport that has America’s early west as its roots. They have no guarantee of a paycheck. Most of them regularly play with injuries that would sideline most ball and stick athletes. They travel 60,000 miles per year, most of it over the road to compete.
—Mike Donnell, Pueblo, Colorado
I think you should be a skier. Skiing (and its twin, snowboarding) is a participatory sport. It is healthy and invigorating and gives you something to do during the dull winter months. Furthermore, skiers are more handsome and have better sex lives than non-skiers (just ask them!). Seriously though, I spend my life in the mountains. My “office” overlooks the glaciers of Mt. Rainier, the tallest volcano in Washington state, and the view is so spectacular I’m often tempted to yodel. Whether ripping across groomers or getting face shots in the powder, skiers race down steep slopes and gain access to the mountains in a way that no other sport allows.
—Kim Kircher, 40, professional ski patroller at Crystal Mountain for 21 years, author of the forthcoming memoir The Next Fifteen Minutes (Behler Publications)
Water polo is a great sport to be a fan of. Without any pro leagues in the United States, the sport is done strictly at the amateur level, meaning college, high school, or national team. You won’t see any of the issues you have with professional sports. In addition, there isn’t a sport that is more physically demanding than water polo. These guys and girls tread water for nearly an hour while playing a sport. It’s a mixture of sports you already love—basketball, soccer, swimming, and maybe a little rugby. You’ll likely get so pumped up watching this game, it’ll make you want to get back in the gym or pool and get in shape. Not to mention, our country is very good at water polo. Our women’s national team are two-time defending world champions, and our men’s team won a silver medal at the last Olympics.
—Greg Mescall, USA Water Polo, Huntington Beach, California
Powerlifting. More than anything, it’s a man versus himself, striving to be the very best that he can be.
—Jordan Gottlieb, Mansfield, Texas
Baseball is still where my heart lies, but market inequities and a stadium experience that is increasingly geared toward fat cats make it hard to justify intellectually. Hockey is the one sport that seems to maintain a blue-collar ethos, both on the ice and in the stands, but it’s hard for me to transfer affection from blue skies and the crack of the bat to refrigerated arenas and Canadian accents. I think there’s an argument for trying, however.
—Seth Berkowitz, 34, singer/songwriter from the band Lucky Ghost, New York, New York
Mixed martial arts is the sport a man should be a fan of. It’s pure one-on-one combat, no excuses, one man’s brute strength against another’s brute strength. Referees play a big role in the top sports—in football, baseball, basketball, hockey. They can change a game. In MMA, that’s not going to happen. The combatants alone determine the outcome in the octagon.
—Andrew Golding, 33, TV executive, New York, New York
NCAA college basketball. It’s not as talented as the NBA, but conference play is always exciting, and the NCAA Final Four is one of the most exciting tournaments in all of sports. Lots of kids will not make it to the next level and don’t care; they’re there to do what they love.
—Scott Keatley, director, Nourishing NYC
You should be a fan of cycling—mountain biking in particular. Not so much pro road racing because the doping scandals make it ridiculous. Mountain biking is honest. It’s real. It’s powerful. Getting lost (figuratively) on a dirt trail in the mountains for days on end is magical. Think of it as bike-packing—packing only the necessities on your bike and taking off a few days or a few months.
—Mike Dion, 42, film/TV producer and producer of the award-winning film Ride the Divide, Denver, Colorado
You should be a fan of college football. Every major sport is somewhat influenced by money. However, there’s no sport where the players’ passion for their teammates, their classmates, and their schools are more apparent. These kids pour their hearts out every weekend. There’s no contract season, no free agency, and no trades. College football players pound each other’s heads in for three hours in front of 100,000 fans, climb into the stands with their classmates and sing their school’s fight song, and go back to a dorm room to celebrate. Emotion and dedication still rule college football.
—Sam Debord, Seattle, Washington
Hockey seems have much less nonsense in it than other sports like basketball or football. For example, last summer there were two major free agent signings that dragged on all summer—basketball’s LeBron James and hockey’s Ilya Kovalchuck. The Kovalchuck saga was about as ridiculous as it gets in hockey, but it was completely toned down compared to LeBron’s “decision” on ESPN. The cult of personality is not the same in hockey as it is in football or basketball, and there is nowhere near the emphasis on sex in hockey as there is in other sports. (Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders, anyone?) Hockey salaries also tend to be lower than those in baseball or basketball.
—Dan Landau, graduate student at Fairleigh Dickinson University, Bridgewater, New Jersey
Golf is all about patience, commitment, and power. Sexy.
Tennis is about agility, athleticism, and grunting. Sexy.
Baseball is about Derek Jeter. Very sexy.
—Sara Daly, 39, president of Waterfalls Day Spa, licensed physical therapist and massage therapist, Middlebury, Vermont
Yachting/sailing. A few reasons why: Few sports have been around for 2,500 years; it’s one of the greenest forms of transportation (wind); it’s a combination of physics, navigation, and athleticism unmatched in any other sport; if you happened to have a time machine handy, would be one of the only sports you could have a conversation with your great-great-great-great-great-grandfather about; everybody looks cool in boat shoes; it’s one of the only sports on the planet that has named its ultimate prize after our country—the America’s Cup.
—Bob Denison, third-generation advocate of the yachting industry
Martial arts, specifically taekwondo. Why? One, it’s physical. Olympic-style taekwondo is a full-contact sport. Men want and need physicality. Two, there’s no age limit. People can participate in martial arts tournaments all over the world at any age. It’s something they can watch and participate in. Three, it’s truly family-oriented. You won’t find all of the associated negatives of professional sports. Four, it offers great life lessons. Taekwondo teaches sportsmanship, respect, and self-discipline—all the things you want your children to learn.
—James Davenport, president, All American Martial Arts
I could say something about the romanticism of the sport. Or how each game is a complete blank slate, a canvas to be painted over 90 minutes. Or how, more than any other sport, any team can win on any given day. Remember Switzerland? Or the U.S. in ’94 and 1950? And as far as expressing and fostering creativity, soccer has no match—unless you’re British.
But I’m gonna go at this from a different angle. Peter Crouch—a 6-foot-7, 256-pound, sinewy alien of a man with the face of a ghoul—was asked what he would be if he weren’t a professional soccer player. His response: “A virgin.”
—Ryan O’Hanlon, sports editor, the Good Men Project Magazine
Win or lose, the post-game handshake is a long-standing and well respected hockey tradition that teaches sportsmanship at the highest level.
The notion that two players who have battled hard through a game can put aside their differences and look each other in the eye afterwards and whisper “good job” is a testament to the hockey fraternity.
Anything less is frowned upon by your peers.
—Brendan Shanahan, NHL Vice President Hockey & Business Development, eight-time NHL All-Star, three-time Stanley Cup champion, Olympic gold medalist