Why sports help men move from full-contact to full disclosure.
If you are a man, and there’s at least a fifty percent chance you are, you’ve likely experienced the following. You and a friend/co-worker/relative are talking about sports, and a conversation-adjacent woman sighs and announces, “Ugh, all you men do is talk about sports!” as if there could be nothing more trivial, useless, or sad. But what is truly sad is the fact that these sports conversations between men are marginalized when they actually represent progress, evolution, and maybe even hope for the future of our planet.
Let me explain, or, as Indigo Montoya once said, “There is too much. Let me sum up.”
Even under the best of circumstances, when there is no conflict or ulterior motives or latent homophobic panic between them, male human being sare not built to communicate with each other through words. It is the kryptonite of Everyman.
Case in a point. A few weeks back, my father was coming to visit my office for the first time. I gave him the address, he had directions, and my workplace was no more than a mile from the street where his father lived for a decade. And yet, it took four phone calls, 20 extra minutes, and me walking two blocks to “hail” him as he passed by on Rt. 16 to actually hook up. This was a process that your average pizza delivery guy gets done 99 times out of 100. The two of us couldn’t communicate clearly enough to make it happen one the first try… or the second… or the seventh. There were more misunderstandings than a Three’s Company marathon on Nick at Night. Why? Because we’re both men, and we’re still learning to use our words.
I’m no anthropologist, but I’ll cite cave paintings as my evidence. Look at any of those prehistoric stick-figures, and you’ll notice they’re all carrying spears and clubs. What does that tell us? That early man invented weapons before he invented paintbrushes and pens and anything else one might use to communicate ideas without force.
In truth, it’s only in the last century that men have even attempted to communicate with other men in a way that doesn’t involve violence, or at least the threat of it. As recently as 146 years ago, we had brothers fighting brothers in the Civil War because it was easier to take up arms than to use our ears. But around the same time, organized team sports began to crop up. The Cambridge Rules of football (soccer) were drawn up in 1848 and less than a decade later, there were professional clubs in England that spread throughout Europe. Toward the end of the 19th century, baseball swept through North America.
Suddenly, men had something they cared about that they could actually discuss with other men passionately, honestly and without reservation. “Did you hear what Old Hoss Rabourn did in yesterday’s game? I think he’s a real peach!” Men had never been able to say this stuff before in public. Sure, talking sports resulted in some arguments and even fistfights, but the damage was far lighter than that caused by previous topics like religion, politics, and the pursuit of women who smell good. Even the worst dust-up between fans of Ohio State or Michigan, Sox or Yankees, or any other sporting rivalry you can name can’t hold a candle to… I dunno… The Crusades or the Trojan War.
Coincidence? I don’t think so.
Just think of the progress we, as a gender, have made in the field of non-lethal communication since the first box score appeared in the newspaper. Radio… so we could make or voices heard far and wide. The U.N… where powerful men who didn’t even speak the same language could converse without troop movements. Neil Diamond, Woody Allen, Charlie Sheen… there are some of us men who have actually gotten too good at sharing our feelings. Can I prove it’s all because men in uniforms stopped fighting wars and started keeping scores? No, I suppose not, but I certainly have found plenty of anecdotal evidence in my own life.
One of my closest friends is going through a divorce. Before it started, we’d get together about every week or two, but as of late, I hadn’t seen or even really talked with him in almost two months, what with his new lifestyle as part-time single-father, part-time single guy. I wanted to let him know that I missed hanging out and that I hoped we could make sure that our friendship didn’t end up being a casualty of the big changes in his life. Sensitive stuff. Not at all easy to bring up. But I finally did… during Monday Night Football. I worked it in between a touchdown and an extra point. Since then, he and I have been back to being in touch more often, and sure, when we go connect, we often talk about nothing too important… sports mostly.
So don’t “pooh pooh” the sports talk. Give it a rousing “rah rah” instead. Because anytime men can talk about anything… it’s a win.
—Photo Clarkston SCAMP/Flickr